How to Eat Healthy and Still Save Money
Eating right is important. Healthy food can reduce your risk of having heart disease or type 2 diabetes, and help you live longer.
Many people get discouraged because healthy food can be hard to buy and prepare. Fresh food is often expensive, and nutritious meals can require meal planning and home cooking.
But it’s easier than you think to eat healthy without busting your budget. Here are a few tricks to save your wallet from high prices.
Stick to your list
Stores make it easy for you to buy a lot of food. They give you a big shopping cart, then put junk food and candy on aisles where they know you’ll see them. Stick to your list, and you can resist them.
Grocery companies also know people that like to shop sales, so they use a psychological trick called anchoring. Our brains tend to focus on the first thing we see, or in this case, anchor on the first number we see.
Think about supermarket sales. You might see a sign that says hot dog rolls are on sale, 10 for $10. That’s a lot of hot dog rolls, yet some people will grab ten and put them in the cart.
Why is that?
People see the number “10” and it forms an anchor in their mind. It was the first number they saw, so they’re more likely to buy ten than if the sign simply read, “$1 each.”
Shoppers may also think that they need to buy ten items to get the sale price. That’s often not the case. The next time you one of those signs, such as “3 for $9,” look closely. Unless it says, “Must buy three” (or whatever number), you’re free to buy just one.
There’s another hook: supermarkets know you tend to buy certain items together. Maybe you don’t pick up 10 bags of hot dog rolls when you see the sale. You (sensibly) only buy two. But then you walk over to the meat section and buy hot dogs. They’ve nudged you.
Look around and you can see the nudges they’ve set up for you. Potato chips next to soda. Chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows together in a stand? It’s a nudge. Stick to your list.
I keep my list on my phone, so there’s no way I can lose it. I just delete items as I shop, and when it’s empty, I’m done.
Find the right store
Look at local flyers. You can either find them in a newspaper or use an app like Flipp. Is there a store around with really good prices? Maybe better prices than the store you usually shop at?
People often don’t want to change their grocery store, because they’re used to the layout. However, most discount grocery stores are small, so they’re easy to navigate.
But they may have little quirks you have to get used to. I recently tried a new grocery store and liked it. When I told friends about it, though, they balked. The reason? You have to put a quarter in the machine to unlock a shopping cart.
“You get the quarter back when you return the cart,” I explained. The parking lot is small, so it’s a matter of walking 15 feet. But people refuse. Pay to rent a shopping cart? That’s unheard of.
Because shopping there requires a 25 cent rental, they’ll pay 30% more for groceries.
I buy all of my basics — like milk, bread, yogurt, butter, and snacks — at that discount grocer. It saves me a ton of money.
I’m busy, but I can usually squeeze in an hour or so on weekends to cook a huge meal. I eat some, refrigerate a portion, and then freeze the rest.
I know some people who refuse to eat leftovers, and I’ve never understood that mentality. I’m not saying to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner every day. Preparing a few healthy meals in advance can keep you from, say, going out for fast food just because you’re hungry and short on time.
Meal planning does require you to make a list of ingredients for your shopping list. By planning ahead, you can avoid buying more food than you need, and save money (and cabinet space).
Know what’s healthy
To find healthy food, shop the edges of the grocery store. Fruit and vegetables are a good choice, either fresh or frozen. (Canned is fine, if it doesn’t have a lot of salt.) Milk and vegetarian items are also good.
Generally, you want to stick with whole grains, so wheat bread instead of white bread. Avoid red meats and processed foods when possible. That means buying oatmeal and bananas instead of sugary cereal, and chicken and salad instead of hamburgers.
Selecting individual ingredients and cooking for yourself is often cheaper and healthier than buying pre-made food. If it comes in a foil bag, it’s not healthy. Keeping healthy food around, especially snacks, can help you make smart choices.
One more tip: cut up your fruit at home. Pre-cut fruit is expensive.
I hope that at least some of these tips were helpful. They’ve allowed me to save a lot of money on groceries, while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If I can do it, anyone can.