Eating well is expensive, right?
I think that depends on what "eating well" means to you. Here are a few answers I tend to hear in response to this question:
The light frozen meals/snacks or other healthified version of convenience foods.
"Primal" or paleo style staples (grass-fed meats, wild fish, ghee)
Less processed food.
Specialty products like kombucha, cold-pressed juice, chia seeds.
As you can see, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. And if you were to say that it's hard to eat satisfying and nutritious food on a budget, I would say that you're right, it does take some time and planning to make it happen. But it's definitely possible, and hopefully after reading this it will be even more practical and less time-consuming. In my opinion, eating well doesn't have to be fancy, but it does have to taste good.
Let's do this!
Make a Plan
First and foremost, if your goal is to save some money on groceries, you absolutely must make a plan. It can be simple (write down what you need on scratch paper) or super structured (via a meal planning app) but it's so needed to prevent aimless wandering and grabbing things that don't work together. I dedicated an entire post to this back in September so if you're interested in learning how to get more organized with meal planning be sure to check that one out!
I like to plan some overlap of ingredients so if I won't use an entire bunch of greens (for example) in one meal, I have an idea of where I can use the rest so it doesn't go to waste. Don't forget to plan in breakfasts, lunches and snacks too - this will help limit the need to grab something expensive from a coffee shop, convenience store or vending machine because you need something in a pinch.
Shop Store Brands and/or Sales
Grocery stores sell store brands that are basically the same as their more high-end brand counterparts, just with no frills packaging. In fact, most store brand items are actually manufactured by those higher end names. I do a quick scan of the ingredients to make sure there aren't any un-needed additives but most of the time I find them to be identical, but a whole lot cheaper.
My favorite store brand is the Whole Foods Market 365 brand but every store has them (and if you prefer organic, many grocery stores are responding to an increase in demand for these products and also have an organic version as well).
When products you buy often are on sale, stock up on those and consider buying more than one if they aren't perishable. Think nut butter, canned beans, your favorite cereals, etc.
Go More Plant-Based
Meat and poultry are for the most part the most expensive items on your grocery list. On the other hand, beans, lentils, tofu, and whole grains are super inexpensive and can be really delicious if you take the time to learn new ways to prepare them.
Related: Want to start cooking more plant-based meals but not sure where to start? Join my January plant-based cooking challenge!
Now I'm not saying you should go full-on vegan tomorrow, but you might consider making meat more of an accompaniment on your plate rather than the main. For example, you could flavor an entire pot of soup with a couple of slices of bacon, or make burgers 3-4 oz instead of 8. You could also use half the meat in spaghetti sauce and bulk it up with some diced mushrooms. You'll still get the full flavor without buying quite so much.
A lot of things in the produce section do wonders when it comes to flavor. Fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley are great and less than a dollar per bunch. Citrus and aromatics like onion, garlic, ginger, chiles and chives can add that punch that makes people say "mmm, what is that flavor?" and are all really inexpensive.
Scope Out the Bulk Bins - Compare Prices
The bulk bins are your friend, people. 95% of the time when I need nuts, seeds or dried fruit I find that they are less expensive in the bulk bins than if I were to buy a whole package (be sure to compare the price per pound to make sure).
This also allows you to purchase the amount you need rather than a large amount of something expensive that will be used less often. Example: I once needed almond meal for a baked good and a 1 lb bag was almost $16.00! Since I knew this wasn't going to be a staple, I found it in the bulk bins for significantly less and bought just the one cup that I needed for less than a few bucks.
Make Your Own Snacks
Years ago I used to buy bars (either boxed or individual ones) almost every week for an on-the-go snack option. Then one day I actually thought about how expensive they are compared to a homemade version and realized that I have all of the ingredients at home anyway (and it takes less than an hour to make them). Now I usually try to throw together a hearty muffin, bar, cookie or something similar on Sunday so we still have something to grab all week but don't need to spend extra cash on something that doesn't even taste that good.
Here are a few of my favorite snacky recipes that I modify based on my mood:
Use a Rebate App
I've been using a smart phone app called Ibotta for over a year and find it to be a great way to make some money on things you would already be buying anyway. There are other similar ones, such as Ebates, but I can't speak to those because I haven't tried them. I like Ibotta because it's really user-friendly and they are a Denver company!.
So what is it? Ibotta is a rebate app that you can use to "unlock" rebates on certain products (unlocking might entail watching a short video, answering a question... sometimes you don't have to do anything). Then you purchase these items and once home, scan their barcodes and take a picture of your receipt at the end. Money is then automatically added to your Ibotta account.
Once you earn at least $20, you can either deposit the money to Pay Pal or Venmo, or use it to buy gift cards. I usually let it build up for a while before transferring to Pay Pal and then my bank. It's kind of like an extra little savings account that's out of sight out of mind!
It takes some extra time to browse rebates, select the ones that look good to you, unlock them and then remember to scan the barcodes after you get home. But if you seek out the bonus opportunities (where you can earn extra cash for redeeming certain combinations) I think it's totally worth the time. I actually think it's kind of fun and game-ifies grocery shopping in a way (as weird as that sounds). Let me know if you give it a try!
Note: if you sign up for Ibotta using the link above, I'll get a little bit of cash. Thanks for supporting this blog.