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How to Live Healthy on a Budget

Updated on April 9, 2013

Many people across the world are faced with tough economic situations and are looking for ways to reduce spending. This may include going out less, cutting back on driving, and unfortunately, buying cheaper food and cancelling gym memberships. The good news is that saving money does not mean you cannot continue to live a healthy lifestyle.

Reducing Your Grocery Bill

I never fully realized how expensive groceries are until I started living on my own. As I became more interested in healthy living I feared that I would never be able to afford the food I felt like I should be eating. Over time I discovered foods that not only are inexpensive, but versatile. These foods have become the staples of my diet.

  • Eggs: Supposedly there are 100 ways to cook an egg so its hard to get bored of these guys. One egg has 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of healthy unsaturated fats, vitamin D, all 9 essential amino acids, and, contrary to popular belief, they do not raise cholesterol levels. They are extremely cheap at $2-3 a dozen.
  • Brown Rice: Switching out brown rice for white rice is one of the best, easiest health choices you can make. Brown rice is high in fiber, lowers cholesterol, is good for your bones, and can aid in weight loss. A one pound bag costs $1-2 and lasts me a few weeks.
  • Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is a good source of calcium and protein and is typically much lower in fat than regular yogurts. A quick meal I love is a container of yogurt with a chopped up apple and 1/4 cup granola mixed in. Most yogurts are around $1 for a 6 ounce container.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Without a doubt one of my favorite foods. They are nutrient powerhouses. These potatoes have iron, magnesium, Vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E, and potassium, making them very heart healthy. They are a little more expensive than Russet or Yukon potatoes but the added benefits make it worth the few extra cents. Sweet potatoes typically run around $1.80 per pound.
  • Spinach: Good for just about every part of your body; brain, skin, bones, immune system, digestion, blood sugar, and so on. You can buy a bundle of spinach for less than $2 or a packaged bag for around the same price. Be aware that if you are planning on cooking the spinach it will cook down to a much smaller volume than when raw.
  • Canned Tuna: Tuna is high in protein, good for your eyes and heart, and has energy boosting Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a versatile food that can be used in salads, casseroles, sandwiches, on crackers, or in wraps. A single can of tuna is between $0.80 and $1.50, but if you buy a pack of 4 or more it is more cost efficient.
  • Frozen Vegetables: It varies based on what you buy, but you will most likely get low calorie, vitamin packed food. They are quick and easy to make which adds to their appeal. Smaller bags are often only $1 while the larger ones may be $2-4.

More advice on healthy grocery shopping can be found in this guide.

'Good Morning America' found that an average $1,200 could be saved each year by using store brands (and that was just substituting at dinner!).
'Good Morning America' found that an average $1,200 could be saved each year by using store brands (and that was just substituting at dinner!). | Source

Generic Brand vs Name Brand

Do you typically buy generic or name brand food?

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In addition to buying healthy, inexpensive foods here are some tips to cut a few more dollars off from your bill.

  • Switch to water: Confession: I used to be a huge soda addict. I am proud to say that I have been soda free for nearly seven months now. Substituting water for soda has made me slimmer and my wallet fatter. Water is primarily the only thing I drink, but if you drink juice try getting a cheap juicer and making it at home. It will save you money, taste better, and prevent you from taking in all those added sugars and chemicals.
  • Don't buy what you can make: Are you a coffee drinker? Do you stop at the coffee shop on your way to work each day? If you do, then stop! A dollar or two for a coffee may seem cheap, but it adds up fast. Make your own coffee at home to save money and the hassle of making a stop. Most coffee makers come with timers so you don't even have to worry about starting it up in the morning.
  • Buy generic brands: This is one you need to be careful with. If I am buying a food that I don't get often I always make sure to compare the nutritional labels between the brand name and store name. With many foods you will find them to be identical, in which case you can save easy money. However, some generic brands skimp on quality ingredients and start adding things like high fructose corn syrup. When this starts happening it's worth the extra cash to get the brand name.
  • Check to see if your store has a rewards card: Most grocery stores do some sort of rewards/savings card. It is free to sign up and will get you discounts on a lot of items. Some of them also give you money off gas or extra coupons.
  • Use coupons: Check flyers or online for weekly coupons/specials. Even if you don't need something this moment it might be worthwhile to buy it anyway. For example, I eat peanut butter like a mad woman, so say I see that it is half price for that day only. Even if I have a just opened jar at home I will probably buy it because I know that I will be out within a week. Be careful though, don't get enticed into buying something you don't really want and won't use just because it is on sale.
  • When buying fresh, buy little and often: This will prevent your food from spoiling before you have the chance to eat it and through money down the drain.
  • Calculate your total as you shop: My mom always did this when I was young and I never understood. If you keep a tab as you go I find that it prevents you from making impulse buys. Before you shop have a budget and stick to it.

Make do with what you have. Playgrounds can be great for workouts!
Make do with what you have. Playgrounds can be great for workouts! | Source

Fitness for Free (or pretty close to it)

One of the most common reasons people don't exercise is because gym memberships are too expensive. Even the $10 or $20 monthly fee for a place like Planet Fitness can be a hit to your budget. There are still plenty of free or inexpensive ways to get your workout in.

  • Get Outside: Bike, run, walk, hike, swim, play volleyball, anything! There are so many possibilities. When I first started my health journey I lost the first 15 pounds just by running outside on my dirt road, doing crunches and pushups on my lawn, dips on the bumper of my car, and hula hooping.
  • Spend a few dollars on an instructional video: There are programs like P90X, Insanity, TapouT XT, and so on, but these usually run rather expensive. Some cheaper options are Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, Pilates, and yoga. Blogilates is also a great site with tons free Pilates videos and an awesome instructor.
  • Calisthenics: These exercises use just your body weight and therefore can be done anywhere, anytime, for free. Ones to try: lunges, pushups, crunches, dips, planks, and leg raises.
  • Little changes make a difference: If you are really strapped for cash use every opportunity possible to get in some exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park your car farther from the office. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up!

Start Saving

By following these tips you can save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a year. So start making some frugal decisions and you can begin planning your next vacation! If you have any more money saving tricks, please feel free to share!


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