Eating Real Food on a Budget isn’t hard. Learn how with 7 tips on how to have a whole foods meal plan, shopping lists, and a frugal healthy recipe menu! For more support on eating real food on a strategic budget, enroll in my Grocery Budget Bootcamp Course!
Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re looking for ways to afford real food on a budget. I don’t blame you – I did the same thing when my husband and I were looking to make the switch.
But there’s also a good chance that you’re looking for solid help. You don’t need quick tips or want to hear the same advice over and over again, right? Well you’re in luck.
I’ve spent years learning and refining a system to afford real food on a budget, and I’m in it with you today.
Now, I do need to make a disclaimer.
The concept of “real food on a budget” is SUPER big. In fact, there’s so much information that it takes me 13 very full lessons and 8 jam-packed weeks to teach my course Grocery Budget Bootcamp. And yet, many people still don’t finish the class on time.
But I don’t want that to be a downer, because there are several things you can do RIGHT NOW that will help you afford real food on a budget, no matter where you live and no matter what your dietary restrictions are!
7 Simple Ways to Afford Real Food on a Budget
1. Determine how much you should spend on food.
It’s impossible to afford real food on a budget if you don’t have a budget in the first place, so that’s where you start. There’s no way around it.
You can try and try all you want, but if you don’t know how much you’ve been spending on food, and how much you SHOULD be spending on food, then your efforts won’t do any good.
It’s like trying to finish a race without having a starting point. Does that even make sense? Is that even possible?
No – that’s why you MUST have a food budget before you implement anything else. Start with this post on figuring out how much you should spend on food.
2. Acknowledge how often you’re really shopping.
Doesn’t it sound glamorous to make one trip to the grocery store just once a week and come home with everything you have and never have to go back later in the week? Not for a single thing?
Unfortunately, this isn’t most of us.
The majority of grocery shoppers make multiple trips to the store each week for “just one thing”… where you and I both know we never walk out with just one thing.
Often they’re processed foods (even organic) for convenience. Especially from stores like Trader Joe’s!
These multiple trips are NOT budget friendly, and in order to fix it, we have to face the truth of how often we’re going to the store (in addition to how much we spend AND the actual stores we shop at).
If you need help with shopping less, download this meal plan with the shopping list. You’ll have everything you need in just one trip!
3. Figure out your food buying strategy.
Have you ever opened the fridge or pantry to stand there and say, “We have nothing to eat!”
Or even better, you get to the end of the month to see how much you’ve spent on food and you wonder how in the world your number got so high?
That’s because we’re buying food (obviously), but we’re not being strategic about it. We aren’t planning meals ahead with our budget in mind.
If we want to be able to afford real food on a budget, we have to be intentional with our money and the things we put in our carts – in every store, or farmer’s market, we shop at, with every trip we make.
Make sure you keep these real foods in your pantry and not only will you always have something to eat, but there’s a good chance you’ll have what you need to make a healthy recipe.
4. Consider how much food you already have.
Several years ago my husband and I went on a no spending challenge. It turns out we had enough food to get us through 33 days without grocery shopping.
THIRTY-THREE DAYS people. That’s more than a month’s worth of food that was ALREADY in our house!
Chances are, you have a good bit of food too. This is food you’ve already shopped for, paid for and put away. The easiest way to afford real food on a budget, is to eat this food!
5. Determine if cooking from scratch is cost-effective.
People say cooking from scratch will save you money, and that statement isn’t false. But most people don’t mention that you might actually SAVE money if you bought certain items instead.
What items would that be?
Well, it depends largely on your own eating habits, but I can tell you right off that unless you have a massive garden (and you’re an efficient gardener too), it costs more money to process your own canned diced tomatoes than it does to buy a can at the store.
This applies whether you buy organic or conventional!
On the other hand, it’s cheaper to cook beans from scratch than it is to buy them canned.
The only way to know for sure if you should be cooking from scratch is to do the math, because every family is different.
6. Calculate how much you COULD be saving on food.
Have you ever bought something at one store, then gone to the next to find the very thing you just bought, for less money?
Now imagine this same scenario and apply it to ALL the food you buy.
What if you’ve been overpaying for groceries this entire time? What if you could save $20-50 a week just by going to a different store?
You may scoff, but this isn’t far-fetched.
One of my Grocery Budget Bootcamp graduates recently emailed me to say they found avocado oil for 10¢ cheaper per ounce. This one change saves them $40 a year alone!
Imagine doing that with every staple food you buy from olive oil to eggs to milk… you could easily be saving HUNDREDS of dollars, just by going to a different store!
(I recently comparison shopped ALDI versus Walmart, and ALDI versus Costco. Both articles are worth the read if you shop at these stores!) This sample month of spending shows how it’s possible to stick to a budget and what types of items I get at different stores for the best price.
7. Think about how much food you’re really using.
Another common “money saving tip” when you’re trying to afford real food on a budget is to buy in bulk. The concept is true, but the application tends to be wrong.
Should you buy in bulk? Sure!
Should you buy everything in bulk? Absolutely not.
