Simple Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

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During this time of year, many people are thinking about goals. Two areas that people commonly seek to improve are their finances and their fitness. A major part of improving your physical fitness is to eat healthier, and many people worry that will be more expensive. However, it does not have to be. With a few helpful strategies and some smart planning, you can work toward your health goals without breaking the bank and derailing your financial objectives.

In fact, fitness and finances have a lot in common. Some of the best habits you can develop will actually help you in both areas (self-discipline, cutting out luxuries, etc.). Here are some tips to help you eat healthier without a major negative financial impact.
Be Careful with Subscriptions
In recent years, subscription-based weight loss resources have exploded in popularity. Social media has made it easy for people to market these products and services. Chances are, you know someone who is selling weight loss supplements or weight loss coaching services as a side business. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but you should think very carefully before signing up and making a new monthly financial commitment.

First, some of these side businesses do not offer much that can really help you. Many weight loss supplements or other vitamins don’t actually make you healthier. Even the services that can help you can often be had for free elsewhere. A weight loss coach might give you tips about what to eat and which exercises to do, but you can get that information from a number of resources at no cost.

There are many online diet planners that can help you build a specific nutrition plan catered to your goals. There are also a ton of websites that can teach you the science behind nutrition and exercise, so that your plan has a good chance of working and isn’t a marketing gimmick. Of course, YouTube is a great resource as well, both for dieting tips and cooking videos but also for free exercise content.

Long story short—you probably don’t need to pay someone else for diet advice. Instead, try saving money by utilizing free resources. If you find that doesn’t work and you need additional help or accountability, then you might consider a paid resource.
Picking the Right Diet
There are a ton of formal diets you can choose from. Some people opt for a balanced approach, while others use low-carbohydrate diets, like Keto or Paleo. You will want to research the various approaches and choose the one that is right for you. However, you should keep in mind that low-carb diets are more likely to be expensive to maintain because the compatible foods tend to be much more costly.
Find Affordable Healthy Foods and Incorporate Them
One piece of good news is that some of the healthiest foods you can buy at the grocery store also happen to be some of the most affordable. Here are just a few examples of foods that are often ridiculously cheap and fit with many diet plans:

  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • A number of fruits and vegetables
  • Chicken (usually much cheaper than red meat)
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Pasta

Of course, there are many more foods to consider, but this is already a very solid list to get you started. For other ideas, check out this list from Greatist or this one from EatingWell.
Limit Other Foods
When you add new, healthier foods to your budget, then you will probably cut out some foods at the same time. You may no longer drink soda, and you might also cut out sugary desserts or some red meats. Whatever you cut out, remember that these “savings” will go toward your new grocery budget and can help keep your new eating habits from being too expensive.
Document Your Grocery Trips
If you make major changes to your grocery budget, then you should carefully document your first few trips to the store. Keep your receipts and compare them to receipts from before you made changes to your diet. Also, keep an eye on how the prices of the items you are buying now might fluctuate over time. Since you’re getting into a new rhythm and routine, you will want to track the costs so you can see any major changes.
Look for Discounted Grocers
If you find that certain foods are very expensive, check your area for discounted grocery stores. Many localities have low-cost grocers. Aldi, for example, has become a popular option for many cost-conscious shoppers. But you should also check for discounted grocers, which are essentially the grocery equivalent of scratch and dent stores. They sell slightly damaged food goods (think scuffed or dented packaging) at incredibly low prices. This might be an effective way to buy some of your favorite healthy foods at a major discount.
All the Usual Grocery Shopping Tips Apply
Once you’re in a new healthy-eating routine, then it will be business as usual when it comes to grocery shopping. You will want to use as many of the “normal” grocery saving strategies that you can. To name a few: shop around at various local stores to find the best prices on staple items, use coupons, and use apps like Ibotta and others which reduce your grocery bill further. Most importantly, keep a budget and try to stick to it each month—for groceries and your other major spending categories.
For more help with budgeting or working toward your other financial goals, contact an NFCC credit counselor.