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609/04/201010 Tips to Help You Eat Well on a Budget

Posted Sep 04 2010 12:00am

Having a tight food budget should not be a reason to steer clear of healthy, nutritious foods.  Everyone can afford to eat well, it just might require a bit of planning.  So here are some tips to help you towards healthy eating on a shoestring.

Scour the local press, leaflets, magazines and the internet for money off coupons on your favourite healthy products.  It may only save you a few pennies, but it can soon add up to a significant saving over time.  Local newspapers and door-drops can be particularly useful for finding offers on local dining venues.  If you want to treat yourself to a meal out, then check the press before you go.  Got a favourite restaurant?  Sign-up to their website or fan club.  This way the coupons will come straight to your inbox.  But beware, don’t let this encourage you to go more often, or you’ll end up increasing your dining out expenditure!

If you want to spend too much money in the supermarket, go without a list!  If you are unprepared it is all too easy to get sucked in to buying items that you don’t need, or things that don’t necessarily go together to make a meal. If you plan what you are going to eat for the week beforehand, you can stick to inexpensive recipes and buy just what you need.  However, your list should be flexible to take advantage of the next point.

If an item that you really like, or use regularly is on offer (buy-one-get-one-free, half price etc) snap it up!  Offers can be a great opportunity to purchase items that are normally too expensive, or to stock up on things that you use all the time.  Take advantage of them and adapt your shopping list accordingly.  But beware, you have to be savvy when purchasing these items.  A lot of people buy things purely because they are on offer and actually end up spending more than they would have otherwise.  If you can’t see yourself using it regularly, don’t purchase it.  Offers are a double threat because they also mainly occur on unhealthy items.  Stick to your healthy-eating guns and only buy the nutritious items.  Buy-one-get-one-free on a 5 gallon tub of ice cream?  It’s probably best to leave it in the freezer!

You can find some great bargains just by shopping later in the day.  At about 3:00pm – 4:00pm, most supermarkets will start reducing fresh items that have to be used that day and any fruit, vegetables or herbs that are looking past their best.  Most of these items will store well in the freezer, so if you see a bargain bag of bananas put them in your trolley.  They can be frozen and used in a variety of ways.  The same is true of fresh vegetables and herbs, which also freeze well.  Don’t let the short expiry date on fresh or refrigerated items put you off, as very often these can be frozen too, just check the packet.

It is generally cheaper to purchase things in larger packets.  Compare prices to see which is more economical but instead of checking the price of the item, look at the small print which will tell you the cost of the item per serving, per 100g etc.  This will allow you to compare the real cost of the product and can also help you to compare the price across different brands. Discount warehouses such as Costco, can also provide an opportunity to buy in bulk and save money.  Again, don’t be tempted to buy things you don’t need.

If you love ready-made items such as healthy fruit bars (e.g. Nakd bars) check the ingredients list.  Would it be possible for you to make a similar product at home, with inexpensive ingredients and a food processor?  If so, give it a go.  It may not taste exactly the same but it will generally be close enough and you will save yourself a packet in the process.  Best of all, you get to have fun in the kitchen and take pride in eating things you’ve made from scratch.

Before you leave for your shopping trip, decide how much you are going to spend.  Check that the items on your list fall within this amount by doing a quick tally of roughly how much the items cost.  When you get to the supermarket, keep a running total of how much you are spending by using a calculator, or making a mental note.  If you really want to stick to your budget then only carry cash.  Not having enough money to pay for your goods is a great incentive to stay within budget.  Nobody wants to be embarrassed at the checkout!

There is generally not much difference between a branded item and its generic equivalent, so go for the store’s own brand where you can.  You can take this even further by purchasing some items from the ‘economy’ ranges offered.  If you are going to cook with items such as tinned beans, tinned vegetables, bread and cheese you may as well go economy, as the other flavours of the dish will mean you won’t notice if these items don’t quite measure up to the more expensive products.  However, if you are an ethical eater I would advise against buying economy meat and eggs.  The quality is poor, as are the conditions the animals are kept in.

There is no reason why you should go to just one supermarket for your goods.  Greengrocers, markets, butchers and bakers can all be cheaper alternatives to the supermarket, so it pays to shop around.  You might also consider the discount supermarkets, such as Netto, Lidl and Aldi, if not for everything you buy then certainly for some specific items which may be cheaper than your regular supermarket.

When it comes to fruit and vegetables it is easy to believe that fresh is best.  However, there is no reason why frozen or canned can’t be just as nutritious.  So if you can’t afford to buy fresh products, look for their frozen counterpart instead.  There is nothing wrong with canned sweetcorn and canned tomatoes actually contain more lycopene than fresh.  Apart from being cheaper, frozen and canned food also keeps for much longer so is less likely to go to waste.

These are my tips for shopping on a budget.  If you have any of your own, please share.

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