Whole30 & Clean-eating on a Budget
I worry Whole30/clean eating gets a bad wrap as too expensive or only can be successful if you have access to specialty natural food stores or buy expensive convenience products. NO. You can eat clean on a budget without those! Most of those products are recent anyway, and many successfully ROCKED their first Whole30 or transition to clean eating without the conveniences that admittedly can cost more.
Why do I care about eating clean on a budget? My husband and I started our family during our college years #starvingstudents – we were grateful for programs like WIC and foodstamps to help get us through that. Once we got his first “real” job, moving cross country to FL devoured our savings and money did not stretch as far as we thought it would. We were BROKE. We made just enough to notqualify for food stamps, like we did in college, but not enough to feel comfortable. We were painfully tight – running our AC at like 82 degrees to save money, only had one car and walked most places to save on gas. I know that feeling when money is constantly a weight on your back of worries and you struggle to cover the needs, no less the wants.
That’s not our life now, but we have 5 boys to try to keep fed and whom we’d eventually like to send to college. We have always lived on a budget. Thus, I wanted to share with those who connect to the budget-living life, but want more for themselves and their families than inexpensive TV dinners and non-food food.
Tip #1 – Stick to Your List, and Waste not, Want not
My first tip is intuitive to some but worth mentioning – you can’t afford to NOT meal plan. Literally. Every time you walk into a store, you open up the potential to overspend. When you go to a store without a meal plan and specific list, you will pick up items you didn’t actually *need*. Also, without a specific meal plan and a list, there’s a strong chance you won’t get all the things you DID need this week. Which means more gas in going to the store again, more chance you will buy things you don’t need, and sometimes you might buy them at high prices (here’s looking at you corner market) because you have to have it that moment to get dinner on the table tonight. Straight from the expert of saving himself Dave Ramsey – “A list can make or break a budget.” Meal plan, shop with a list, and stick to that list!
Secondly, your food is literally edible cash. You spent that hard earned money on those groceries, don’t let it go to the trash can! The average American throws out $640 of food a year. That’s roughly $50 a month in the trash!Having a meal plan, making a list and sticking to it prevents that waste. Also, in our house, the weekend is the time I use up all the leftovers or cook up about-to-spoil veggies. Not gonna eat it right away? Freeze it! Most cooked foods can last months in the freezer.
Tip #2 – Compare Prices & Compare Correctly
Most people know they should look for “cheaper” products when money is tight, or price compare. But a lot of people don’t do it correctly. You have to compare prices by UNIT cost, not just item cost.
For example, let’s say I want to buy the least expensive bag of carrots. At first glance (see options in the photos below), you’d buy the individual packaged ones. But how can I be sure that’s the best deal when they are packaged differently? Look at the price per oz listed under the price! The individual snack packs are 10.7cents/oz while the bigger bag is 12.3 cents/oz. So yes! The individual bags are the less expensive carrots. Make sure you are comparing the price per weight (the unit cost), not just the total price!
Same for the brussel sprouts. How do I know if it’s really cheaper to buy the brussel sprouts by the pound instead of pre-packaged? Look at the unit cost per pound! The loose sprouts are $1.78/pound whereas the packaged sprouts are 4.98 for 2 lbs, or $2.49/pound. So, yes! The loose sprouts are cheaper (and that often is the case – don’t pay for someone else to put your produce in a convenience bag!).
This comes in handy when I’m trying to figure out if the bulk item is a better deal than the smaller package. I often buy my kids go-go squeeze type applesauce in a tube. NOT the cheapest food and I have 5 kids, so it’s important to me to get the best deal when I do. Again, the smaller package is only $2.88 vs. $4.98. BUT what’s the price per unit, as they are different size packages (a 4-pack vs a 12-pack)? The 4-pack is 22.5 cents/oz whereas the 12-pack is 13 cents/oz. That 12-pack is almost half the cost of the 4-pack per unit and totally worth buying in bulk, *assuming I’m going to use it all before it expires.
So, absolutely please do your prep for comparisons, but make sure you are comparing figurative “apples” to “apples” by using the unit cost, not the total
Tip #3 – Make it Yourself!
Pre-made products are convenient, but you pay for that convenience! If that’s not an option for you, then it’s time to learn how to make it yourself. This is also a necessity if you don’t have easy access to compliant items like Whole30 mayo, dressings, etc.
Just like learning to drive a car, cooking can take a lot of focus up front, but eventually that 20 minute mayo becomes 2 minute mayo that you can make while making dinner and helping the 8 year old with his math homework – trust me!
Here are some of my favorite recipes for homemade clean items that many will spend a pretty penny on at the store:
Tip #4 – Make Do, or Do Without
Growing up, my mom always loved by the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without!” We already talked about the first half of this saying – “using up” your food by shopping with a list and sticking to a meal plan, then incorporating leftovers into your weekly meal plan to make sure no food is going bad and being wasted!
“Make do, or do without” on a budget in the food realm means knowing what foods you can swap out and when you can leave it out.
For example, with with my homemade chicken apple sausage recipe I mentioned above, last time I got ground turkey instead of ground chicken because it was $1.50 per pound less. Ground chicken and turkey are very interchangeable – make do with whatever one is cheaper or on sale! #makedo Or in my homemade bbq sauce recipe, coconut aminos can be expensive or hard to find, depending on what stores you live by. That recipe also works without that ingredient, as it already has so many flavors. #dowithout
One of my favorite budget swaps is using dried herbs vs. fresh. Fresh almost always tastes better…but can get pricey. Did you know you can usually swap dried herbs with fresh? Just use 1/3 the amount! So if it calls for 3 tablespoons chopped basil, you can use 1 tablespoon dried instead. Dried herbs last a lot longer than fresh too, so less chance of them spoiling and ending in the trash.
