Saturday, January 7, 2012

10 tips to save on healthy groceries

Here is a fact about me: I love grocery shopping.

I'm not really sure why. J and I sometimes walk to nearby grocery stores, only to browse the aisles with no intention of buying anything. (He's doing it to appease me...we're not some weird grocery-loving couple.)

Given my love of groceries, I've spent a lot of time figuring out how to make a healthy diet affordable on student stipends. And it's not as easy as people sometimes assume.

Healthy food is not cheap...at least not if you want to eat something other than rice and beans at every meal. And to maintain the diet I value, I invest a lot of time and energy into making it happen. And I am motivated by the knowledge and experience of what it means to be healthy.

Not everyone is so fortunate to have those luxuries of time, energy, and motivation. I think it's important to remember that when we're being hard on others, or on ourselves. And let's face it...most people don't care about it as much as I do. That's why I wanted to share how we manage to eat healthy without breaking the bank.

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1. Shop around

We buy groceries from six different stores near us: two traditional grocery stores, two health food chains, a European market, and an Asian supermarket. On top of that, some of our groceries come from online retailers like Alice, and during the summer, I frequent the farmers' market.

The key is familiarizing yourself with what stores provide which products you need, at the best prices. Trader Joe's is amazing for traditional, healthy foods on the cheap, like raw nuts and fresh produce. The Asian supermarket is our go-to for tofu and rice. And our little European market has fish at unbelievable prices.

Unit prices are important here. You don't want to know which package of tofu is cheaper. You want to know which pound of tofu is cheaper. The unit prices are usually displayed in yellow next to the item price.

Shopping around also gets you familiar with what a product should cost. What's a good price for a pound of tomatoes or a cup of almond milk?


2. Clip coupons and shop sales

Don't go crazy on this one. You do not need ten years worth of canned soup.

But, as I come across coupons I can use, I stash them in my wallet. And when something we use frequently is on sale, I stock up a bit and buy more than we need at the moment.

But just one more word of warning on this one: do not buy something just because you have a coupon. Often, coupons trick us into spending more by promoting expensive products and brands.


3. Buy in bulk

It hurts a bit to spend the money up front, but buying in bulk often results in lower unit prices. Just make sure you are purchasing things that won't go bad before you use them, and check shipping costs before checking out, as this is a sneaky cost that creeps up on you based on the weight of your items.

I buy spices and beans in bulk from amazon, and usually opt for free super saver shipping, so I don't have to worry about added costs.

I also love Natural Grocers.


4. Avoid everything processed

If you can make it yourself, it's probably cheaper and healthier. And yes, this means you will need to spend time in the kitchen.

Many health advocates, including food journalist Mark Bittman, recommend avoiding the center aisles of the grocery store, where foods are more processed and unhealthier. Processed foods may seem inexpensive, but the lack of nutritional value actually limits their economy.

It's tough to completely avoid convenience foods, but make substitutions where you can. Season your own oatmeal. Eat raw nuts instead of potato chips. Make your popcorn on the stove instead of in the microwave. And when you do buy processed foods, look for five ingredients or less.

Don't forget that you can save money on household, hygiene, and beauty products too. The internet is teeming with recipes, and making your own prevents toxic chemicals from entering your home.


5. Get what's always cheap

Beans, cabbage, rice, bananas, oatmeal. Items that are always inexpensive should be staples in your pantry. Find the cheap things you love, and eat more of them!








6. Make compromises

I would love to buy our meat from a local farmer. I would love to participate in community supported agriculture and fishing. "Organic" and "local" are important labels for me. But as thrifty as we are, we can't always afford those things. Sometimes, I buy non-organic produce so we can have more fresh veggies around. Prioritize your values and be ready to sacrifice some of them to save your wallet.

For guidance on which produce to buy organic, see EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides.


7. Waste not, want not

We just watched the documentary Dive, and were astonished to learn that our country wastes enough food every year to feed everyone in Haiti for five years.

Keep an eye on your fridge. Eat stuff before it goes bad. Don't throw things away just because you're sick of them. Get creative with leftovers. This saves you money, and is a more environmentally and socially sustainable practice.

Don't waste in your household either. Save on paper towels by keeping dish towels in the kitchen. Drink a tall glass of water instead of taking an ibuprofen. Run a sink of dishwater, instead of pouring soap on every dish.


8. Reassess your priorities

So maybe it's not a major priority for you to buy chia seeds and eat more raw vegetables. But when I found a pair of shoes in my closet that I had never worn, I knew it was time to redirect my spending a bit.

I'll admit it. I make some sacrifices to enjoy luxury, healthy foods. I shop at the thrift store, I don't eat out more than a couple times a month, and I travel home by bus. To me, those are easy sacrifices to make that let me spend (or save) more in other areas of my life.



