Eat Clean in the New Year (For Cheap!) With 9 Budgeting Hacks
Working in the fitness and health world (and being fully immersed in it outside of work), I've become a bit desensitized to how much things cost. When $100 for a pair of yoga pants and $8 for a serving of chia pudding is just par for the course, I wrongfully came to the conclusion that this is just the cost of being healthy.
You don't have to give up your healthy way of life to save money — you just have to be a little more strategic. I might not be eating like Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, but I think it's possible to get on Gwyneth Paltrow's level of healthiness without breaking the bank.
- Meal prep. I've said it before, but meal prep is one of the best ways to save money on healthy food. When you skip the takeout from fancy health bars, your savings can add up to hundreds per month.
- Start simple. The simpler you keep your recipes, the more likely you'll be to continue this money-saving practice. The artisinal foods at your favorite restaurants and markets likely don't take very long to prepare, either. Things like a five-minute chia pudding or salad, a piece of avocado toast, or a quick and easy soup are all simple, healthy options you can make with basically zero culinary skill. The more you keep it up, the more you'll be able to experiment with more complex recipes, mixing up your menu, and the cycle of savings continues.
- Buy in bulk. I get my quinoa, chia seeds, and coconut oil at Costco — each product comes in at under $10, and I've had my (enormous) supply for months. Some products are Kirkland Signature (the coconut oil, for instance) but others are the same brand you'd get at Whole Foods. It doesn't have to be Costco, but there are certain items you can buy in bulk at any store.
- Buy frozen. Frozen organic fruits and veggies are awesome for smoothies, soups, and side dishes, and give you a lot more leeway, especially if you're shopping and cooking for yourself. I also love getting frozen chicken and fish to pop in the oven — it's lean protein with a long time before the expiration date and seemingly limitless recipe opportunities.
- Find inexpensive superfoods. Superfoods aren't always marketed as such, and some foods that are marketed as superfoods aren't worth the extra dough. Almonds, lentils, kale, eggs, tuna, and green tea are superhealthy, supercheap foods you can get at virtually any market. Although there are some superfoods — like maca, matcha, and goji berries — that are a bit pricier, you don't have to add those in to have a healthy, wholesome diet.
- Go to the right stores. I learned to do this more than ever when I moved to San Francisco. I naively wandered into a store up here that made Whole Foods look like a Food 4 Less. I swear to you, a chicken was $27. I ran out of there, clutching my crumpled dollar bills close to my chest, crying with PTSD from reading price tags on produce. Moral of the story: switch up where you get your groceries, and shop around — sometimes this means going to more than one store for what you need. I try to pick up organic produce at smaller local markets that are less expensive than a Whole Foods — even less expensive than Safeway or Vons! If you are at Whole Foods, opt for their 365 label on dry and frozen goods, which is almost always the least expensive. And for bulk items, try Trader Joe's (known for being an inexpensive option), but be sure to check for labels if you're going for organic products.
- Skip the Whole Foods salad bar. And not just at Whole Foods (though they're the classic case of the accidental $20 salad). We've all been there — a few hard boiled eggs or heavy potatoes later and you've got yourself a salad that costs half your paycheck. The worst part? It's something you could easily make at home, or possibly for less money by going around the store and buying those items off the shelf. On that note . . .
- Watch out for prepackaged foods, too. Not saying you have to make everything from scratch, but the premade salads and lunches from stores are much pricier (typically) than those pieced together yourself. The aforementioned $8 chia pudding from my local health food cafe is about eight times the price of how much my homemade pudding costs.
- Look for coupons. I used to make fun of my mom and call her "Coupon Queen," but I appreciate her clipping antics more than ever now. The more modern take on cutting out squares from a newspaper would be to check apps on your phone — offhand, I know that the Vons "Just For U" app and the Whole Foods app have weekly coupons you can check for different kinds of savings. Tip: just because it's on sale doesn't mean you need it. I've fallen into this trap many a time, and then wondered why I came home with so many things I didn't even plan to buy.