Budgeting is a part of adulthood; learning how to make every dollar count and still live an abundant healthy lifestyle can be tricky, but it's a skill that can be taught.
Since moving down to the Sunshine Coast to complete my bachelor's degree, I have had to put myself on a tight budget. Living pay-check to pay-check can be very familiar for many families, and having the tools to keep healthy and still be on a budget can be daunting.
So I have decided to start a poor girl's pantry series on my YouTube channel. These videos will inspire you to make delicious meals without breaking the bank and make you feel energised.
Below are some handy tips to get you started and take the stress out of penny stretching.
Plan your meals
Planning meals for the week is a well-known tip for budgeting to ensure you stick to a shopping list, so still worth mentioning. Planning out meals can give you a weekly overview, and it can help with your time management and sticking to a budget if you need to prepare meals for the week ahead or just take out the guesswork at the end of the day for making dinner that night.
Making lists before shopping will help you know what you already have in the pantry and fridge before you go to the store; this helps to save from doubling up on expensive items (doubling up isn't a bad thing; I'll explain this further down). It also helps with pantry rotation, creating meals with what you have in your pantry.
Look at food that will expire soon and create weekly meals from these ingredients first, preventing you from throwing away good food.
Stick to your list and never shop hungry. Shopping on an empty stomach can add those naughty, highly processed items that aren't on the list to the cart. I try only shopping the perimeter of the store as this is where the whole foods are stocked.
Search for sales
When I was in my early 20s, I would buy the most expensive items because they were at eye level. Being a budget shopper means looking at product sales on the high and low shelves, including generic products. Generic products sometimes taste exactly the same as well as the nutrient contents.
When it comes to half-prIce sales, I usually buy two. This is why doubling up on items often saves money in the long run. Since covid, I have created a second pantry of staples, and when sales come up, I double up on the products I use often and stock-rotate them.
Check unit prices
This is probably the best tip of all, and only in the last year have I started to do this.
Checking the price per 100g/ml instead of the product price can benefit your dollar. Sometimes, I can shop organic, which is cheaper than non-organic, just by checking the unit price.
For example, larger items will have a higher price but a lower unit price than the same smaller product.
Buy bulk (when it makes sense)
When I was zero waste, I would only shop at bulk food stores like The Source and Naked Bulk Foods, and It sometimes made my grocery bill blow out; however, these stores have become more affordable the more popular they have become. I have a little list on my phone of the bulk food store comparisons to the grocery product prices, and they are also package free, making our plastic waste smaller, which is a win-win. If you have a local bulk food store, take note of the unit prices of your favourite staples, compare them to your local grocer, and let the saving begin.
This ties in with what has been mentioned above, but start shopping around. It's nice to have everything in one store, but sometimes it may not be the best for your dollar. I like to shop for different sales in all of the grocery stores, and I try to go to a shopping centre with all the stores in one place, getting the grocery shopping done in one day and not driving to all these different places.
People have this notion that eating healthy can be expensive. If you look at many of the highly processed and convenient foods loaded with sugar and salt may sometimes cost double the amount. They can leave you craving more than the serving size suggests. When I eat a packet of chips, I eat the whole packet. They have no nutritional value, and you will feel yucky afterwards.
Cooking at home is always nutritious and cheaper than takeaway or dining out. Lately, I have found that what I make at home is better for quality and taste. If you are finding it difficult to make dinner after work, select a day on the weekend ie Sunday, to prep your meals and store them in containers in the fridge. Making large batches of meals will cut your costs down to give you a few days of food. Lately, I have been making 3 different batch meals for the week that can go with a side salad or veggies to bulk up the nutritional value of a meal. Pasta and rice dishes can also be great for large-batch meals.
If you have children, this can be a great Sunday activity to get them connected to their food.
When you cook your own meals, you better understand the ingredients and what is going into your body. Food is fuel, and it is also a sensory activity for smell and taste. Enjoy every step.
Packing your lunch for work and school is a huge money saver. Roughly buying lunch today is around $15 per day. If you work Monday to Friday, that is $75 a week in lunches, and your morning coffee is $25, it all adds up. Even though it is convenient when you have a busy lifestyle to grab your lunch out when you break it down, it can make all the difference, especially when you are saving for a holiday or even to pay for your petrol (It costs me $100 to fill my car up). Also, sometimes, what food options are available around you may not be the healthiest option.
Rethink the Fresh and Frozen Produce
Frozen food is also a great way to get out-of-season produce for affordable prices. They are harvested at the same time as fresh and are snap-frozen to hold their nutrients. I love getting organic frozen fruits and vegetables that can bulk up any smoothie or meal. The pros of frozen food are that you take what you need for a dish and do not worry that it will spoil and last longer than fresh would.
Farmers' markets are a great place to get seasonal fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices. They come straight from the farm and usually last longer in the fridge because they haven't been stored in a storage centre.
Foods that are not in season are usually transported, even picked, before they are ripened and then gassed. Have you ever had a tasteless tomato from the supermarket? That brings me to my last tip for growing your own.
Grow when you can
Our great-grandparents grew food in their backyards when money was tight. During the great depression, money was sparse and growing your own food became a social norm to save money.
You do not need a green thumb or a huge backyard to start growing food, herbs and fruit trees.
I have a couple of citrus fruit trees in large pots, and lettuce can also grow like wildfire in a pot. Growing lettuce alone is an easy money saver. Saving seeds once they have run their growth cycle and doing it all again next season.
Gardening is also a great mental health hobby; getting your hands in fertile soil can be a bonus for your gut health. Once you begin to grow your own food, you realise you are missing out on the taste of organically grown food and the reward from all the love you have given to the plant.
You don't need to break the bank to eat healthy, nutritious meals on a tight budget. Planning meals and cooking at home with cheaper and more nutritious