Updated: Aug 27, 2021
I don't know about y'all, but one of my favorite things to do is eat. Beyond my necessities, that is one of the biggest line items in my budget. There is no two ways about it. I. Love. Food.
Food for me is a way to welcome someone into your home; celebrate or commiserate a life event with close friends; share your culture with someone new; and just breathe a satisfied sigh after filling your stomach with hearty food made with love.
I also love to cook, which for me means that grocery shopping is my favorite kind of shopping. You walk in the store and there are sooo many possibilities; so many meals yet to be made and shared with others. Coinsiding with this love of food and cooking, however, is a desire to keep my waistline and my wallet healthy.
I'm going to try and tackle two things in this one post. One is to give you tips on how to grocery shop generally while maintaining your budget, and two is how to buy healthier options while keeping your wallet happy.
The first tip is to acknowledge that you love to eat/cook and make sure that love is reflected in your budget. I've already said that eating/cooking is one of my passions. So that I can indulge that passion, I make sure that my food line item in my budget is a hefty one. This is something that brings me joy, so I make sure I have enough money budgeted to embrace that joy. I encourage you to do this with any passion of yours. If painting is more your thing, make sure your line item for buying paint supplies is stocked. Your spending should reflect what you enjoy (of course balanced with what you have to buy). That way you don't have to feel guilty about indulging. You make your budget. Remember that.
Next is to meal plan. I know that for a lot of you, this seems like a huge task, but it doesn't have to be. I typically spend at most twenty minutes on Saturday or Sunday meal planning for the week (and of course the time it takes to cook the meals). That includes looking through what I already have in the fridge, freezer and pantry, scanning through my list of recipes and creating a shopping list. Meal planning accomplishes many things. It takes the stress away from having to figure out what to eat each night of the week. It also ensures you're eating healthier because you aren't just "grabbing something quick" because you don't have time to (a) cook something or (b) figure out what to eat. Everything is already either made or planned. Lastly, it helps prevent food waste, which is a huge issue in the United States. When you check out your inventory, you're more likely to make meals that require ingredients you already have. Meal planning should include breakfast, lunch, dinner and potentially snacks.
Although this closely ties into meal planning, I want to pull it out specifically because it's a huge money saver (along with being healthier for you.) Bring your lunch to work. If you are spending $10+ dollars every day for lunch, you are wasting your money. When you meal plan, come up with delicious lunches that will sustain you through the week and that you will look forward to eating. If you are currently buying lunch every day, add up what that costs for the week. That's how much you could be saving for something else, or using to spend down debt. Beyond the money, eating food from home is typically healthier because you know what's going into it. It usually involves less calories and all the other trimmings that can really add on to your waistline. This is not to say don't buy lunch occasionally; I typically buy lunch on Fridays as a treat to myself for going most of the week bringing lunch; however, buying lunch should not be an every day occurrence.
The above applies to coffee drinkers (like me) as well. I love me some Dunkin and Starbucks, but have invested in a great coffee maker that I can pre-program to serve my coffee needs. Making coffee at home saves a ton of money, and if you're like me and like the coffee drinks offered at coffee shops, it also saves on calories, sugar and unnecessary fats. Dunkin and Starbucks coffee drinks can go upwards of 200+ calories, and usually cost $3 and up. The coffee you make at home can serve your caffeine fix while preserving your money and your health. Again, this is not saying to never buy coffee. I am currently sipping on a tall Black and White from Starbucks, but this shouldn't happen all the time.
I am also a lover of lists, and that is why making a grocery list is a big one for me. I typically cultivate my grocery list throughout the week. I write down what we've finished, what we need, and round it off with anything I need to make my predetermined meals for the week. Along with making the list is sticking to it. Going to the grocery store without a plan, is typically a recipe for disaster (in terms of your wallet). This is especially true for me since I love to grocery shop. When armed with a list, I am less likely to buy everything in sight. Sometimes I'll add "miscellaneous" to my grocery list to appease my desire to pick up something not on it. I know folks have heard this before, but don't grocery shop when you are hungry. Your stomach is a strong dictator; satiating it ahead of time lets your wallet do more of the dictating.
This next tip suits both eating healthy and saving your wallet, and that’s cultivating recipes. Throughout the year, I look for recipes that are new, healthy or that involve ingredients I already have. I often look at Buzzfeed when I’m bored at work. They have plenty of lists of recipes, many of them headlined with “eating less meat,” “vegan” or “more vegetables.” They have their fare share of regular recipes as well. I also will look in the pantry or fridge and search recipes based on that. For example, I currently have barley in my cabinet. I looked up some recipes that feature barley so I can use what I have and not buy a whole list of ingredients. Finding recipes also means I’m often trying something new. They aren’t always tasty, but they keep things interesting.
There are plenty of other random things you can do to save money and eat healthy. Buying the family size rather than conveniently-packaged individual sizes usually saves money. Buying frozen vegetables is a good way to ensure you always have veggies and it’s often less expensive than fresh produce. Also buying local produce when it’s in season can be less expensive. They don’t have to ship the food, and it tastes better because it’s in season. This also adds variety to what you eat. I like to use this website because I can search by location and month and it will tell me what herbs, fruit and vegetables are in season for me to buy. To be healthier, try and stay away from pre-packaged convenience foods or foods that have sugar (in any of its forms) as one of the first three ingredients. Sugar isn’t inherently bad, but it is often a feature in our foods when it doesn’t need to be. Making granola bars or oatmeal breakfast cups can be fun to do, especially with kids, and gives you a healthier snack or breakfast for the week.
I started this post by saying how much I love food. I also love being physically and financially fit. These are some of the (hopefully easy) ways I try to stay true to both sets of fitness goals while still indulging in cooking and eating a good meal. Being financially fit doesn’t not mean you have to sacrifice your passions. Quite the opposite in fact. It allows you to embrace them more fully without guilt. I hope this post gets you thinking about ways you can embrace your passions, related to food or not, while still being smart with your wallet.