How to Balance Healthy Eating With Living On A Budget

How to Balance Healthy Eating With Living on a Budget

Grocery shopping is the bane of my existence. I hate cooking, which means by extension I strongly dislike grocery shopping.

However, I’m also a pretty frugal healthy person and I know that I save money and am healthier when I eat at home.

A few weeks ago I wrote about 14 ways to save on your grocery bill. After that post I had a lot of people ask me what an appropriate grocery budget was for their family.

This question got me curious, so I did a bit of research.

According to the USDA food statistics for November 2016 the average family of 4 spends the following:

 

Family of Four

With 2 kids from ages 2-5 With 2 kids from ages 6-11
Thrifty Plan 555.50 636.40
Low Cost Plan 708.40 838.50
Moderate Cost Plan 877.30 1,046.90
Liberal Plan 1,089.10 1,273.40

***The lower end of the range is for a family with 2 children between the ages of 2-5.  The high end of the range is with children ranging in ages from 6-11 years. Also keep in mind these numbers are purely based on food.***

The number seemed really high to me, so I decided to conduct my own real world survey.

I asked my facebook friends what their average grocery budget was and how many people they were feeding.

The numbers surprised me. If you want to read the actual thread it can be found here. Please feel free to contribute and I’ll update this post as needed.

On a side note, I should mention that I have friends in a variety of financial situations, some are doing very well and others are struggling. Overall I would say that the vast majority of them are middle class. Most aren’t struggling to feed themselves, but they also aren’t going crazy and have set specific grocery budgets.

Here is a quick synopsis of what my friends said:

  • Average spending per person was $157.57
    • High was $350 and the low was $56.25
  • Average household size was 4.42
    • High of 8 people in the family (four families) and a low of 1 person (two families)
  • Overall average spent on groceries was 650.47 per family
    • High of $1,700 (family of 8) and a low of $175 (for two people)
  • Total number of respondents: 43

**Please note that most people include regular household items in their grocery budget like toilet paper, cleaning products, detergent and stuff like that. Many of these figures also included pets, baby’s and toddlers.

This poll was completely unscientific. It doesn’t take into account any of the following factors:

  • Meals cooked at home
  • Meals eaten out
  • Age of kids (some of the most expensive spenders reported multiple teenage boys)
  • Healthy aspect of food (many did report they used organic food)
  • The extra non-food items
  • I could go on and on . . . .

Although this isn’t a scientific poll, the numbers are real. I believe they give a good indicator of how different food buying decisions can make an impact on our overall budget.

My friends, for the most part, aren’t spending even close to what the USDA lists as average costs. If you go purely by averages most of my friends are living within the Thrifty to Low-Cost Plans.

I’m always trying to save money.

I’ve always believed that most people should cut their food budgets if they are trying to save money. Simple right?

It isn’t quite as simple as everyone makes it out to be.

Yes, you can coupon, meal plan, watch sales and all the standard stuff I mentioned in my grocery saving tip article.

What none of this takes into account is the healthy factor in grocery shopping.

One of the biggest factors in my friends budgeting numbers is healthy/organic eating.

If I averaged out the respondents who specifically mentioned eating healthier food, the average cost per person rose from $157.57 to $220.83. That is a big jump when you have a couple of kids.

It costs a lot of money to eat the healthier/organic food.

As I’ve gotten older and more focused on my health, I’m noticing a shift in my eating habits.

I rarely eat out and when I do it is virtually never fast food. I don’t go crazy with organic food, but I’m purchasing more and more of the healthier food.

My dad is a cattle rancher, so all of my beef is from range-fed cattle. I buy the nicer eggs and watch for the sales on free-range chicken. I don’t go crazy with organic fruits and vegetables, but do wash everything with a little bit of vinegar to help clean out the chemicals.

I’m slowly making little incremental changes in my eating habits.

So the big question is, how do you balance healthy eating with living on a budget?

I don’t have all of the answers, but have found the following things help me:

1. Prioritize the areas you feel are most important

For example, I really worry about the quality of meat. I grew up on range fed cattle and remember the first time I cooked with store-bought hamburger.  I remember being grossed out by all of the white fatty stuff as I cooked it (I didn’t know about the lean ratings).

I’m willing to eat less meat so that I can afford the nicer quality meat. I’ll use more vegetables, rice, beans and other sides, rather than focusing on the meat.

I know some people have hang ups on milk, eggs or produce. Do your research and find the food that will have the most long-term impact on your body and choose the healthier options in that area.

2. Avoid eating out

Eating out is not only more expensive but tends to be less healthy. Restaurant food tastes so amazing because of all of the butter, cream and other unhealthy stuff added to the food.

Unless you are at the higher end restaurants, that focus on clean eating, the quality of the food may not match your expectations.

When you are cooking you can control the ingredients and quality of the products.

If you are like me and hate cooking, focus on easy to prepare meals that incorporate a crock pot or limited ingredients.

I have a rotation of about 8 meals that I can cook really well and are simple and easy to make. Between Aaron and I we cook 3-4 times a week and then we do leftovers the other nights. If you are going to cook, plan on eating leftovers the next night. Obviously, this doesn’t work as well for larger families.

3. If you can’t afford healthier food focus on an overall healthy lifestyle

There have been times in my life when I survived on rice and bean. There have also been times when I pretty much only ate from the dollar menu at various fast food joints.

Did I eat healthy, not at all?  However, during those time periods in my life, I still continued to exercise and live an active lifestyle.

Obviously, it is better to do both, but there are going to be times when the budget doesn’t allow for the extra’s we want. It is annoying, but hopefully, as you reduce your debt this will change.

If the budget is tight, focus on getting the most bang for your buck.

You may have to be more creative, but there are always ways of eating healthy on a budget.

Finding the balance between healthy eating and your Budget

Your grocery budget can be the largest discretionary expense in your budget. Eating healthy and living an active lifestyle will pay dividends down the road for your future health.

However, it is important to find the balance between overfunding your grocery bill and achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Many of my friends choose to focus on organic living and have cut their budget in other ways to match their priorities.  At this point in my life, I’m not willing to spend the extra money to go completely organic. I pick and choose the areas that I hope will make the most impact on my overall health and focus on improving my eating in those ways.

I pick and choose the areas that I hope will make the most impact on my overall health and focus on improving my eating in those ways.

I have a feeling that decreasing my sugar would have more of an impact on my overall health than eating organic anyway.

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