Saturday, June 11, 2011

Living Fierce...on a budget

I posted not long ago about putting a wardrobe together without having to put your car up for sale or refinance your left kidney. It occurred to me this morning as I was shuffling the weekly flyers that it might be worth making a few tips about grocery spending as well.

Living fierce means exercising and eating well to maintain optimum energy and drive. The exercise part is easy enough, and even if you're not into an expensive plan you can do it with a really well-designed bodyweight plan like THIS ONE from Adam Steer & Ryan Murdock. The eating thing, on the other hand, is not so easy to do.

The trouble is, eating cheap and eating well don't always go hand in hand. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at the grocery store, having to do a budget shop to restock for the week. The revelation was startling. A package of twelve chicken thighs, boned with no skin (and no preparation whatsoever) was $16.99. A box of pre-cooked frozen fried chicken (8 pieces), fully breaded and seasoned, was $10.99.

Is it any wonder the lowest income segments of the population tend to be the ones most plagued by obesity, diabetes and heart disease? The affordable food options seem to be limited to starchy, pre-cooked, preservative-laden goop that has very little nutritional value other than high-calorie survival sustenance. Not a good outlook.

How do we combat this problem? On a cultural scale, I suppose, it would be feasible. The price of fresh, healthy foods would potentially come down if the sales were there to support it. So yes, getting people over their addiction to starch and sugar would probably be a good first step. But for those of us who know what we should be eating, keeping the cost of the "six-pack diet" down can be a challenge.

Getting smart with your grocery shopping, on the other hand, can save you a lot of headaches in the finance department. The first and most obvious point is never EVER be shy about clipping coupons. For the last couple of months, my favourite cereal has had a free ice cream coupon on every box. I know, ice cream isn't the healthiest choice, but I have a three-year-old, and that's a little treat for dessert.

Nobody should ever deny a child ice cream in the summer. You don't have to eat it by the bucket-full. But while on that self-same grocery expedition I mentioned above, I found a 4-litre container of No Name ice milk for $4.99. I couldn't get a 2 litre of Breyer's for that!

And that's my next point: go No Name whenever you can. This is especially true when you're trying to make up your quota of nuts and vegetables. In fact, to stock up on almonds, stay out of the produce section and hit the baking section. The assortment of affordable whole nuts is fantastic, and a single large bag of No Name brand almonds runs about $15. That's enough for nearly three months!

Hitting the frozen foods, I've found that No Name veggies and berries are a real lifesaver too. The vegetables run often several dollars less than major name brands, and the frozen berries were actually half the price. They're berries and's not like No Name skimps on the recipe used to package them. Plus, they're flash-frozen now. Modern freezing methods leave almost all of the nutrients intact, making these choices much more affordable than fresh vegetables and fruit. While it's nice to get fresh when you can afford it, going frozen, and generic, when you can't is a great way to ensure you're getting proper nutrition without worrying about the budget.

Fruits should be purchased in season whenever possible. Right now, with early summer in full swing, berries are going for ridiculously low prices. The California crops are coming in like mad, which means a pound of strawberries can go for less than $1.50! This will continue all summer as the crops from BC and Ontario start coming as well. A good deal is a good deal...but even better, if you can't go through that many in a week, just add your leftovers to your bag of frozen berries before they start to turn mushy. You may not have to buy a new bag until Christmas!

But don't always assume generic is the best deal. Every once in a while grocery stores have major brand sales (often sell-offs to reduce or replace stock), so keep an eye on the actual prices. If a brick of cheddar normally runs $7 or more for even the generic brand, and the name brand is on sale for $4.99, it's obviously a better deal. And fortunately most of these sales happen on weekends.

Using a little common sense can go a long way when it comes to shopping cheap--and living fierce--on a budget. Don't toss your flyers, don't ignore coupons, and whatever you do DON'T buy something you never buy just because it's on sale! Doing this last one can really tax your budget. Stick with what you know, and go for the goods that are going to deliver what you need. Buying cheap with starches isn't a good deal if there's no nutritional value, so focus in on things that are going to sustain you longer, rather than necessarily what will sock you up cheaper this week.

And finally, hit the bulk store. While mixtures there are a little uncertain (with no nutritional labels, you don't really know what's in them), bags of nuts, whole grains, seeds and spices can be had for next to nothing when compared with packaged offerings from the grocery store. They don't tend to go bad or stale either, so you can get a lot of distance out of bulk shopping. They even usually have whey protein powder...but not flavoured, and you don't really know what the source or profile is. You can use it as an additive, however, to boost the protein content of other things (like baking). If you've never been to a bulk store, go check one out. You'll be surprised at what's available, and well within your budget.


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