Plus 5 Ways To Save Money While Eating Healthy

Have you ever heard healthy food is too expensive?

Have you ever caught yourself thinking it?

Have you ever gone to the grocery store determined to eat healthier and then left with no money and barely enough food to cover the bottom of the cart?

Then this story is for you:

Broke Ass Christine is a young single mother doing her best to survive and provide for herself and her kids. She works two dead-end jobs just to pay the basic bills and put food on the table. 

Christine has been feeling down for quite some time. It seems like she wakes up with less energy than she went to sleep with. The days are a continual grind and it really feels like there is no end in sight. She puts on a brave face for the kids, but it is obvious to anyone who pays attention that she is struggling. She has put on 30 pounds in the last two years alone and lost the pep in her step in the meantime. 

Like many single mothers, she can handle a lot, but the image she sees in the mirror is beginning to bother her more than she wants to admit. Beyond the image in the mirror, the lack of energy and vitality is starting to affect her in her job and with her kids at night. 

Finally, she decides that enough is enough. She doesn’t feel like she has time to hit the gym, but she can at least start with how she eats. She’s read a few diet articles online and so she feels like she knows what she needs. Off to the store she goes on an already busy Sunday so she can prepare for the week ahead. 

Her first stop is the produce department. She isn’t quite sure how much she needs, but she grabs all the fruit and vegetables she thinks she will need and tries not to worry about the price. On her way to the meat department, she picks up some organic dressing to flavor all her vegetables with. At the meat department, she goes to pick up her normal chicken breast and ground beef, but then remembers her commitment to health. Putting the items back, she picks up the organic versions and squelches the quiet feeling of panic fluttering in her chest at the cost. She’s worth it, right? 

Then she makes the turn into the first aisle and it all goes down hill from there. She starts picking up “healthy” alternatives for kids – organic cookies, fat-free chips, whole wheat macaroni and cheese, and the list goes on. And on. And on. 

She finally gets to the checkout counter with around the same amount of food filling the cart that she is used to getting, but this time, it’s all “healthy.” Almost every item has “organic,” “healthy,” or “sugar-free” on the label. She is proud of her resolve and resolves further to not worry about whatever it costs. However, the feeling of dread starts creeping up with each item the cashier starts ringing up. She is used to budgeting $150 for a week of food for her kids. She has a little wiggle room to go above that so keeps telling herself it will be ok – until the cashier finally passes the final item through the scanner and hits the “Total” button. $250. 

She holds back a tear trying to suddenly fight its way to the surface. She’s too ashamed to put anything back but the cost is far too much. She swipes the card to pay for it, unwilling to endure the humiliation of holding up the line. Her mind is in a flurry trying to figure out what she can cut out this month. Her car has been making noises and her refrigerator randomly shuts off but she might be able to hold off repairing them for another few weeks until she gets paid again. 

One thing is certain. She feels utterly defeated. Eating healthy is just not in her budget. On a positive note, it turns out that her kids like the organic cookies. 

Does this story look familiar? If you grew up like I did, maybe it’s painfully familiar. Where did she go wrong? Is she wrong for wanting something better for herself and her kids? 

Absolutely not. 

She was taken out by one of the most pervasive and discouraging problems any one of us face who have limited resources – the “health” food trap. The problem is almost never that healthy food is too expensive. The problem is almost always that people get suckered into “health” food. 

Don’t get me wrong, if you have all the extra change in the world, getting triple-organic, grass-fed, gluten-free, sugar-free peanuts is not a big deal. However, if you are working hard just to make the basic ends meet, “health” food is the last category of food you need to be worried about putting into your refrigerator. 

Do you want to eat healthy without breaking the bank?

1) Avoid “organic” junk food substitutes. 

Almost without exception, an organic bag of chips, chocolate, candy, etc. is not healthy for you. They may be ‘healthier’ than their non-organic alternatives, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. In the same way a slap to the face is better than a punch in the face, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. 

2) Ignore labels. Only ingredients matter.

If you must get a packaged food item from the non-perishable section of the store, pay no attention to any claims on the front about health. It’s almost always just shady marketing to get you to pay more for what is essentially the exact same thing as the item next to it without the same claims to health. Don’t let them do that to you. Always check the ingredients on the back of the label. Added sugar/ syrup, 10-syllable chemicals you’ve never seen in real life, or sodium levels through the roof are a dead giveaway that what your holding isn’t healthy at all.

3) Don’t stress about organic vs. nonorganic produce or protein. 

This is the most controversial point. While, over time, there are definite differences between consuming organic vs. nonorganic produce and protein, leave it alone for now. Stores can double or triple the cost simply by labeling something organic. For now, it is far more important to cut out the processed garbage in bags, boxes, and cans than it is to pay 2-3x the amount for the advantage of organic vegetables.

4) Know exactly what you need from the store (and exactly how much of it you need) BEFORE you even think about going in. 

Think about it. In each and every aisle of the store, there are millions of dollars spent on effectively marketing each product you pass by. If you go to the store without a specific plan, you are subjecting yourself to manipulation by masters of manipulation. You won’t win. Go in with a plan, leave with food and money. Go in without a plan, leave with food and no money. It’s that simple.

5) Plan simple meals. Avoid elaborate recipes.

If you go to the store to buy the ingredients for a special meal for a special occasion, that’s one thing. However, a majority of your meals should be simple and relatively similar. Buying 5 types of meat will always be more expensive than buying 2 types. Buying 5 different spices for one meal, when you can only use 1/20th of what you bought on that meal is how you fill pantries with a lot of food items and still have nothing to eat. When in doubt, keep it simple. 

Following these tips will save you hundreds to thousands of dollars over the course of just a few months. You absolutely can eat healthy on a low income, but you have to do it intentionally and strategically. Focus on what’s vital and important rather than on what’s just marketed well or what’s nice. 

 

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