Food is expensive but there are ways to ease the burden! Here are a few tips on how to eat well on a budget. I hope it helps.
Now that you’ve embarked on a whole foods diet, you may be noticing something. It’s costing more money than that processed diet you used to eat.
Sure, the food tastes better, you feel better and I’ll bet that even your –ahem– body constitution is thanking you. But, honestly, there are only so many eggs, peanut butter and chicken thighs a person can eat.
You feel like one financially bad month is all it would take to drive you back to the Dollar Menu at your local fast food joint. I feel your pain.
I’ve put together a few ideas to share with you. Give these a try and let me know how it goes!
A Few Ways to Save Money When Shopping
Weekly Grocery Store Fliers. How many times have you taken those weekly grocery store fliers from the mailbox and deposited them directly into the recycle bin? Because who has time for that, right? Well, I’ve got the scoop for you…all the best promotions are on the front page!
Make a list of the best deals (or just rip off that front page) and make a visit to each store. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go to all the stores on the same day.
These prices are usually good for a week, although some holiday weekend sales may only run for that weekend. Then you can stock up! Go ahead and buy that 5 lb family pack, separate it into serving-size pieces and store it in the freezer!
Online Customer Loyalty Programs. I love, love, love my grocery stores’ online customer loyalty program! The signup was painless and all I have to do now is input my phone number when checking out. I get free grocery coupons online as well as a money-back reward quarterly that I can apply to my next grocery bill. The coupons are typically more substantial than you might find elsewhere, offering bigger discounts and even some free items. Make sure to take advantage of the maximum number of items allowed.
Get a rain check. The better the deal, the more likely it is that you’ll discover that the store has run out. If that happens, ask for a rain check. There is generally no expiration date on these so you’re free to use it weeks or even months from when it was issued.
Look For Markdowns. Many stores will mark down items that are nearing their expiration date.* This can be a great way to obtain more expensive gourmet items that you wouldn’t be able to justify at full price. Just be sure it use it right away or get it promptly in the freezer. Ask department employees what days or time of day they do the markdowns so you’ll know when they’ll have a wider selection.
Take Advantage of the Moment
Carpe Diem. It’s all about knowing how to seize the day, how to take advantage of the moment. It’s all about…holiday sales.
Having worked in the supermarket industry, I know that they’re willing to sell a few items at a loss during holiday seasons to grab a bigger share of the increased customer traffic. Be prepared to take advantage of the deep discounts you can get at different times of the year.
During the summer months, you’re going to get great prices on items that are typically barbecued such as ground beef, chicken and sausages. Saint Patrick’s Day is corned beef, Easter is lamb or ham, etc. While Christmas and Thanksgiving are good for scoring great deals on turkeys, Cornish hens and hams, also be on the lookout for other things that can be frozen for later use such as butter and premade pie crusts.
I know the turkey thing didn’t slip by you. I know it’s waaaaay too big for just one person. I know it’s hard to find room for it in the freezer. All I’m saying is that if you like turkey, go ahead and buy one. January is a slow month for a lot of us and it might help those winter blues to invite over a group of friends for a potluck. You’ll be the star when they see that you’ve prepared turkey! (“Yes, it was a lot of work. *Wipes brow* But you’re worth it!”)
Post-Holiday Sales. Also, be on the lookout for post-holiday sales when stores are trying to clear items that didn’t sell. These can be fancy, high ticket items that probably won’t sell once the entertaining has slowed down, foods dressed in holiday wrapping, candied fruit and the like. I will add to this section a caveat: Make sure these items can be frozen or have a long shelf life so you have time to consume them before expire. If you see an item that looks good, a quick search on your cell phone should give you the answer you need!
This is a subject that is not widely discussed and I can’t imagine why. Food pantries are a fabulous resource, whether you use them on a regular basis or just for those “lean times” caused by things like unexpected car repairs or reduced work hours.
Many of us have visions of government-issued cans of Mystery Meat, boxed mac and cheese, canned vegetables and stale bread. While these things may have been true in the past, a lot has changed.
Yes, those items still tend to be a staple of food pantries, but more and more pantries are offering fresh or frozen whole foods as well.
Remember those marked-down items at the grocery store? They are pulled off the shelf one day prior to their expiration date* and often donated to food pantries where they can be frozen and distributed. Many local farmers now donate any overabundance of products from their farms. And some wonderful, generous local organizations and private citizens donate as well.
Foodpantries.org has an extensive list of available food pantries, categorized by state and town. Some require (to a varying degree) proof of income, expenses or residency while others don’t. Check the links on this site or give them a call to see what, if any, information is required.
As you go through the line, remember that you don’t have to accept everything that’s offered. If you’re trying to stick to a whole foods diet, then just accept the whole foods. If they’re offering whole foods that you dislike, it’s perfectly acceptable to decline those as well. Accepting things you don’t want or won’t use is actually depriving another of accepting those items for their own home.
You don’t have to stick with just one food pantry. I’m not advising that you hit every one you can find in the hopes of filling your freezer but just suggesting that different pantries have different donors and offer different things. While you’re looking for whole foods, another person who has limited cooking facilities or abilities may gravitate towards a place that has more processed choices. There’s enough for everyone and it will all just work out in the end.
This also tends to be a touchy subject but I’m going to list it here because I think it’s a valuable service to those in need.
Many people are embarrassed to inquire or apply for government assistance, much less use it in public. Others assume they won’t qualify simply by virtue of the fact that they are working, married, have a car or a place to live. But many of these fears, concerns and assumptions are unfounded.
Gone are the days of presenting your paper coupons books for payment at the register or standing in line at the welfare office. The application process can, in most cases, be completed online with no face-to-face meetings necessary. If approved you would receive a debit card in the mail which would be loaded each month with your benefit amount.
While income and possession value is a factor in the acceptance process, other factors are also taken into account such as family size, disability and extenuating circumstances.
Another issue to consider is that there are a number of different programs out there and they all have different acceptance guidelines.
WIC is a program aimed at helping women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have children under the age of 5. Those who qualify receive targeted nutritional foods for their entire household.
SNAP provides financial assistance for families within specified income guidelines and/or with special circumstances. This financial assistance is specifically allowed to purchase food.
Meals On Wheels delivers meals to the homes of seniors who have limited mobility and meet certain income guidelines.
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides financial assistance to seniors who meet certain guidelines. This assistant specifically allows them to purchase certain food products from local farmers.
We’re all in this together
I hope I’ve provided you with some information that will help to ease the financial burdens that some of us face when trying to eat healthier meals.
If you have any other tips or programs I might have missed, please let me know in the comments below. We’re all in this together!
*Please note that a products’ sell by, use by, best by or expiration date DOES NOT mean the product is no longer safe to consume after that. Click here for an explanation from The Institute of Food Technologists.