31 Simple Ways To Eat Healthy And Live Well On A Tight Budget


By Meghan Rabbit

When the economy heads south, we all start wondering how we can cut back on spending. Sadly, it’s often the things we do to stay healthy that are the first to go: the gym, massage, organic broccoli.

For me, I thought it was going to be yoga. Maybe now’s the time to start a home practice, I mused as I looked at receipts and saw how much I was paying for classes each month. But before I moved my mat from the trunk of my car into my house, I had an idea. Why not barter for those classes? I noticed that a new studio in town—one I’d come to love after taking advantage of their great new-student price—wasn’t sending out a monthly e-newsletter yet. I thought, I’m a writer. Perhaps I could create a newsletter for them in exchange for classes. I figured it couldn’t hurt to send an email and gauge the studio owners’ interest. Their response? Just the trade I’d hoped for: I now write a monthly newsletter in exchange for unlimited yoga classes.

Inspired by that success, I began to search for other ways to save money without giving up my healthy habits, such as buying organic food, getting my monthly massage, and even entertaining my friends. These budget-conscious tips, which everyone from my coworkers at Natural Solutions to experts across the country shared with me, should help us all stay on track during these tough economic times.

Ask about a barter. As I discovered at my yoga studio, there are plenty of ways to offer a service in exchange for one. Maybe your favorite yoga studio needs a receptionist or your naturopath could use a weekly babysitter. When Lauren, our managing editor, could no longer afford the monthly $50 chiropractic visits she had come to rely on,
she offered to board her chiropractor’s dogs in exchange for adjustments.

Know when to go organic. Not all conventionally grown produce is evil. For example, nonorganic onions, avocados, and pineapples have light pesticide loads. However, conventional peaches, strawberries, and peppers get heavily sprayed, so it’s smart to splurge on organic brands for these. Another good rule: Go organic on items you use every day, like milk and bread. For a wallet-size list of must-have organics, go to naturalsolutionsmag.com/go/webexclusives.

Speak up at the supermarket. Ask the guy behind the meat or fish counter what the best money saver is that day. “Try to have ‘your guy’ in each of the store’s sections,” says Laura Larson, marketing director for Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colorado. “The more you get to know the people who work at the store where you shop, the more likely it is that they’ll fill you in on the best deals.”

Pay for your gym membership in full. You’ll likely get a better deal than you would if you pay month-to-month—as long as you’re sure you’ll actually use it! Also, ask for deals. Your company may qualify for a discount, or the gym may offer student or family rates or even “off-peak” sales during summer.

Make the cut (yourself). Always buy precut fruits and veggies to save time? The price markup is high because it takes employees a lot of time to do all that chopping, says Larson. No time for slicing and dicing? Kimberly, our senior designer, shares the duties with a pal. One week she buys and chops more fruits and veggies than she needs and shares half with a neighbor. The next week, her neighbor runs the chop shop.

Bypass brand names. Instead, go for the store brand—especially when it comes to your staples. These items are actually made by the same manufacturer as the store’s brand-name competitors, and they often cost up to 30 percent less.

BYO coffee and lunch to work every day. When I did the math—$3 a day for coffee, $7 for lunch, $200 a month—I immediately dusted off my coffeemaker and pulled my reusable lunch tote from the pantry.

Rethink the way you shop for recipes. Don’t buy more than you will use. Instead, hit the bulk food aisle for just the amount of food or spice you need. Shopping this way always saves you money because you don’t pay for packaging and shipping. Plus, the leftovers won’t rot in your fridge or lose their potency in your cupboards.

Buddy up at the gym. Heidi, our art director, shares personal training sessions with a friend. “We’re at about the same physical fitness level and have the same weight-loss goals, so it works out well,” she says. “Plus, it’s extra motivation.”

Om away from home. If you travel a lot, working out or taking yoga on the road can get pricey. Ask your gym if it has reciprocal arrangements with gyms in other cities or invest in an OM pass (ompassyoga.com). A $20 pass gives you free trial yoga classes and major discounts on classes all over the US.

Go frozen. For meats you make a lot, buy frozen, which is often half the price per pound of fresh meat and tastes just as good. Another idea: Buy more fresh meat than you need, and freeze smaller portions. “Value packs” can help you save up to 50 cents a pound.

Shop when the stores are least crowded, says Larson, either early in the morning or after dinnertime. The more relaxed you are, the more patience you’ll have for bargain hunting.

