Living independently and trying to eat healthy on a budget can be difficult for everyone, in particular for students and those with little time to work. This is how I budget to allow for the maximum number of healthy foods.
I went grocery shopping today and purchases fresh fruit and vegetables that will last me about 4 or 5 days. Bear in mind that I bulk-purchase staple items like pasta, rice, beans, lentils and wraps and that is why they aren’t included in this grocery haul and budget. The approximate cost for the “staples” per month is probably about $20, as many of them are very cheap, budget friendly and can be bought in bulk at a massively reduced price.
The biggest budget tip:
My number 1 “how to eat well on a budget” tip is to research your grocery stores. Find out which ones sell quality produced at reduced prices, find out where you can bulk-buy goods and research if there are any weekly specials which interest you.
To purchase the goods below, I went to two grocery stores. They were within walking distance of each other so I didn’t waste any fuel, etc when going from one to the other.
The first store was a “cash and carry” wholesaler which sold a lot of Asian and Indian grocery products. Here, I bought my fruits and vegetables. Now, I know these products are probably not organic but if I had to choose between eating a non-organic product or not being able to eat it at all, I would choose the non-organic one. When purchasing on a budget, organic options (which are often more expensive) are unfortunately not always a viable choice. If I had more disposable money, I would definitely purchase organic produce but at the time and on this budget it isn’t a choice I can take without sacrificing being able to purchase other products.
The second store was Aldi, which is quite a budget friendly grocery store but one of my favourites because the quality isn’t lost with the reduced price. I bought the mineral water, muesli, whole wheat bread, avocado and kiwis at Aldi, because they weren’t available at the first grocery store.
Budget friendly grocery haul that will last me 4 – 5 days:
(All prices are in Swiss Francs)
Store 1: (Cash and Carry)
1 Cucumber: 0.90
2 bok choy: 0.90
2 capsicums (yellow and red): 1.70
9 bananas (1.1kg): 2.10
3 grapefruit: 1.85
5 carrots (0.4kg): 0.50
3 sweet potatoes: 1.40
Store 2: (Aldi)
3L mineral water: 0.48
Whole wheat bread: 1.99
2 x avocados: 2.49
1kg kiwis: 1.49
800g bircher muesli: 3.99
Total cost: CHF 19.79
Note: if I wanted to save even more, I could have not purchased the avocados (as they were fairly expensive) and not purchased the sparkling water (but I like it because it contains lots of minerals). I could have also bought plain oats instead of the Bircher Muesli.
Other budget tips:
Purchase whole foods. Processed foods are more expensive and less nutritious than unprocessed foods. Choose whole foods will benefit your budget, health and wallet.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce will often be about half the price of the equivalent fresh produce. And, frozen fruits and veggies will have a much longer shelf life, so you won’t let it go to waste if you don’t finish it within a few days. I always buy my berries frozen because they are just so much more budget friendly than the fresh versions. All you need to do is let them defrost for a few hours or pop them in the microwave and they’re ready to go.
Choose generic food brands. Choose the generic or ‘home brand when purchasing basics like oats, rice, pasta, nuts, etc. They often taste similar to (or better than) the high-level brand name ingredients but are a fraction of the price. All you miss out on is fancy packaging!
Buy foods in bulk. Buying the basics or products you use regularly in bulk will save you a whole lot. Buying the bulk products may seem to ‘damage’ your budget initially but the price per kilogram will be much less than buying the product in smaller amounts. I regularly go to an Asian wholesale grocery (where people who run restaurants shop) to purchase things like rice, tofu and stir fry noodles in larger packaging (and at a lower price) than I can get at my local grocery store.
Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. Imported fruits and vegetables will have travelled more ‘food miles’ and thus incurred greater costs and the cost ends up being transferred to us as consumers. Buying in season produce is a good idea when living on a budget. (Or buy the out-of-season fruits and vegetables frozen). Right now, I’m eating a lot of apples and bananas because it’s the start of winter here in Switzerland and the summer, exotic fruits are rarely available and very expensive. For example, I saw a mango for sale for 5 francs. 5 Swiss francs for one mango! That is determinately not viable for someone on a budget.
Go shopping with a shopping list. This way, you will avoid impulse purchases that may not fit into your budget. Make a list before you go to the grocery store and find what you need, buy it and then leave. Also, avoid grocery shopping while hungry. I know this from experience – many times I have ended up buying cookies to eat on the train ride home because I was hungry. And for the price of the cookies, I could have bought about 750 grams of apples or something. If you are serious about a budget, learn to stretch every dollar to the way most conducive to your health goals.
Cook and prepare your own food. Take your lunch with you to university or work instead of eating at the cafeteria or buying take-away from somewhere. If you have to rush in the morning, prepare your food the night before. When living on a budget, every dollar counts so make sure you spend your money wisely. A take-out meal here in Zurich costs on average about 20 francs. For that amount of money, I could buy groceries to last me about a week.
Look out for sales. Stay up-to-date with specials that run at your local grocery store. If something you use often is on sale, buy multiples (provided the use-by-date is in a long time; you don’t want anything to go to waste). The other day, my local store had a sale on canned tomatoes and as I use a lot of canned tomatoes in my cooking, I bought about 6 cans. The price of the 6 cans on special was much less than the price of 6 individually bought cans at a regular price.
I hope these tips and tricks can help you to eat healthy foods on a budget. People often argue that “healthy food is more expensive than junk foods” and they use that as justification for their diet. That is a lie. It is easy, simple and budget friendly to focus on healthy whole foods (and choosing to eat those whole foods will also reduce your medical expenses, helping your budget even more).
If you have any budget tips, I would love to hear them! Add them to the comments below so that we can help people from all walks of life eat a healthy diet.