Which leads to some questions…
- What then, should you buy in bulk?
- And how do you know if another store has a better price?
- How do you figure out if it’s cheaper to make something from scratch or buy it instead?
- Can you see how much food you have (and come up with a plan to eat it?)
- How do you stop having “nothing to eat” when the fridge is full?
- Is it even possible to shop less often and where do you start when you need a real food budget?
Answering these questions is how my husband and I have been able to afford real food on a budget. We spend just $350/month for our family of four, and this includes a largely plant-based diet, with some organic and grass-fed foods!
I use a strategic system to make this healthy food work within our budget, and I teach this system in my course Grocery Budget Bootcamp.
I teach this course much like a college class, so enrollment is only open twice a year. You can either register for the course, or join the wait-list on this page.
As of this writing, my students have collectively saved $7.5 million dollars. THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY!
You can get your piece of the pie – just register for Grocery Budget Bootcamp, or sign up to be notified when enrollment is open!
#6 resonates with me in so many instances – most recently with regard to bottled water. My mom always loved Ice Mountain brand water. She wouldn’t buy any other brand because she just enjoyed the taste of IM.
When she passed away, I continued to buy the IM cases out of habit, and frankly, I enjoyed the taste as well. After several months of lugging those cases up and down the stairs in my apartment (which got old really quick), I searched for another filtered water option. Home delivery would’ve cost me a lot more than buying the cases when I factored in how much water I drink daily.
I finally opted for a refillable pitcher – similar to a Brita. The water tastes just as good as IM and now I pretty much have unlimited water for everything! Replacement filters are a nominal cost and they last for 3 months. Can’t beat the savings! 🙂
SJ - Team Crumbs
Awesome Tammy! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Interesting how differently we read the comment on gardening. I didn’t see that Tiffany was discouraging gardening in any degree at all. Using her example of processing canned diced tomatoes versus buying them already canned, I interpreted that as buying the tomatoes to process. To can enough homegrown tomatoes to last me through the growing season and beyond would require a lot of good producing tomato plants, plus a significant amount of work to process them all. It is all about evaluating what is the best return on your gardening time and space. Greens, radishes, beans, peas, squash, etc. and even tomatoes for eating fresh are all great money savers to grow (and taste a lot better, too!) Another great advantage of growing your own that has nothing to do with money is knowing exactly what was used such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Savings are must thing to do. One way of savings on groceries is to harvest veggies and fruits in your own garden. Trend of harvesting your food is growing at a steady pace.
Have a great week and thanks for the tips.
Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker
Have you tried growing fruit? I harvest hundreds on pounds of fruit from my trees and vines, and that is the biggest savings that I get from my garden. I grow Meyer lemons, peaches, apples, figs, apricots, grapes and blackberries.
I grow tons of fresh herbs, including parlsey, oregano, rosemary and basil–which I no longer buy at the store. I use those (dried) to make salad dressings, to season spaghetti sauce, etc.
Swiss chard is super easy to grow, and it grows right back. It’s super expensive at the store but very inexpensive to grow.
Lettuce is $1 to $1.49 a head on sale (lowest price here). Homegrown looseleaf lettuce can be harvested three times, and even if you had only three heads grow from hundreds of seeds, you’d still come out ahead. I grow open-pollinated lettuce and I save the seeds; if you do that, you don’t even have to buy seeds for lettuce.
I live in Idaho… most of the items you are suggesting I grow can’t be grown here :'(
We are in the process of putting up a high tunnel thru the NRCS program so we will be able to grow our salad items thru the winter! So excited for that!!! We live over an hour away from any Walmart and McDonalds in Arco Idaho…
My husband bought me garden lamp system and I have fresh lettuce, herbs all year long. You cut it off and it grows back.Its the expensive type of lettuce so I’m saving money and have fresh stuff.
Lots of great tips here. However, gardening has pretty much always been a good deal for me, large or small. In fact, a small square-foot type garden yields more produce for the time involved. I have 12 4×4 raised beds that have the potential to produce “massive garden” results with less than half the effort.
I can see where gardening wouldn’t be worth it if you were comparing the savings to working a job (“I earn $20.00 per hour at my job and save $4.00 per hour gardening”), especially if you’re not a great gardener. I can also see where gardening wouldn’t pay off if you have to buy soil, water, compost, etc. But for me, a $0.30 pepper plant will yield 5-8 peppers over the growing season. I can fit 16 plants in a 4×4 raised bed and have my “massive garden” pepper patch fit into the size of a small kitchen table. How’s that not a good deal? Tomatoes are also worth doing. Diced tomatoes, tomato paste and salsa take a lot of time, but a generic tomato sauce (where you run the tomatoes through a Vitamix and can them) costs pennies on the dollar and can be used for spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, enchilada sauce, etc.
Carrots, potatoes and onions are three things I’ve found to be far less cost effective (though they still save some money).
I think the one intangible for foods you’ve grown yourself and put up is the quality. There is nothing like the tomatoes we can! But maybe that’s just the Jersey soil. Lol. My kids can tell the difference too!