Healthy food + tight budget + unexpected expenses = What feels like an impossible equation to solve.
Whether you’re in the middle of a job hunt, a college student lacking funds, or a minimalist looking to simplify your grocery list – it can be a challenge to prioritize both healthy eating and frugal living. Never fear, I’m here to tell you that it is 100% possible to do! In fact, we did it all throughout college with precisely $75 budgeted for food AND toiletries! Let me tell you how!
Our Frugal Story
If you’re going to take some frugal living advice from me, I might as well share how much I can relate to your situation. My husband and I decided to go to college at the same time, living off of his Chick-Fil-A income, plus a small weekly paycheck from his role as the youth pastor at our church. While he was balancing these two roles with part-time school, I was a full-time nursing student. Need I say more?
(Our monthly take-home income totaled to a whopping $1,680)
These are the tips I recommend following in order to thrive while living this healthy & frugal lifestyle!
1) Plan your Meals
This is a must! Without an idea of what you’re going to eat, you won’t know what to buy >> If you don’t know what to buy, you won’t have full meals to cook >> If you don’t have full meals to cook, you’ll find yourself eating out, making frequent trips to the store, or opting for the quickest unhealthy meals you can find. Here are some of our staple healthy & budget-friendly meals to help get you started:
-Steel cut oatmeal (Add in an egg or chia seeds for extra protein!)
-Avocado Toast topped with an egg (Everything bagel seasoning makes this extra tasty)
-Hummus Toast topped with your favorite veggies
-Breakfast smoothies (As simple as almond milk, greens, Greek yogurt, and ice! Flavored with add-ins like frozen berries or a frozen banana with nut butter)
-Eggs & veggies (My favorite mix includes peppers, onions, and salsa)
-Greek yogurt topped with seeds, frozen berries and homemade granola
Lunches & Dinners
-Tomato, cucumber, and chickpea salad
-Tacos, Burrito bowls, Mexican salad (All using the same basic ingredients: beans, salsa, lettuce, avocado, and sautéed peppers/onion)
-Veggie stir fry with your choice of protein
-Veggie sheet pan dinners with quinoa and your choice of protein
-Tuna or salmon cakes over greens with dressing
-Zucchini noodle spaghetti (This is cheap IF you make your own zucchini noodles, as the pre-made kind is pricier)
-Grilled everything! We love grilling fish, veggie kabobs, and then pineapple for dessert!
2) Choose the Right Stores & Brands
It’s no secret that some stores are pricier than others. We shop at Walmart and Aldi because we’ve found that they generally have the most budget-friendly, healthy choices. Other stores do have great deals every now and then, however, it isn’t worth it to us to drive to 4 different stores in an effort to save 10 cents on one product. Sticking to organic Aldi products is usually a better deal than buying discounted name brand products anyways!
3) Healthy Meals from Scratch
Cooking from scratch has been a huge money saver for us. When I say this, I mean buying whole beans/grains in bulk, soaking them properly, and creating meals out of them with fruits & veggies that you cut/peel/prepare yourself. Instead of buying fancy-schmancy pre-made snacks, we rely on whole fruits and nuts for healthy pick-me-ups! Those expensive prepared salads and smoothie bags do make life easier, but you can create those on your own to save your mula!
Meat can be one of the most expensive items on your grocery list, so we had to find a way to cut back on this cost too. Instead of buying chicken breast for one meal, sausage links for another, fish for a third, and so on, we like to choose a main meat of the week and build meals off of it. For instance, you can bake/grill a whole chicken, shred it for BBQ sandwiches, add it to soups, make chicken salad, eat it with an Asian stir-fry… the possibilities are endless! I personally love Dr. Hyman’s principle of using meat as a side verses the main component of every meal!
4) Save the Excess
Stop throwing out scraps and leftover food! Either eat the leftovers for a future meal or save the excess to add to another meal! For instance, if I have extra filling from making burrito bowls, I’ll use the small amount that’s leftover as the toppings for a healthy Mexican salad!
As for those scraps… Start a compost pile! You can take an old container, drill some holes in it, and start layering your green and brown contents. Eventually, the components will break down, producing soil rich in vitamins and minerals for your flower or veggie gardens. Using the scraps for a fruit/veggie garden starts a cycle that keeps on giving: turning your scraps into soil, planting seeds in that soil, growing fruits/veggies from those seeds, and using the fruit/veggie scraps in your next compost pile! I go over the details of starting a compost in this post: How to Start a Compost: A Beginner’s Guide.
Speaking of gardening…
5) Start a Fruit & Vegetable Garden
This tip isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay! Starting a garden on a budget means a lot of planning, preparation, and physical labor. Of course, it’s easiest to buy raised garden beds to minimize weeds and Miracle Grow to provide your plants with the best soil… but that’s also expensive.
To minimize costs, start your garden from seeds, which run anywhere between $0.50 to $2.00 a pack. Use containers that you already have such as empty egg cartons, milk jugs, and other items you can re-purpose. Once the seeds have sprouted and are hardened off, the cheapest option is to use the soil you already have in the ground. You’ll want to remove any grass and weeds from the area so that your plants aren’t fighting for nutrients and space. Finally, since you took my advice above by starting a compost pile, that can be used to add nutrients to the soil!
I have a detailed post on starting a vegetable garden from scratch here: https://cultivatingnurse.com/vegetable-garden-from-scratch/
These are the basic principles we followed during our college years, and I’m so grateful that we made it through without compromising our health due to a tight budget. If you know of anyone who could use some healthy & frugal living advice, please feel free to send them this article or have them reach out to me here!