Think about what that item is doing in the recipe to figure out swaps or if it can be left out. If it’s the ONLY seasoning in the dish, probably can’t be left out. But if it’s almond flour for chicken breading, another course flour like coconut flour could probably work as well.
Tip #5 – Couponing??
I used to be a crazy coupon lady. I’ve never admitted that in a broad setting , but for our budget conversation, it’s very relevant. I clipped coupons from newspapers, dumpster dived for more newspapers, shopped for more coupons on eBay (yes, that’s a thing), followed all the coupon blogs. I checked out in batches of like 10 separate orders and combined all the coupons with the deals and rebates. It was like a part time job. Grocery clerks in my small town knew me too well and probably hated seeing me coming! I had a LARGE stash of foods and toiletries and often MADE money buying items. My family budget needed it and I loved the challenge.
I haven’t couponed, really couponed, in years however. Why? It’s not lack of need – my family only has gotten bigger! A few things to consider if you are feeling the pressure to be couponing more:
- The hype of couponing (here’s looking at you extreme couponing reality show!) made most of the grocery stores really examine their coupon policies. It became hard to find stores that would double or triple coupons, which was a big factor in getting the crazy deals.
- Clean eating products have less coupons available. They exist, for sure (especially for big brand names like for maybe Green Giant frozen veggies and such), but they are much less likely to be showing up in your Sunday newspaper. The clean whole products you are buying don’t usually have commercials or a multi-million dollar coupon campaign.
How do you get your hands on the coupons that DO exist for awesome Whole30 and clean eating brands like Applegate or Tessemaes? You can try emailing the company directly telling them how much you love their product, and ask if they have any coupons they can send you (they often will!). But you can only really do that once per brand.
So, rest at ease my friend – couponing is a dying art that is tough to apply to clean eating products. Your time is better spent making things from scratch & following your local grocery sales to save a buck!
If we agree that the way of the paper couponing is pretty sparse, what’s the modern version the new version? Grocery apps, electronic coupons, and reward programs!
I was determined to research all the grocery apps and coupons available on my phone. A lot of them have their sales easily searchable on the app as well as digital coupons you can clip! Here’s what I learned:
• Trader Joe’s has no app. I hope that changes!
• Whole Foodshas an app that is helpful for skimming sales items (there’s not a lot), but their electronic coupon program retired in May 2018. Bummer!
• Some stores have rewards cards that give you like-cash coupons from points accumulated for spending money there, like a store local to me called Raley’s. Raley’s also has a FANTASTIC app that not only shows the sales, it has digital coupons and allows you to shop ONLINE for your groceries, delivered to your car when you show up at the scheduled time. They call it having a “personal shopper” – whaaat?! It’s free the first three times or if you order over $100, so I of course tried it out and will post in my stories. But their app gets a sound ???? from me!
• Target app is also great – allows you to look at the ad, add virtual coupons (called Cartwheel), and even price check through your phone.
• Some apps are very limited like my local New Earth Market – it was nothing more than an online sub order form. I hope they expand to show weekly sales sometime
• The most commonly recommended app from my followers was Ibotta – check that one out!
Tip #6 – Let Good Enough Be Good Enough
This last tip is based on a common Whole30 catch phrase “Let good enough be good enough.” Now, there are some pretty strict rules when it comes to Whole30 – no grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, making compliant baked goods, or weighing yourself. Period. I’m not talking about being flexible on any of those.
I’m talking about not feeling like you have to be able to purchase organic or grass-fed everything to be successful at a Whole30 or clean eating. Cause YOU DON’T. Are organic veggies and responsibly raised meat sources ideal? Absolutely!! No one here is arguing that. But, if you are truly on a budget, you can barely (or not at all) afford regular steak, no less grass-fed.
TBH – my family of 7 does not eat grass-fed meat. **gasp**. There I said it. Our food budget is already stretched so much to make clean eating for 7 work, that’s not an option for us. I’d love to, but it just isn’t happening. My family has still seen INCREDIBLE benefits from clean and Whole30 eating without it.
As far as organic veggies, again, do what you can. See here for which ones are the most important to buy organic, if you can. Is it still better to be eating spinach PERIOD, versus trying to afford the organically grown stuff? Of course!
Don’t miss the forest for the trees – do what you can on quality and let good enough be good enough!
Budget Whole30/Clean Eating Shopping List
Finally, I was thinking in the car today about resources I could provide you for a Budget Whole30. I thought how I could make a shopping list that wasn’t based on convenient products that are expensive, or inaccessible to those in remote areas or foreign countries.
Then it was like lightening hit my brain. That. Already. Exists.
Look at these shopping lists here, which have been the basis of Whole30 for YEARS. There are no bars, sticks, PRODUCTS on here. What’s on the list? Whole. Foods.
That’s what the Whole30 and my clean eating is based on. I know some of us have lost sight of that or feel like that focus is lost amidst the new exciting Whole30 products. But THIS. This should be the basis of your clean eating journey.
I once heard someone say your food should be based off things your great great great (great? Depending on how old you are…) grandma would recognize. Mission accomplished with this Whole30 shopping list from whole30.com.
Are some of these cuts of meat or veggies more expensive than others? Of course, and we will talk more about this. But look at all these options!
I think sometimes we over complicate things team. Your clean eating program can be based on REAL food every grocery store and country has that heals the body.