If there’s one excuse that’s a little infuriating to hear as a health expert, it’s…“I can’t afford to eat healthy.”
Usually when someone says this, they’re also curiously not going to the gym very often or drinking enough water… or even choosing the healthiest option they think they can afford.
See, at GymJunkies… we have little sympathy for someone who won’t buy decent vegetables yet spends $8 at the Wendy’s drive-through a few times a week.
Still, this is a topic that does warrant some thought. There are a number of health-food items that do cost a lot more than their generic counterparts:
- Organic Food
- Grass Fed Beef
- Free Range Chicken
- Premium fruits (Raspberries, Watermelon)
- Anything at Whole Foods
So I’m not going to get on the soapbox and say you should run out and pay $3.99 for a pint of raspberries or get a $17 per pound organic steak. Those are prices that do seem flat-out ridiculous, depending on your income level.
What I’m going to give you here is a guide on how to save your cash while still eating as healthy as possible.
1. (No-Brainer Alert) Cook at Home
The hard thing to swallow is that if you eat even one meal a day prepared at a restaurant or food court, you are likely losing all the money you think you’re saving by buying cheap at the grocery store.
That $8 burrito? If you made organic veggies and meat at home, you would still be unlikely to spend over $8 for a single meal.
Bringing your lunch will save you enough food costs over the months that you’ll have a ton of flexibility for what produce and meats you buy when you’re out shopping.
Now to the real stuff…
2. Look at Price per Serving Instead of per Pound
We’re used to looking at price tags for everything we buy, so of course $6 for a container of milk makes us sweat. And what about that $5 carton of eggs?
Who cares if your eggs are organic, free-range, and blessed by the Dalai Lama if you can’t even pay your rent?
But just as an experiment, let’s take a closer look at whether you’re really paying that much…
How many eggs do you eat at a time usually? Two? Three?
Let’s say you’re a protein machine and every time you open that egg carton, four of those suckers are going into the pan. That gives you three servings out of a dozen.
So since the regular egg package might cost you $2, you normally pay $0.66 per serving for regular eggs. Not bad at all!
But let’s say you’re living large and splurge for that dozen organic, free-range, “born in a manger” eggs at $4.50.
If you have four eggs for a meal, it’s actually $1.50 per serving.
And if you have three eggs per meal, it’s $1.13 per serving.
Just like you wouldn’t blink if your Heineken cost fifty cents or a dollar more then a Bud Lite, you should treat real food the same way. It costs relatively little to get the maximum value here.
It’s the same with organic milk. You might pay $6 a gallon instead of $3 a gallon, but when you look at how long that jug lasts you, you may very well only be paying $0.20 cents more per use, which is a fair bargain I’d say.
This applies even more to larger items like condiments, supplements, and other things you injest only a bit at a time.
So for the “big stuff,” do the math first before making a decision to go organic vs. conventional.
3. Get Ruthless at the Meat Counter
Now even if you cook at home and are reasonable with your bulk purchasing, at some point you are going to wander into the meat & poultry section of the grocery store and your jaw will drop.
This is where you have to do your research and NEVER accept that you have one main provider of meat.
Visit all the fresh grocery stores in your area, including big name supermarkets and smaller health food stores. To get the best deals, you will have to nerd out a little bit and write down what price each organic cut of meat is.
One thing you’ll notice at your grocery stores is that a number of meat departments spin grass-fed beef as “rich people food” and use it as an excuse to charge as much as humanly possible.
In some stores, you’ll notice that any steak that’s organic will curiously also be Filet Mignon or a special rib eye variety. You don’t have to tolerate those $15-20 per pound prices to get the healthiest meat.
Ask the guy behind the meat counter if there’s any grass fed or organic cuts that are under $9 a pound. Often they keep a low supply available and will bring more out when people ask. It’s not unusual to find $5.99 per pound cuts of grass fed short ribs, for example.
If anyone says they’re “out” of that stuff for the day, always say the magic words, “It’s ok, I’ll try somewhere else.” Statements like that do get noticed and managers hate hearing that they lost business (even for the day) because they were out of an item that a competing store had.
After doing your homework and talking to a few friendly meat counter folk, you’ll know where to go for what kinds of meat and be only paying a couple dollars more for the healthiest meat and poultry.
4. Learn the “Dirty Dozen” for Produce
Organic fruit and vegetable prices will make you wince but generally won’t make you cry out in bitter agony like you do at the meat counter.
Still, it all adds up… especially when looking at that $4 avocado.
You know what? Screw the avocado.
You can go conventional for a lot of fruits and vegetables without there being much of a difference. There is a wide range of how much pesticide, wax polish, and GMO-Magic go into your produce, so it’s not always necessary to eat organic.
Look up a recent list of the “Dirty Dozen.” An example is at http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/dirty-dozen-foods.
If you’re on a budget, even avoiding the worst offenders (apples and bell pepper) will take you a long way.
Bottom line: With a little initiative, you can shave much of the cost off the healthiest food available to you in your community. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to find co-ops that let you get great healthy organics in bulk.
Feel free to share in the comments section what your tactics are for getting the most bang for your buck at the grocery store.