Slim (and healthy) are not just for those with fat wallets. Staying in shape can actually help your budget stay on target in many ways. For one, it can reduce healthcare costs because patients who are at a healthy weight generally experience fewer complications from most medical conditions. (Ask any doctor.)
On that note, being healthy may also lower your insurance premiums (depending on how they are structured, of course). Insurance companies like insuring healthy people—they cost less.
Maintaining a healthy, consistent weight will help reduce your clothing costs. You don’t have to have your “carrying a few extra pounds” and “just did some crash diet” wardrobe if you consistently stay the same size.
Being fit can also mean lower food costs. Smaller portions of food mean less food is consumed—meaning you don’t have to buy quite as much. Also, if you are controlling your portions—which, by the way, is an excellent way to lose weight in the first place and then keep it off forever—you can order half portions or a smaller-sized meal when you go to a restaurant. Obviously, eating out frequently is not going to help you lose weight, but it’s alright to enjoy a meal out every once in a while.
Hopefully, you’re convinced that being in shape can save you money—but now you may be wondering about the cost of getting in shape in the first place. I would submit to you that getting in shape can save you money as well. (Except for the cost of buying new clothes in a smaller size—but who’d complain about that?) Here are a few tips for keeping your budget low while losing weight.
Cook Meals at Home
We spoke a little about eating less at the restaurant. Well, if you’re a frequenter of fine dining (or of not-so-fine but still delicious fast foods) you may be a little sad to find that those places are increasing your food costs exponentially. Hit to your wallet aside, the toll eating restaurant faire takes on your waistline is also pretty exponential.
Restaurant food tastes good because they add extra fat, salt, and sugar to everything. I’m not saying give up the restaurant all together, just cut back and watch your wallet grow as your waistline shrinks.
Cooking meals at home is an excellent way to control your calories, fat intake, and portion sizes. Interestingly, healthy food is not always expensive food. Quite often it’s the opposite—unhealthy food is often processed and pre-packaged and therefore, costs more to produce. Look for healthy, fresh foods that are high in essential fatty acids and protein.
Freshen Up Your Produce
Generally speaking, less-processed, means more healthy when it comes to food. So, sticking to fresh produce (especially if you get in on a co-op or farmer’s market and are buying what’s in season) really can be healthier and cheaper than buying a bag of frozen cut-up-and-prepared veggies.
In recent years, I switched from buying frozen to fresh produce and—to my surprise—my budget didn’t budge. This is great because fresh produce tastes so much better than frozen (if you ask me). My advice on buying fresh? Watch for what’s on sale. Grocery stores tend to place fruits and vegetables on sale when they are in season. Check out our fat burning foods list and watch out for sales next time you go to the grocery store.
This is especially true with apples. Different varieties come into season at different times so find a few varieties you enjoy and wait until they’re on sale to buy. It’s a total win-win: the apples are cheaper because the store needs to clear out their inventory by the end of the season and they taste best because they’re in season.
Keep an Eye on Your Proteins
Another good tip for saving money while getting healthy is to limit the amount of meat you consume. Meat is getting ever more expensive—especially good, healthy grass-fed meat. Meat contains protein and protein is great for you. It takes longer to digest and helps you to feel full for longer. But, it can be expensive and eating too much of it is not good for you (too much red meat can be especially detrimental).
To save on meat and ensure you’re still getting the protein you need, try substituting different sources of protein in your meals here and there. My favorite non-meat source of protein is beans. They are wonderfully versatile. You can add them to most everything—soups, salads, casseroles, etc. They can also be eaten alone.
Beans are low in fat and high in fiber—making them a super-healthy alternative to meats and they are so much cheaper. You can buy them in the can or try the dried varieties in the bag. Both are good protein sources. If you do buy beans in the can, look for cans marked low or no sodium. Also, keep your beans pure. Cans of refried beans can have added fat and preservatives and cans of pork ‘n’ beans aren’t nearly as healthy as a can of straight black beans.
Ok, enough with the beans. I’m not saying have them for every meal, just don’t be afraid to add them here and there. For more ideas on healthy fresh foods, check out our recommended fat burning foods and fat burning fruits.
Buy in Bulk
Find the bulk foods section in your grocery store. Most places have them. Buy whole grains in bulk and add them to your dishes. Barley, for example, really punches up a stew and you don’t have to soak it overnight before using it.
Most bulk food sections have a great selection of nuts and dried fruit. Both these foods are great for between-meal snacks. Nuts are high in protein and high in fiber. It’s true that nuts contain fat, but they mostly have unsaturated fats (these fats are the good fats that can actually help you lose weight). It’s the saturated fats you want to stay away from.
Many canned varieties of nuts have added salt and oils making them high in saturated fat and sodium. It’s easier (and cheaper I might add) to buy raw nuts from the bulk foods bins. If you got to have them roasted, bake the raw nuts in your oven for a few minutes until they’re a lovely brown. You don’t need to add oil or anything.
Dried fruit is portable and can often (especially in my case) stave off a craving for candy. They also contain a lot of fiber and important antioxidants (like vitamin C). My favorite dried fruit feature is that it is so quick. I can grab a handful as I head out the door, sprinkle it on my cereal, or even pack it in a small container as a snack to keep in my purse. Did I mention it’s also wonderful on salads?
Nuts and dried fruit can be fairly expensive if you buy the packaged, brand-name varieties—and they aren’t always higher quality than what’s in the bulk foods section. Compare for yourself, this is one area where it’s really easy to see the savings.
If you aren’t already in the habit of eating nuts, fruits, or even produce as a snack, you may be thinking my suggestion to buy them will increase your food costs. Think of your current snack choices. Ask yourself these questions.
1. How much do they cost per serving?
2. Are they good for you?
3. Do they satisfy your hunger/cravings?
4. Do you want something else after you’re “done” eating?
Snacks that are nutritionally dense (like nuts and dried fruit) tend to keep you feeling full for longer while eating less. Those unsaturated fats in nuts we talked about a little bit ago also help you feel satisfied sooner. Our bodies crave fat—if we give them good fat they don’t usually ask for more. See our healthy snack ideas.
The other important thing to consider is that I’m assuming you will give up your other snacks—especially if those snacks are some kind of cracker. Yes, even a wheat cracker. So, your cracker/sugary granola bar snack costs should go way down if you aren’t eating them as frequently—right?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that none of my cost-effective weight loss recommendations involved buying fancy weight loss meals or exotic foods. I did not even recommend you buy a spandex jumpsuit. You don’t need them to lose weight or to get healthy.
I look upon so-called “healthy” pre-packaged meals as a big no-no. They aren’t anywhere near as healthy or cheap as eating fresh. (Perhaps they do some good for people who are so hopelessly lost on nutrition that they would be eating hotdogs, but even then, I’m not sure they do much good.)
The best recommendation I can make for losing weight and keeping it off is to buy whole, natural foods with as little processing as possible. They cost much less than ready-to-go meals and are so much better for you. Then, just make sure you are eating three small meals with healthy (and satisfying) snacks between them.