This is the first post in a four-part series on “Dieting on a budget” – tips and tricks for sticking to your healthy habits when money is tight.
Food prices have soared recently, with increases as high as 20% on bread, 60% on rice and 81% on pasta. (UK statistics – see Families struggling as bills beginning to bite.) Perhaps your healthy shopping list is starting to seem expensive – especially when you see big tins of cookies, bags of chips and super-sized candy bars on offer. But with a few tweaks to your usual purchasing habits, you could save money and eat well.
1. Buy local, in-season foods
Local, seasonal produce is usually cheaper than foods which have to be imported. Not only is it better for your wallet, it’s better for the environment: your food won’t have clocked up thousands of air miles on its way to your plate.
2. Stick to basic fruits and veggies
Staying simple can save a lot. Shop simply for carrots, onions, apples, and so on … rather than spending several dollars on a tiny bundle of asparagus or a few pieces of baby corn. Save these more exotic vegetables for an occasional treat.
3. Never buy “diet” products
I don’t mean avoid “light” versions of foods (though low-fat ranges are often more expensive than the regular equivalents). “Diet” products are those hugely pricey shakes, “meal replacement bars”, energy gels and other weird and wonderful potions that bear little relation to actual food. These are overpriced, and of questionable nutritional value.
4. Buy in bulk – but buy the right things
Buying twice your usual amount of snack foods because they’re on offer unfortunately doesn’t always mean they’ll last twice as long in the cupboard … the more buy, the faster we tend to get through it. So don’t stock up on those boxes of chocolate cookies just because they’re on offer … instead, look out for buy-one-get-one-free deals on store-cupboard staples like dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, crispbreads and anything else that will keep well or which you can freeze.
5. Shop when products are reduced
Most stores will cut prices on their perishable foodstuffs near the end of the day — if the “use by” date is the current day, they’ll have to be binned if they’re not sold. Go shopping an hour or two before the store closes — you can often pick up some great bargains. The best products to look out for are bread, fruit and vegetables and chilled foods.
6. Try cheaper supermarkets
Don’t dismiss the idea of switching to a cheaper store for part of your weekly shop. In my experience, it’s not worth buying fresh foods there, but dried and tinned goods are often available at bargain prices. The main store near my office (Sainsbury’s, a mid-range supermarket chain) sells boxes of Cadbury’s brunch bars for £1.79 a box — compared to £1 at the aptly named “Poundland” opposite.
7. Plan your meals and only buy what you need
Do you often end up throwing food away because it’s gone off before you’ve had a chance to use it? If so, resolve to sit down this weekend and plan exactly what you’ll need – before doing your weekly shop. It’s usually cheaper to buy larger quantities, so try to organize your main meals so you’ll be using some of the same fresh ingredients two or three times during the week.
Have you found any good ways to shop on a budget? Let us know in the comments below…
(And look out for the next post in this series – Seven ways to exercise on a budget.)
Photo above by yanyanyanyanyan.