Don’t wash your clothes in hot water. Not even the whites. Up to 90 percent of the cost of using your washing machine comes from heating the water, according to The Consumer Energy Center. Also, don’t use more detergent than called for. Too many bubbles make your machine use more energy.

Know where to shop. Organic produce and meat nonnegotiable? Go to a store that specializes in them. Because these stores purchase larger volumes of organic products, they almost always offer better prices.

Make your own nontoxic cleaning products. With a stash of distilled vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and olive oil on hand—and simple instructions you’ll find at naturalsolutionsmag.com/go/webexclusives—you can take care of most of your household cleaning needs.

Shop for sales. Get to know your store’s sale signs so you can be on the lookout for great deals. Also, those
displays on the end of each aisle often stock foods or supplements on sale.

Share your skills. Always wanted to teach Spin? Get certified. Gyms usually give their instructors (or substitutes) free or discounted memberships, making the price of your certification well worth it.
Party, potluck style. Ask your friends to bring a dish the next time you host a get-together. You’ll save on food and prep time.

Let a new therapist practice on you. Contact your local massage, acupuncture, or psychotherapy school to see if they offer discount clinics where new therapists “practice” on you for a fraction of the cost. The whole Natural Solutions edit team reaped the benefits of our former intern’s time in massage school!

Plant an herb garden. Fresh basil and rosemary can cost upward of $3 for a few sprigs in a plastic package. Buy a whole potted herb plant in the florist section at the supermarket for the same price (sans all the packaging). These herbs—and many others—do well indoors or out.

Embrace imperfections. Elizabeth, our beauty editor, asks the farmers at her local outdoor market to sell her “seconds,” fruits and veggies that have a few blemishes. “I can get a case of organic fruit for $1 per pound,” she says. “Then I freeze or dehydrate the extras.”

Ditch paper towels from your home. Instead, cut up old sheets, T-shirts, or hand towels to use as rags. Store them in a pretty basket next to your kitchen sink. When they’re dirty, throw them in a special “towel laundry” bin near your recyclables so they won’t stain the clothes in your hamper.

Eat seasonally and locally. Not only is it better for your health, but stores often have relationships with local farmers and vendors so they can get better deals on those foods. Even better, see if any farms in your area offer a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) program. Sign up with friends and neighbors to get boxes of fresh produce delivered to your door for a fraction of the price it would cost you in a supermarket.

Take your H2O to go. Get in the habit of toting a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go. You’ll drink more water and be less tempted by expensive, single-serving plastic bottles of water and juice.

Go out to eat less often. Eating in saves you money and keeps you healthier. When you do go out, hit up “fast casual” restaurants that offer healthy fast food. “Counter service means you don’t have to tip as much,” says Lindsey, our health editor, “and the atmosphere is usually so nice that it feels like you’re out to dinner.” Or try what Kimberly does when she goes to a restaurant: “I ask for a to-go box when I order my meal and pack half of my entrée before I even start,” she says. “That way I don’t overeat and I get two meals for the price of one.”

Skip convenience snacks. Instead of buying individual cups of yogurt with fruit or granola added, make your own. Buy a big tub of house-brand organic yogurt, and stock up on granola, dried fruits, and nuts. Mix them up for a simple breakfast or mid-afternoon snack.

Ditch the gym altogether. Weather permitting, get outside! Run, walk, and ride your bike to stay fit. Stuck indoors because of the weather? Choose an exercise DVD (yoga, Pilates, dance, aerobics), and get moving in the privacy of your own home.

Seek out new gyms and studios in your area. They often advertise great introductory offers. Or take advantage of the “free week” passes most gyms dole out to lure people in. “During a month when I wasn’t going to be in town very much, I tried out two gyms for one week each—for free,” says Nicole, one of our associate editors. “It was a great way to see which gym worked for me. Even better, I wasn’t out a lump of money during a time when I couldn’t have taken advantage of the membership.”

Buy more than you need. Ask your favorite supermarket if it gives case discounts for staples you use all the time, such as mineral water, juices, diapers, detergent, or rice. Better yet, split the cases—and the cost—with your friends or neighbors.

Learn to love leftovers. Take extra veggies, meat, or grains, and make a hearty soup, scramble them into a frittata, or cut them all up and create your own burritos. Don’t have time? Freeze the leftovers for another day.

Get supplement savvy. Buy online from a reputable company for deeper discounts. Linda, our editor-in-chief, watches the sales on her favorite brands and even downloads coupons from the company’s website. n

Meghan Rabbitt, a senior editor at Natural Solutions, is now sticking to her budget thanks to this assignment.

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