How to Eat Healthy and Cheap: $4-6 a Day

I have been pouring over my spending habits for the last few months but especially in the past few weeks. In the last week, I have really tightened the reigns on my spending, as a way to save money and eliminate debt for good. One of the areas where I had the most wiggle room was of course, food. I can’t opt out of paying off other bills, though, I can reduce to an extant. However, I found that I was spending stupid amounts of money on food for months on end and I wanted to cut that down by a large margin. Now, as a man in my twenties, I like to eat and can eat a ton of food. I’m also 6 foot 2 and even when I’m ripped still weigh in at 180-185, so I definitely need more calories than most other people. I wanted to write a post documenting how I have gone about slashing my food bill by more than half.

Stop Eating Take Out or Restaurants

This one kind of crept up on me as the months went by. I started to look at my bank statement and realized how much I had either gone out to eat or had ordered lunch while at work. Even an inexpensive lunch at most places will still run $5-6 and do that enough and you can quickly be looking at $50 no problem. Also, I was for some reason ( cough, cough: laziness) eating fast food at least once a week. That fact was one of the major issues I needed to correct, as crappy fast food nutrition needs to have no place in my life. Even if I only spent $12 a week eating out somewhere, that still adds up to $624 a year!

Stop with the Drinks and the Snacks

I needed to cut out spending on drinks such as coffee, during my early morning shifts, as well as buying some snacks during the day to keep my energy levels up. One change was to simply buy a box of green tea bags and use one for days I have to be up really early and go to work. One box costs $2.99 and lasts me 3-4 weeks versus buying a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage which usually costs at least $2 each. To combat snacking, I planned my meals out more carefully and decided to eat more at breakfast time and earlier in the day, then  taper off at night. I’m usually not very hungry during the evening so even something low carb like chicken and veggies will keep me satisfied through the night. However, I need to eat more during the day, otherwise my productivity and mood plummet.

Start thinking about the long terms cost

It is easy to justify in your head that something costs two bucks and is no big deal to purchase. That is, until you start adding up all those little costs and extrapolating it out for an entire year. Even at $2 a day, that’s $720 each year, and $7200 over a decade. Yes, that is a huge total and long time period but through the power of compound interest that $7200 could be invested much more wisely and end up yielding a 6-8% each year. This is not to say you have to be completely frugal all the time but really cutting back can have huge impacts on the future, even in small amounts.

Have Staple Foods to Buy at the Grocery Store and Eat Some of the Same Things

Learning to control cravings and eat some of the same staple meals each day can go a long way to saving a ton of money each month. You can take the time to learn how to cook and prepare things in different ways so that boredom doesn’t become a factor. I try to focus on buying foods that I enjoy, could eat daily, and have nutritional value.

Some staples that I buy and the price

Whole Grain Bread- $1.99 a loaf

Whole Grain Spaghetti- 0.98 for 13.25 oz.

Light Pasta Sauce- $1.69

Bag of Stir Fry Veggies- $1.50

Eggs- $2.89 for 18 count

Oats- $2.29 for 42 oz.

Natural Peanut Butter- $4.50 for 28 oz.

Frozen Skinless Chicken Breast Tenders: $8.39 for 2.5 pounds. (Usually on sale for $6.65)

Bag of Potatoes- I forget the price on a 5lb bag of red or russet potatoes but I think it’s like 2.99 or 3.99. Either way potatoes can be a great addition to help keep you full.

A sample day for me building off this template might be, with possible additions in parenthesis:

3 Scrambled Eggs (add cheese and/or salsa) and 1 cup of oats (add raisins)

2 PBJ Sandwiches

Whole Grain Pasta with 6-10 oz chicken and a whole lotta veggies

1 cup of oats (add raisins)

That is essentially it. I could go cheaper but I elect to eat whole grains instead of processed white breads and the like. I opt for natural peanut butter which is less processed and has less sugar. I may also buy whey protein powder for extra protein for lifting weights. Apples and/or bananas also find their way onto my menu, for further vitamins and antioxidants.

Oats are a great way to add calories for cheap. 1 cup of oats has 280 calories and 20% of a daily value of Iron. Plus, a little bit of fat and plenty of fiber. I can eat 2 cups per day and it’ll only cost $2.29 for the week. Buying a canister of raisins costs me about $3.99, when I do so, but it does add some great flavor to the cooked oats.

There are plenty of other meals such as rice and beans that can also be made for dirt cheap.  Veggies are always important to include and can be done so in a really inexpensive manner. Shopping this way I can eat for as low as $130 a month and usually around $150-160 if I add some more variety. That works out to $4-6 a day which really isn’t much, probably less than most fast food meals, while being more nutritious and lasts the entire day not just one meal. I know that this way will save me a couple thousand dollars in a year’s time and that is money that can be spent on anything else of value. Hell, it can pay off a credit card and still have enough left over to invest in my portfolio. I’ve seen other experiments, where people live off like $1 a day or like $100 a month, and that’s great but it’s not my goal to eat that restrictive. Maybe the $100 a month is doable and I’ll work my way down to it but if I’m not in grinding poverty I don’t want to eat like it. I want simple, whole foods that maintain my health and don’t break the bank.