Let’s be honest, we have all been there… No cash and struggling to make ends meet until payday!
When our son was first born and I stopped working, we lost an entire income, this meant that we really struggled to make ends meet and I am not ashamed to say so! Since we didn’t really have much “entertainment” expenditure to cut out we had to go to the next best thing – the food bill. As foodies, we have always indulged through food rather than going out so we really struggled to cut down and at first we went in the completely wrong direction!
Healthy/organic food can be expensive so anything fresh went completely out the window, we just bought processed, packaged rubbish most of the time just so that it was something we had to stop from being hungry. This was 4 years ago and led to us have really poor eating habits and creating a reward system with food that was incredibly unhealthy, whenever we would have money we would buy takeaway food as a “treat” because we had been buying rubbish food all month, and so the cycle began!
It wasn’t until our son started eating the same food we were that we knew we needed to do something about it! We didn’t want him eating processed crap (it was very much a – “do as I say, not as I do” situation) or being nutritionally deficient because these are important growth years (and with my 5ft 2″ frame he needs all the height help he can get!).
So things had to change! For those struggling with financial problems I have two pieces of advice: 1. do not compromise your health to save pennies or cents, 2. Never feel ashamed to second guess prices in the supermarket, they can make a huge difference! (if it is labelled as “on offer” but doesn’t scan through, you should say something!)
You’ll be pleased to know that since then we are a lot more financially stable than we once were and here are the best tips and tricks I can think of for eating healthy while being broke!
1.Check the clearance/reduced section
There is always a section of marked down food in a supermarket (you just have to find it) for the squashed cans or food that is close to the expiry date. This can be a gold mine for food and can be an excellent place to find reduced fresh meat and vegetables and can lead to a lot of savings for you and your family! There are two things to be careful of here;
- Make sure you are actually saving – in some cases, they mark it as reduced but only by a silly amount which means you aren’t really saving anything as you may be able to get a 2 for 1 offer on the same product in a different isle.
- Make sure it’s safe – While 90% of supermarkets won’t have contaminated goods in the reduced section, some can slip through the net. Always make sure with meat that the packing is still sealed and no food is contaminated, don’t compromise on safety to save a few!
2. Your freezer is your friend
Don’t be afraid to use your freezer to the fullest potential! It can be incredibly useful for saving food and making seasonal ingredients available all year round. When you buy or cook in bulk, add leftover ingredients or portions to the freezer to store them and make sure nothing goes to waste. Food waste is one of the biggest ways you can lose money because it doesn’t matter what you buy if you don’t use all of it! My favorite things to do is use frozen fruit in smoothies which is an excellent way of chilling it to the perfect temperature and making it taste delicious.
For more frugal frozen food ideas checkout my post Fun Uses for Frozen Fruit
Note: Make sure you defrost things properly before cooking or reheating – especially meat!
3.Plan your meals/write a list
It may seem tedious but pre-planning your meals can help you to avoid the waste situation again, while it is not spontaneous or fun (at all) it is definitely worth doing! Knowing what you are going to cook allows you to know exactly what to buy so that you don’t fall into the supermarket trap of picking things up necessarily and never using them later on. Lists help you to stay on track and remind you of what you need. (they are also great at stopping you from forgetting the main ingredient to your planned meals! – yes I have done that before!).
4.Pay attention to deals!
It might seem self-explanatory but a decent deal will actually save you a lot of dosh! Pay attention to deals, coupons or vouchers and find stores with incentives; for example, Tesco.com offer “Clubcard points” which means you get money back for shopping there and exclusive vouchers and offers. (We used vouchers to buy an entire week of shopping because of it before!). What I also mean by this is to watch out for the sneaky “deals” that aren’t actually worth it! For example, sometimes items are marked down by a couple of pennies or cents and make no difference because they were expensive to begin with. Similarly, some supermarkets will have two offers on the same product that are different quantities so sometimes you get a better saving buying the bigger portion (see below).
5.Buy in bulk
As I mentioned above, a lot of the time it pays off to buy things in bigger quantities. I tend to get a bit carried away and we once ended up with about 30 toilet rolls squished into our cupboard (I learn from my mistakes). What I learned is that you should really only buy things in bulk that you use a lot otherwise things go to waste no matter how hard you try, for example I buy meat in bulk and freeze it and I buy fruit and vegetables in large portions because fresh food tends to be MUCH cheaper in bulk too.Obviously you can buy other things too but try to avoid going big on everything including household cleaning products; while it can be tempting to save a bit of money you end up spending more overall and it is not something you need every month so eats into your actual food budget.
Obviously you can buy other things too but try to avoid going big on everything including household cleaning products; while it can be tempting to save a bit of money you end up spending more overall and it is not something you need every month so eats into your actual food budget.
6.Set a spending budget
I know this seems self-explanatory and while you know what money you do and don’t have, an actual figure can be really motivating and help you prioritize and eat healthier. If you are down to your last £20 or $20 and you have to choose between food that will last you 3-4 days (in ingredients and fresh food) or food that will last you 1-2 days (processed, ready packaged) it can help to put things into perspective and make the right decisions on money.
Setting a realistic budget that is not just a “roundabout” figure can make you more likely not to overspend, paired with the list and pre-planned food you have done and you will find that you can easily stay within the budget. Also, don’t be afraid to put things back or question deals in the supermarket, if you don’t want it or need it then don’t waste the money. If you see a better deal then swap it, don’t feel like you are forced to buy something and waste your money!
We are VERY big fans of eating out and takeaways (like I said, we are foodies) and we used to think that because we had it delivered and it was cheaper than going to a restaurant that we were saving (how naive we were). I worked it out and even if you go to a cheap place to eat you will be spending 2-5 times as much as if you were to make a meal at home and most of them will be using fats, cream and full-fat cheeses or sauces which means that even your healthy salad is now unhealthy with the dressing!
We realized that you can have just as much fun and make a special day or night out together using food than actually paying for someone else to do it. Take a pre-packed picnic instead and you can chuck out the knife and fork and have fun outdoors OR if (like here in the UK) it is raining a lot, spend time in the kitchen cooking together or discovering new recipes and you may find that you bond a little bit more too!
Overall, being broke can put a lot of strain on a relationship and so can being unhealthy with poor eating habits, they can make you both tired, hungry and even more stressed out! Use some of my tips and it will see you through until you are a little less strapped for cash! I promise it gets better, just stick at it!
I hope these tips and tricks help you out;