5 Tips for Eating Well on a Budget

I’m a pretty boring person.

My idea of a great day off is having an awesome workout, eating some good food, and being asleep before 10pm. There would probably be a nap somewhere between the working out and eating food part as well.

The highlight of my week is grocery shopping, and I get especially excited about checking the nut butter isle of new grocery stores. And Costco days where I can skip lunch in favour of samples? Don’t even get me started.

Few things make me happier than opening my fridge and seeing drawers stuffed to the brim with brightly-coloured vegetables and shelves stocked so full of eggs, yogurt, almond milk, meat and berries that at least one jar falls out every time the door is opened. Armed with my full fridge and cupboards packed with an array of nuts and their butters, dried fruit, seasonings, and an assortment of flours I’m just a quick Google search away from whipping up a healthy dinner or a delicious indulgence I can feel good about.

It’s a common misconception that eating well is expensive. I often hear “I can’t afford to eat healthy.” “It’s too expensive to buy enough groceries to cook all my meals at home.” “I HAVE to eat fast food because it’s cheaper.” While it’s true that eating well CAN be expensive it doesn’t HAVE to be. So stop blaming your tight budget for the McDonald’s trips and listen up!

Jordan and I do our grocery shopping once each week. For our basics we spend approximately $30 on produce, $20 on meat, and around $10-15 on dry goods. Every other week we spend around $70 at Costco. This averages out to $80 each week.

And while that may seem like a lot of money, considering the fact that I eat six meals a day and typically only dine out once, and Jordan eats five and eats out two or three times (that I’m aware of), that $80 translates into roughly $1.19 per meal, give or take a few bucks. I should also note that this includes our free-range meat and various organic goods.

As far as I know, that’s cheaper than even the cheapest fast food burger.

Yes, on most weeks I end up spending more out of my own will because my trip to Whole Foods that was “just for kale and bulk oats and rice, I PROMISE” usually turns into kombucha, gluten-free cereal, coconut milk ice cream, and something new from the bulk section that will sit in my cupboard for months before I figure out what to do with it (and I usually end up forgetting the oats). But in theory, two hungry, food-loving monsters can be happily fed for $80 each week. And again, remember that this can be reduced even more if non-organic dry goods and conventionally raised meat is purchased. But for an extra two or three bucks I’d rather eat a happy chicken.

But with saving money comes another cost: time. The reason your weekly trip to the grocery store can put you out over $100 is because you’re paying for the convenience of having everything right there. Depending on how busy the store is (and if you’re lucky, how many samples are offered), you can be in and out of the grocery store in under 30 minutes. Our weekly trips on average take 1-2 hours. But I’d rather spend the time and save the money.

So without further ado, I present to you my budget-friendly, healthy eating tips!

1. Shop around. Like I said above, if you’re doing all your grocery shopping in one place you’re paying a premium for convenience. Seek out independent vegetable markets, butchers, and fish vendors.

The little veggie market 1.5 blocks down the road from my apartment sells bell peppers anywhere from $1.29-$1.99 per pound, whereas I’ve seen bell peppers at the Safeway across the street from my apartment for $1.99 EACH. I can buy free-range, hormone-free chicken breasts for $8.99 per pound at an independent butcher which is only slightly more than the $7.50ish I pay for half a kilo of conventionally-raised chicken at Safeway (I swear they use different conversions just to confuse us), and I can buy two servings of fresh, local fish from the farmer’s market for under $12.

Since we’re on foot we try to make the trips as convenient as possible, usually starting with the stop where we purchase the least (in theory this is Whole Foods, but like I said, I never leave with just what I intended on purchasing when I got there) and finish with where we purchase the most (usually the vegetable market).

2. Buy in bulk. It’s way cheaper to buy in bulk than it is to buy canned or bagged dry goods. For starters, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of barley you can go out and buy enough for 1 cup. You don’t have to buy an entire bag that will sit in your pantry for months…that’s money just sitting on the shelf! I spent a good 15 minutes looking up how much a can of chickpeas was compared to buying dry chickpeas from the bulk section, but with all the grams, millimeters, mass and volume business I gave up. Just take my word for it.

3. It doesn’t ALL have to be organic. And in fact, none of it has to be. I see validity in the arguments that claim organic produce is more nutritious, and that foods grown in soil free of harmful pesticides is better for our health and all that jazz. But I have yet to see a scientific study that proves an organic apple contains X more nutrients than a non-organic apple. If someone knows of any studies, please send them my way. But until then I stand firm that eating less expensive yet inorganic produce is better for your health than a sandwich from Subway.

I choose not to purchase all organic produce because A) I don’t believe it’s necessary and B) I like to save my money for things like over-priced nut butters and feeding my Lululemon addiction. I refer to the “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen” list wherever possible, but I don’t lose my shit if I eat inorganic celery. I refuse to compromise on apples and kale because I can totally taste the difference, but with everything else cost is always considered.

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4. Plan ahead. I’ve touched on the many benefits of meal prep multiple times (you can read one of my older posts about it here). Not only does it save time and ensures you have healthy meals and snacks ready at all times, it also helps you have a plan of attack when you head out for your grocery shopping trip. I find my most expensive shopping weeks to be the ones where I hadn’t taken the time to plan my meals in advance. “A little of this, some of that, I’ll probably cook this on Wednesday” usually leads to dry goods I didn’t need and produce that goes untouched. Poor veggies. By having an idea of what it is you’re going to cook throughout the week you can purchase only what need.

5. Coupons, coupons, coupons! This is a tip I don’t follow nearly enough. Scouring local flyers for deals and collecting coupons is hot these days, as displayed by the number of reality shows based on crazy food hoarders buying fifty cans of cat food for under a buck when they don’t even have a cat. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure here in Canada we have some different regulations regarding coupons that don’t allow us to save quite as much as our friends south of the border, but using coupons and flyers is still a great way to save.

Coupons don’t just have to come from flyers either. I’ve received awesome coupons from trade shows for things like produce delivery services and my fav peanut butter company Peanut Butter & Co, I’ve used deal of the day sites like Ethical Deal for supermarket goods, and then of course there’s the trusty old-fashioned newspaper.

So there you have it, friends. My top tips for eating healthy and staying cheap frugal.So what do you think…is eating well expensive, or is it really possible to do so on a budget? Any money-saving tips I’ve missed? I’d love to hear them! 

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6 thoughts on “5 Tips for Eating Well on a Budget

  1. Hahaha I think you and I would be fast friends! My idea of fun is about the same- with some writing and baking in there! ☺️

  2. So many great ideas here! I too, love a lingering trip to the grocery store. Now that my kids are older, I can take the time to read ingredient lists and compare prices.
    Can’t remember when I ever managed to get out of the store for less than $100 though… (Canadians pay, on average, 53% more for groceries than you do in the US… but we have free health care, so there’s that).

    • Wow, what a stat! I knew living in Canada we paid more, but I didn’t know it was that much. I also noticed a jump in price when I moved downtown from what I was used to paying when I lived in a smaller suburb in the Lower Mainland. But I don’t have a family to feed, just myself and a hungry boyfriend!

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