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Friday, July 31, 2009

20 NEW or IMPROVED Tips to Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthy on a budget does not have to be super expensive. I realize everyone has their own budget and it may not be the same as mine. I do compare my food allowance to what the USDA believes people would need to spend to get all of the foods required according to the food guide pyramid. On the following table, they give weekly amounts that would be spent according to gender, age and the month (due to price fluctuations). I try to keep our food budget below their Thrifty Food Plan

I was trying to bake my own bread, but that didn't work out. I started gaining weight and found myself spending way too much time working at it. I still try to cook everything from as close to scratch as possible. This is actually pretty simple when you try to just have a protein, veggies and some type of carb (brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, etc). I started looking at my previous tips and I have been using those and some new tips to work on my food budget. Here are my 20 NEW and IMPROVED tips.

1. Plan your meals for the week. I have said this before, but this is one of the best tips I can give. Plan your breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinners and desserts ahead. I can't say I do this every time, but I do pretty well. I always rotate the same foods during the day every day and dinners are pretty simple.

2. Make a list and stick to it! Try not to deviate from your list unless you realize you forgot an absolute essential or you find meat for a particularly good price.

3. Shop bi-weekly. Stay out of the store as much as possible. Learn what you need to get you through for two weeks and stay away until your next trip. You may run out of staples while you are learning what you really need. If this happens, make note for next time. I kept running out of cheese, milk and eggs. I started buying more eggs and milk and decided to use less cheese.

4. Keep track of what you need prior to your shopping trip. I kept notes in the beginning of what I seemed to use the most of and then I did some math. I eat approx. 5-6 egg whites per day for breakfast. I multiplied this by 14 added a few for my husband and now I purchase around 6-7 dozen eggs per trip. Seems like a lot, but eggs are an item I can't live without! I get lots of protein from them with very little fat.

5. Know your store’s prices. Check circulars and keep a price book. I know that I can almost always find coffee cheaper at Dollar General. I keep DG's price with me to know if I am getting the best deal - sometimes it's not. My friend at work told me that every other week Kroger had sales on milk and dairy products. I started doing my shopping during that particular week, but Kroger now has it on sale all the time.

6. Coupons. Coupons are a tip that I have had to rethink. I can't use them very often because I try not to buy too many convenience foods although my husband lives for them so I do buy some. Plus, you don't find coupons for staples like eggs, milk, meat, fruits and veggies. However, they can be used on most toiletries especially if you are particular about a certain brand name. Just don't buy something you wouldn't normally buy just because you have a coupon unless you are getting it practically free. If you do, try giving it to a food pantry or homeless shelter.

7. Buy meat on sale. Buy lean meats and buy them when they are cheapest (you will know this if you keep a price book). If you are able, stock up. Even if you are on food stamps, this is a good idea. Purchase what you can in meat and freeze it if you have room.

8. Plan meals around the meat you have available and not the other way around. This can be very easy and healthy if you always have lean meats on hand. If you don't have a particularly lean meat, cut it up and use it in a casserole or another dish that is mainly veggies and a whole grain. Your meal does not have to focus solely on meat all the time which brings me to the next tip.

9. Try a vegetarian dish each week. My husband is an extremely picky eater so this tip is more difficult than I had originally hoped, but he will eat some eggplant dishes. If your husband will eat something different, try substituting meat whenever possible.

10. Stay out of the aisles! I have said this before, but AGAIN stay out of the aisles. There are very few items we need down the middle aisles. Pasta, beans, cereal, rice, tuna, oats, coffee, tea and frozen vegetables are some good examples of what you can actually use down an aisle. Other than that, get in and get out. It is way too tempting to pick up things you don’t need and that are unhealthy for you.

11. Do some prep work each week. When you get home from the grocery, do some prep work. Cut up veggies, throw some meat in the crock pot or oven and separate into portion sizes. This makes preparing food through the week MUCH easier. I do this with chicken – I cook it up, shred it and put it into baggies or containers in 3 oz servings. Through the week, I grab one out of the freezer and throw it in my cooler. Throw it in the microwave and add to a salad or brown rice. Super convenient and you don’t let your chicken go bad as quickly.