9. Think long term

Eating well is an investment in your health. It will save you loads on drugs and hospital stays in the future.

Buying in bulk pays off in the long run.

Expensive items will leave a lasting impact on your budget, long after they've been consumed.

Food that spoils slower is less likely to be wasted.

If you're considering the ramifications of your decisions in the future, you're more likely to make better ones.


10. Evaluate every purchase

Will it make your life easier, happier, more fulfilling?

Whether it's groceries, shoes, or dishes, I try to avoid impulse buying at all costs. Shopping is a great thing, and I love finding happiness in a cute new bowl or an exciting new ingredient. But it's far too easy to wantwantwant. When I decide that it's better to pass something up, I console myself with the thought that someone else will come along and enjoy it just as much, if not more, than I do.

And it's never worth it to be too hard on yourself. Budgets are like diets. Splurging is human. And forgiving ourselves for it helps us ultimately succeed.

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I hope this was helpful. Some tips may seem obvious, but they all really do make a big difference.

Do you have other tricks for saving money on groceries? I could always use them...

13 comments:

  1. How far do you travel to all your grocery stores? I suppose being in the city makes it much easier. Before I left for break, I had to find some fresh mint leaves to make the wreathe for L's mom. I remembered Kroger only had a small package of wilting, expensive (organic) mint leaves. So instead I tried to find them at the only store I've never been to called the Oasis Market. It just seemed like a good bet. AND IT WAS! A very large bunch for under $2!! I'm going to try shopping there a lot more. I wish I had tried it sooner.

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  2. Love this post! I seriously try to buy healthy but being in school and on a budget makes it really hard! I adore Trader Joe's, I will have to check out some of the other places you mentioned!

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  3. This is SUCH a great post, Clair.

    I am actually guilty of not being very good about buying on the cheap. Also, sometimes I eat processed foods for convenience and I KNOW this is really not okay.

    I love how you are so dedicated to this. You are inspiring me!!

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  4. amazing amazing amazing list! I live by these rules every day, and it certainly makes a different on my wallet AND my waistline. What a perfect win-win!

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  5. Brynn, I'm sure you're right that the city makes a difference. The furthest one is 15 minutes away by public transit. But I'm glad you found another resource by you, and you should definitely check out some online options!

    Thanks for all the positive feedback!

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  6. Another EASY way to add some health points to everyday meals is just by spicing up your life - literally! Most spices and herbs (ginger, oregano, garlic, paprika, cinnamon, chili powder, etc) can add antioxidants, destroy cancer cells or lower cholesterol. Even if your meal isn't the healthiest, adding spices will always give it an extra boost! Try garlic mashed potatoes (one of my faves), or help a splurge by eating paprika mac n cheese or chili-powder french fries. Spice=life!

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  7. Ha thanks for this blog post, Clair! Why do I feel it was partly motivated by our conversations New Years Eve :)

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  8. I too love grocery shopping!! These are great tips and I love shopping sales and using coupons in this same logical way you are talking about. This was a GREAT article that I think many people would benefit from reading :-)

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  9. This is a great post Clair. Very insightful and well said. I do the same, shop around to get the best deals and to get what's in season too-that always saves money. We are a lot alike-I also consignment shop quite a bit. I've found some amazing outfits, jackets, jeans-all for a fraction of the price. Then I feel a bit more justified to go for a splurge at a gourmet store ;) Health is your best investment and it start with what you put in your cart. I haven't heard of the documentary Dive-will have to check that out.

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  10. This is awesome Clair!
    I was also thinking of doing a list like this on my blog - ha we're very much on the same page my dear ;) lol

    I realized how much money I'm saving by not eating meat and dairy. We still buy these foods as my husband loves them but in very small quantities.

    I also drink water from a RO filter system at home - and fill up a reusable water bottle wherever I go. We actually don't buy much juice at all. We buy a natural fruit syrup and mix it with water or perrier and have a nice beverage ;)

    I agree with you on all the points though. I love how it's finally almost 'trendy' to save money ;) lol

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  11. GREAT points, Ella! If you post a similar list, I'll link up to it...I'm sure they'll complement each other.

    You're right...reducing meat and dairy had a big impact on our bill. And we fill reusable bottles too...and pretty much only buy almond milk as an alternative beverage.

    Thanks for the input!

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  12. Great post! I especially like #9, that eating well is an investment in your health. That is so important and I think people often don't make that connection. I also love buying in bulk. An awesome health food store near me even allows you to bring your own glass jars (you can deduct the weight of the jar from the total weight). Great way to help the environment while saving money! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words and thanks for stopping by! =)

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Thanks for making me smile. =)