One of the biggest complaints I hear about people who want to eat more healthy foods, is that it is too expensive. And I’m not going to disagree with that completely. Yes, I can get a box of macaroni and cheese for $.50 each. Yes, I can get a packet of ramen noodles for about $.20. And I can get a junior bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s for $1.00 (or I could in college…and a cup of water for free, because that’s all I could afford). But it is possible to eat healthy, nutritious foods without breaking the bank. This is the first of a serious of posts that I will write about clean eating on a budget, and how my family does it.
Step 1: Look at foods on sale.
Yes, the macaroni is on sale. I see that. Just pretend it isn’t there. Like you, I see a food that my kids like and I see that I can get two boxes of yellow cheesy deliciousness for just $1, but I know it isn’t going to do them any favors to eat that stuff. So I ignore it and look at the produce and meats that are on sale instead. I try to buy produce that is in season, since it will typically be what is cheaper. And with meats, I try to buy in bulk when there’s a good sale. If I can get chicken breasts for $.99 per pound, I’m going to buy more than we need so that we can eat at that price until it goes on sale again.
Step 2: Make a meal plan.
Based on the foods that are on sale (that I know my family will eat), I make a meal plan. We tend to eat a lot of the same things – chicken cooked various ways, hamburgers, spaghetti, some soups or salads, tacos – so my mind usually thinks of those meals first. I typically only plan our dinners, since breakfast and lunches are pretty individualized to each family member. And a lot of times, our lunches consist of leftovers anyway. So planning out dinners for at least 5 nights per week will get us through.
Step 3: Look for additional savings.
I wouldn’t call myself a huge coupon queen, although I have some friends who are great at it. They know how to stack a store coupon, a manufacturer coupon, a gift card, and get a gift card in return (like at Target) and they can pretty much do it with their eyes closed. Not me. I’d love to, and I try to learn, but I’m just not there yet. I do look for coupons when I can, although there aren’t a lot of coupons for produce. (They do exist though, you just have to find them.) You can check company websites, the Sunday paper, and even email companies and ask for coupons. Yogurts and other dairy items are good for this, along with frozen veggies, pasta or rice lunch meats, bread, etc. Just make sure to compare the prices of the coupon items to the store brand or other brands. Sometimes even with a coupon, you pay more!
#CleanEating on a #Budget? Yes, it's possible! Check out how our family saves on food. #frugal Click To Tweet
One thing I like to use is an app called ibotta. It’s a rebate app that gives you cash back on products that you buy. I always check to see if there’s a rebate for something on my list, and there usually is. They have rebates for all kinds of items, including some produce. (If you click on my referral link above, you get $10 for joining and I get $5. Win win!) So far I’ve gotten back about $150 since I started using ibotta, and I have almost $50 waiting to be cashed out to my PayPal account. I like to save up and use my rebates for my own spending money, or to buy Christmas gifts at the end of the year.
Here’s how I do clean eating on a budget.
The easiest way for me to be able to show you (and my husband) how this works, is to show you how I do it each week. So for this family of 5 + a dog, here is my plan and our expenses for week 1:
I checked the Sprouts sale paper because it has the best prices on produce. I wrote down all of the items that looked to have a good price, along with a few other things we needed. I also checked my ibotta app to see what had rebates available.
Then I looked through my Safeway and King Soopers (our version of Kroger) papers to compare prices on meats, since they are usually a better price than Sprouts. (I know grass-fed organic is best, but I also have a budget to stick to — and a husband to live with. I do my best.) I wrote down chicken breast ($1.49/lb), canned green beans, canned salmon, and sandwich meat. I thought of a few dinner ideas I could make with the produce, the meat, and what I knew we had on hand at home, and made a rough menu.
Then I went shopping. I bought what I needed at Sprouts on Monday, then got the rest of the food at Safeway on Tuesday (it’s right next to K’s karate studio so it’s easy to shop while he has class). I ended up spending $60.51 at Sprouts and $48.64 at Safeway — there were a few things that I grabbed that weren’t on my list, but they were needed and were at a good price. There were also a few things on my list that I didn’t get (Sprouts was out of ahi tuna, and I couldn’t find the almond butter), so it probably evened out.
Week 1 Total Spent: $109.15
ibotta rebates: $1.00
Net Cost: $108.15
Not too bad for my first week, although I think I can do even better next week. The good thing is that we still have a lot of chicken for dinners next week, so I won’t need to buy that again unless the sale price drops even more.
One thing we didn’t eat this week was hamburgers on Thursday, as I just wasn’t feeling it. Sometimes we fall back on sandwiches or random stuff in the fridge. It happens. And tonight’s plan is going to be adjusted since the ahi tuna was sold out at Sprouts. I think I may do a veggie stir fry instead, with a little chicken tossed in. Or maybe we will have brinner, which is always a hit. Who knows? But it will be a nutritious, healthy meal for my little family. Made with love.
Check back next week for another update and some more tips on shopping and saving! Do you have any tips to share? Please comment below!