12. Carry a cooler. This is a trick of body builders and fitness/figure competitors. It’s very sensible. Plan your meals out and pack accordingly each day. If your meats, veggies, and complex carbs are already cooked and waiting in portion size containers in the fridge or freezer, it is just as easy to pack your daily meals as is it to go out and buy something. Plus, it keeps your metabolism going all day and you never get so hungry that you break down and grab a candy bar out of the vending machine.

13. Don't buy convenience foods. Easier said than done...I have mentioned that my husband is a picky eater. I often have to buy him certain foods and buy myself others. He is not as interested in making sure he eats healthy. This is when generic foods and coupons come in handy. How can I get away with this and maintain a budget? I'll explain at the bottom.

14. Do not go to the store with an empty stomach! I am sure you have heard that a million times, but it is so true. Everything just looks so good when you are hungry!! Plus, I get irritable when I am hungry and this can cause me to rush through a store and not worry about my budget as much.

15. Share with a friend. If you buy something in bulk, how about splitting it with a friend or family member? I have brought large quantities of food home and realized I would never be able to eat it before it went bad. Now, my mother and I plan on buying the large quantity items that we both eat and splitting the cost. Form your own little co-op with neighbors. You might make some new friends.

16. EAT LESS! This has always been my issue. I just like to eat big portions, but this is bad for your health and bad for your budget. Plan out your meals so that there is JUST enough for you to all eat one serving at a time and maybe enough to have for lunch the next day. I have found that I waste a lot less food this way and eat smaller portions.

17. Freeze half portions. I like good grainy whole wheat bread. My husband does not. So, I take half of my loaf and freeze it. I use the other half one week and I extend the life of the other half. If you don’t like bread from the freezer, maybe you are thawing it incorrectly. Take it out and let it thaw on it’s own. Do not try to microwave it. It will make it hard. You just have to think ahead when you run out of the other loaf.

18. Do not waste. I used to throw away leftovers every single week. I was careless with my money and the fact that I am incredibly fortunate to have access to lots of food. Now, I look in my fridge and determine what I have that needs to be used and I USE it! Americans throw away entirely too much food. If you need help with this, check out the Use-It-Up Cookbook by Lois Willand at the library. This book has great suggestions for using up any food. There are other books that go by the same name - they are not the same!

19. Barter. We don't hear this word very much anymore, but why not barter your services with someone who has a garden. I have been known to clean out someone's garden (who couldn't do it on their own) in exchange for fresh vegetables. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has a garden full of surplus veggies who could use your help. Ask!

20. Farmer's Market. Go to the Farmer's Market whenever possible. You are getting the best possible produce grown locally. It is less expensive because it has traveled a shorter distance and you are supporting your local economy.

Note**I said I would explain how I make my husband's and my eating preferences work for our budget. I generally eat the same foods over and over every day. For a two week period, I need - 1 loaf of high fiber bread, oats, eggs, fruit, baby spinach and other salad, vegetables, chicken, tuna or whatever lean meat was on sale, cottage cheese, brown rice, and sometimes yogurt. It seems like a lot, but oats last awhile and I know how much I need of everything else so they don't go to waste. I just buy my husband a few of his favorite foods as cheaply as possible. It can be done. Thankfully, my child is happy with whatever either of us eat and we all eat the same things for dinner.

I hope this helps you with your grocery budget. It is a monthly struggle, but I am feeling good about it and I hope you will too. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Frugality of Generosity

Many of my posts are dedicated to finding ways to save money. One of the best reasons to save money is to be able to give more away!!

I realize I feel differently about philanthropy than most people. My profession is fundraising. I do this for a small private Quaker college (Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio). However, I am not just talking about Wilmington College. I am talking about generosity in general.

I have read tons of books about finance or becoming successful over the years and I have yet to find a single one that does not tell you to give some of your money away. The thought is that when you give money away more comes back to you in a different way. It may not be exactly what you expect, but I believe this to be true. The more generous (and purposeful) I have become with my money, the more money I seem to have and the more meaningful my life has become.

