We were making $20,000 a year on a single income.
We had a brand new baby and our rental home took up more than half our monthly budget.
To top it all off, we had just begun a brand new journey of “living healthy.”
We were novices, and everyone we knew living all-natural and organic was wealthy (or at least compared to us).
And so we did the dumbest thing possible. We went all in.
We bought organic fruit, organic vegetables, grass-fed meat, essential oils, coconut oil, all-natural deodorants and shampoos, and so on and so forth.
There were only two problems.
- We went into debt.
- We still enjoyed blizzards at DQ, ordered extra-large Mexican pizzas at Casey’s and grabbed the weekly 2-for-1 chicken sandwiches at Arby’s. Plus, I continued buying energy drinks and soda pop.
I don’t feel bad about our early years failure. After all, it’s overwhelming.
Does one really have to buy grass-fed butter? Will non-organic fruit give my children cancer? How many essential oils am I really supposed to buy, and how on earth do I keep track of what does what?
I’m not sure if it was the negative sign on our checking account or the endless frustration in the grocery stores that finally got our attention. Maybe it was when Meredith discovered that I spent $10 on a “crystal” that was supposed to work better than deodorant. Whatever it was, we came to a place where we decided something needed to change. Surely, living healthy didn’t have to be so difficult.
While we are far from role models for healthy living, I think we discovered a way to begin the journey without crippling your budget or totally replacing everything in your fridge and bathroom drawers.
We went back to the basics.
- Creating Your Grocery List
Believe it or not, some of the best ways to start a healthy lifestyle have nothing to do with what you buy. It starts with what you decide beforehand NOT to buy. Here are just a few.
- Soda pop/energy drinks
- Packaged dessert
- Boxed dinners/pizzas
That’s it! Not so bad, right?
The amazing thing we discovered is not only will eliminating these four things help a TON with weight control and your overall health, they subtly add up to be the most expensive parts of your grocery bill. Digiorno $5 pizzas may be a great deal, but that some five-dollar bill will buy you 3-5 pounds of quality chicken, which will taste just as good and last many more meals.
The second amazing thing we both discovered is that if it isn’t in the house, you can’t eat/drink it. When there is no soda in the fridge, you drink something else (water, coffee, tea). When their aren’t chips, you eat the things you bought instead (fruits, veggies, cottage cheese, popcorn). When there aren’t Oreos, you might still make cookies, but that is still cheaper and less addictive – plus you made a few memories baking. 🙂
I’m not saying this is easy, but by simply not purchasing certain things, you’ve already begun the journey to healthier living and budget savings.
- Eating Out
If there is one thing I wish I could totally eliminate from my life – it is eating out. Even when my wife and I split a meal and we force the kids to split, we are still running somewhere around $20 after the tip at a sit-down restaurant. That’s five meals on our $300 monthly food budget!
Choosing to eat at home is one of the best ways to eat healthier and save money.
Now, I totally understand we all have those days when we just don’t feel like cooking. That’s why I plan ahead and buy an extra of a meal or two and put it in the freezer. We call those – planned cheats.
This may sound backwards, but this third point is essential. James and I always have a limited supply of cheat meals and desserts in the freezer. Believe it or not, this saves both calories and money.
Our two biggest weaknesses are pizza (James) and ice cream (Meredith). So, we keep our eyes peeled for amazing deals on both. When we find them, we add them to the cart. Because let’s be real, we’re not giving these up entirely.
But here’s the deal. On those days when I am texting Meredith from work every three seconds begging for pizza, Meredith can bless me with a $3 pizza (and healthy side salad), instead of letting me run to Dominoes, where I will inevitably grab two pizzas (for “leftovers”) and a side of breadsticks. Suddenly, a Tuesday craving has turned into 20 non-budgeted dollars and a ton of calories.
The same goes for Meredith and her ice cream. If we buy quality ice cream (Tillamook or Ben and Jerry’s YUMMMM) on sale. Then, she can satisfy her craving with a spoonful every once in a while, rather than walking down the street where I know they sell amazing cones with a heaping helping of flavored thousand-calorie goodness.
By planning your cheats you save both money and calories. Just be careful not to have planned cheats every day. 🙂
The “Organic” Conundrum
Okay, James. What about this whole organic thing? How do I justify buying an organic bag of apples for $27 when the regular bag is $2? (I made up those numbers for dramatic effect).
Here’s the secret to buying organic. If you eat the skin, try and buy organic. If not, don’t bother. Obviously, farmers are spraying yucky bug repellant on their crops. So, if you eat the part getting sprayed, organic is a great option. If you are peeling it off anyway, then who cares? And if you just can’t afford organic, there are ways to wash your fruits and veggies that remove ALMOST all the bad stuff.
Check out this article by WellnessMama (she is the best). It lists which foods are important to buy organic, and the ones that don’t matter. AND it shows the proper way to wash non-organic foods with vinegar and water.
I just want to throw out three things I buy organic…simply because they taste WAY better.
- Peanut Butter
- Maple Syrup
Like seriously. Never buy any of these non-organic ever again.
Oils, Vitamins and Apple Cider Vinegar
If you saw Meredith’s monthly grocery list (maybe she’ll post it next month), you’d see it’s pretty boring. It’s a lot of chicken, rice, flour, fruits, veggies, oatmeal and eggs. There aren’t many treats, but there also aren’t many ” crazy health” foods.
However, there are a few out-of-the-ordinary things we buy that Meredith and I just swear by.
- Coconut Oil
- This is a great replacement for butter or other oils. Plus, we use it for our homemade toothpaste (that’s a future blog post). We buy this stuff, because it’s the best.
- Vitamin D
- Unless you live somewhere where the sun shines all day, every day, this stuff will keep you so much healthier and happier, and not as tired! Which is crucial in parenthood. Vitamin D deficiency is super common, causing depression for lots of people, and it’s so incredibly avoidable.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then a swig of apple cider vinegar a day will put them entirely out of business. I don’t know how else to say this. When I consistently take my daily apple cider vinegar, my body starts break dancing in excitement. If you just can’t stomach straight ACV though, this is a great alternative, plus its loaded with other excellent vitamins and things.
Depending on where you are in the health journey, this may sound either overwhelming or WAY too basic.
For the first person, I’ll say this. Start small and just get rid of soda. Then stop going out to eat. Then, start planning your cheats. Then, buy one or two organic things. You don’t have to radically change your lifestyle overnight. In fact, I don’t recommend it, because it probably won’t stick.
Finally, enjoy the journey. As weird as it is to say this, it’s actually pretty exciting to look at your loaded trunk and see that everything (or mostly everything) is healthy. There’s a sense of anticipation and accomplishment.
Sure, not every day will be easy, and those McDonalds coupons will keep coming in the mail, but you can do this.
I love food, and I think God meant for us to enjoy food.
I don’t think he meant for us to plug our noses while we swallow kale. Seriously, don’t buy kale.
But I also believe we should glorify God with our bodies, and these are just a few simple ways I try and do that through my eating habits.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let me know ways that you save money while still eating healthy!
P.S. I get almost ALL of my eating advice from wellnessmama.com. So, be sure to check her out! It’s very overwhelming at first, but if you have a food question, she is a great resource.
*I’m not a doctor. These are all just things that have worked for my family. Please use at your own discretion. If you are allergic you peanut butter, you will also be allergic to organic peanut butter, so I don’t suggest eating it. When I refer to something as “the best,” I simply mean I like it a lot. I will not judge you if you buy kale. I just personally find it disgusting. I have not been paid to support any products or wellnessmama. McDonalds coupons will not necessarily come in the mail, and if they do…you can probably opt out of that.
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