Yesterday's Globe had Two articles
on how to eat healthily on a limited budget. The lack of grocery stores in a lot of neighborhoods (with the increasing property values along with very narrow profit margins for groceries, it's no wonder that there are very few if any stores in the city anymore) causes a lot of people to spend a heck of a lot more for less. Having lived in Boston for years now, and always on a tight budget, (I try to feed me and the cats on $100-$120/month - this has gone up considerably from the $40-$60/month I used to spend. But then again, my rent was $120/month and my utilities and other expenses were a fraction of what they are now, too.), I've had to do a bit of juggling and behavior modification - but I do think that I manage pretty well. Anyway, here are a few things that I've learned about how to keep healthy and happy on as little money as possible:
1.) I walk to the grocery store -no choice but to do that, as I don't have a car. I also don't bother with public transportation when I can manage it (I don't like paying a dollar that could easily go to a cup of coffee and a good conversation at my quickie mart). Usually, I go to the store once or twice a week to get little things and stock up on provisions whenever they are on sale (Star had a great sale two weeks ago, so I got a friend with a car to help me out).
2.) I get a lot of 'reduced for quick sale' stuff. Deli ends (both cheese and meat) are great for salads, for casseroles (in a previous post, I talked about my happy macaroni and cheese from deli ends), for omelettes. Day old bakery items often can be frozen for future, less rushed use. Produce-wise - though I don't get to Haymarket like I used to when younger, I do pretty well with the older stuff section as well. Last week, for example, I got a couple pounds of perfectly good apples for 1/2 of what the ones in the regular produce section would cost. I also got 6-7 bananas for a dollar. Since they were over-ripe, I just stuck them in the freezer. They'll keep there until I get around to making banana bread, or this great fake banana custard (vegan ice cream!, yum! - just run the overripe, peeled bananas through a food processor and serve. Seriously, try it. It's to die for.) I like to make every now and again.
3.) Though I do eat meat now, I usually go veggie. As I lived in a pretty strict vegan household before, it's not too hard for me. I'm accustomed to tofu stir fries, soaking the beans ahead of time for meals, egg and cheese dishes, etc. It's just important to remember that vegetarian can sometimes be calorie and fat laden if you're not careful.
4.) Produce-wise again: Buy in season! Berries this time of year are nowhere near as good as they are in the spring and summer. Nothing beats citrus at Christmas, in my book, either. Similarly, I really only have a taste for root veggies and squash this time of year - and for things like tomatoes in the summer (preferably in my garden). Farmstand/farmer's market produce can sometimes be a better deal than the stuff in the supermarkets. Also, I'm not a huge fan of Organic, and not just because of the price. I don't know that there's actually any standard aside from what California imposes on stuff labelled 'organic,' and I've eaten more than my share of grubs, sadly, from the stuff that I've gotten here. Conventional is perfectly fine with me.
5.) Though I try to limit myself on junk food - when I do get snacks, I try to get fairly healthy ones - like pretzels or nuts. I drink very little soda (partly because I'd rather eat my calories. Soda and juice tend to be full of sugar. I also don't like schlepping the containers home).
6.) Store brand on everything unless it's a loss leader.
Advantages to this stuff:
Extra exercise (both aerobic and weight training from schlepping stuff) added in with my walk to work commute makes paying for a gym membership redundant. I figure I save about $50-$60/month on that. Plus, since I don't even bother with the T pass anymore, I save another $35/month.
Since I do most of my own cooking, I'm in control on many fronts - costwise, ingredientwise, portionwise. I enjoy cooking and feeding people, so, though I do like going out to eat, much of my happy leisure time comes from entertaining friends. Happily, most people I associate with have similar interests, so we have a lot of food-based gettogethers. Interesting to note as well is that very few among us have weight problems.
Being frugal like this helps me to put a bit extra money away towards other things - like paying off the student loan or saving for vacation time.
Sometimes I get a bit desperate-feeling when it's hard to make ends meet - and it's especially difficult now. It does make me feel better to know, though, that I can be creative and resourceful with the bit that I do have, and that as a result of this, I'll never have too much to worry about.