My hometown of Wilmington, Ohio has been in the news a lot over the past year. We lost one of our largest employers (DHL). This eliminated 8 thousand jobs from our community. Times are tough here. My husband lost his job before the announcement of DHL was all over the news. He found his new job before too many people flooded the job market and before our unemployment ran out. We make a lot less now, but we have jobs and a new respect for money. We no longer argue over finances. We work together. There are too many people who will suffer over the next year or two. My family is extremely blessed to still have a home, transportation and food on the table. If you also are one who is fortunate enough to still be able to provide for your family, count yourself lucky.

During these tough economic times, there are many organizations who are trying to help everyone without a job or a home. My husband and I have learned not only to save more money, but also to give more away. This does not ever mean giving to strangers on the street. Give your money away purposefully. If you want to help the homeless or the hungry, give to a homeless shelter or food pantry. They will happily give you a receipt for tax purposes and you can feel confident that your money is being stewarded properly.

If you do not have much money to give, give of your time and resources. Start a clothing, bedding or food drive. Or help a friend or family member in need. Do they need babysitting during hours you are at home? Maybe they have a child with a birthday coming up and you have clothing or toys in their size - give them to the parents to give as gifts. There are many ways to help out.

And I would not be responsible if I didn't mention higher education. I know it probably doesn't sound as needy as a homeless shelter, but it is definitely worthy of support. Think about a few things for me. Manufacturing jobs will likely be few and far between in the near future. What will those people do for a living? Colleges will help re-educate these people to join the workforce in a different way. Higher education will keep young people AND some of the unemployed out of the job market for awhile giving the economy time to recover. Also, many of our students had parents that may have been laid off or lost a portion of their income. These kids are finding it increasingly difficult to find financial aid. Banks aren't lending money to these students and the government has been forced to take some financial support away from higher ed. We want these young people to have an education and we want them to stay out of the workforce for a few years.

When you make gifts to these organizations, it does not have to be a lot.

It matters who you give to and when, but not necessarily how much. Please keep this in mind when you go to write out a $10 or $25 check to an organization. That money helps a lot when lots of people give. The more generous you are and think of others, the more it WILL come back to you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It's been too long since my last post. That's why this post will be dedicated to consistency. I know that I am always trying to take on too many things. I try not to ever let these things interfere with my work life, but it sure does prevent me from reaching some of my personal goals.

I mentally beat myself up for being inconsistent, but what I really need to do is get to the root of the problem. It probably has to do with my constantly taking on too many projects. I used to never say no to community members and friends that had a project they needed help with. I would add these projects to the long list of projects I had going on for myself. I like to be involved and help others. But, there is a price that comes with constantly giving of all of your free time. There isn't any way to truly give a project your full attention, your family suffers because your constantly busy and it's difficult to give them your full attention and you never have a moment to take care of yourself.

One of my personal goals over the past few months has been to get my priorities straight and to learn to do things in moderation. I have gotten better about this. However, I am still trying to fit too many things into an already tight schedule. This is something that I am continually trying to work on.

I doubt I am alone. There are others out there that are over doing it and not able to give things their full attention all of the time. What can be cut out? I started cutting out some of my community projects. I decided to do the projects that I am able to give my full time and attention. I have also finished taking classes now. This is a huge blessing. I still have to finish my master's, but I no longer have to attend class. I did take a pottery class this summer just for me. This only made my life more rushed and difficult. I was unable to fully enjoy the class even though it was something I had always wanted to learn. The point is that it still added too much to my busy life.

There will be times when you have to put one thing aside to make up for time spent on something else. Know what your priorities are and stick with them. Right now, my priorities are spending time with and assisting my different family members and thinking of ways to raise money for Wilmington College and completing my degree this summer. I am also trying to get enough exercise in and eat properly. So, please forgive me and forgive yourself if you are not always consistent. I am doing my best and you should too.