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How to Eat Healthy on an Amateur Athlete’s Budget

grocery shopping

“Cheap, strong, light. Pick two.” That’s a popular saying when buying bicycle components because it’s unlikely you’ll find all three qualities in one product.

When it comes to eating healthy, the saying becomes “Cheap, healthy, tasty. Pick two.”

Healthy food is not cheap. Natural peanut butter, natural almond butter, whole wheat bread, premium supplements, organic fruits and vegetables… It adds up quickly!

And this food is typically less convenient than grabbing a candy bar (due to extra time spent for preparation,) but healthy eating is very important for everyone – especially if you’re trying to get in shape. Not to mention if your goal is six pack abs.

So the question is, how can we get these organic, healthy foods and high-quality supplements without breaking the bank?

Well, with a little homework and elbow grease, you can eat healthy without giving up your new carbon race bike!

Here is how to get everything as cheap as possible:

1. Clip Coupons

Clipping coupons is bothersome, but if you need to save money, do it. The savings are small but they do add up. And with these tough economic conditions, clipping coupons isn’t just for elderly people on food stamps – everyone can take part in the ritual!

All you need to do is pull the sales papers out of the local paper (typically Saturday or Sunday) and clip the coupons, or type “coupons” into Google and you’re bound to find a site that lets you print coupons free of charge.

One example is EmergenC.com. You can request a free sample, and for no obligation, you get three packets of Emergen-C powder along with a coupon for $1 off a box of Emergen-C.

2. Shop Around for the Best Deals

If you have time to burn, shop around at all the local grocery stores. While Wal-Mart is typically the cheapest place for anything, that’s not always the case. Sometimes a small, local store will have certain items that are cheaper there. (I don’t know why or how, but it happens.)

Then there are also some stores full of nothing but deals. My favorite is Big Lots, where you can get great stuff way cheaper than MSRP. I have found great deals on Peak bars, Honest Tea, Bear Naked, and other brands of healthy snacks and teas.

3. Get a Customer Card

shaws customer card

Customer cards, like ones from Giant Eagle, Wegman’s, and Shaw’s, are totally free, but they entitle you to great discounts. Most stores with customer cards have special prices listed where you just need the customer card and you get the sale price.

Signing up is quick and easy (you can even do it online,) and all you have to do to get the deals is swipe the card when you check out. It’s so simple, you have to do it.

Almost everyone is doing it these days. Heck, even Performance Bicycle does a membership card (that one costs $20, but it can still be worthwhile.)

To top things off, I’ve heard heart-warming stories about people losing their car keys, but getting them back thanks to a complete stranger finding the keys and sending them to the address listed on the shopper’s club card on the key chain!

4. Buy Private Label (a.k.a. Store Brands)

With private label brands, you’re going to get the same quality of food as a name brand, but at a lower price. It’s a great idea for frozen vegetables, rolled oats, and other basics where a name brand doesn’t matter.

You can get food extra cheap like this because sometimes these brands are on sale if you have a “Shopper’s Club” card. So Store Brand Food + Shopper’s Club Card = Saving Lots of Money!

bulk bins

5. Buy in Bulk

In most cases, buying food in bulk saves a lot of money. For foods you consume often, such as green tea, honey, eggs, or rolled oats, buy them in as big of containers as you can.

This applies to regular stores like Wal-Mart, but it is best used at retailers such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and CostCo.

Good news – even at higher-end stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, you can save money by buying from their bulk bins.

6. Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Frozen fruits and vegetables are quite a bit cheaper than their fresh counterparts, but they’re still healthy. Sometimes the frozen ones are even healthier because they’re “flash frozen” as soon as they’re harvested. That means they’re not sitting around in the sun in shipping containers, losing nutrients, like what can happen with the so-called “fresh” produce sitting on the shelves.

I like Bird’s Eye green peas, and then any store brand for broccoli florets, mixed veggies, broccoli stir fry, and asparagus stir fry. Pretty much all frozen berries are tasty, so stock up on them – I love frozen strawberries for adding to my banana smoothies!

7. Invest in a Second Freezer

Buying in bulk is a great strategy, but it is usually limited by your storage space – specifically freezer space. If you have the space and the money, consider investing in a second freezer.

With the extra space, you can buy tons of stuff in bulk, freeze most of it, and get a little out at a time. It is a great strategy in combination with bulk stores like Sam’s Club and CostCo, or even Big Lots. Any time something is on sale super cheap, you can stockpile it!

(Note that this is a long-term strategy for cost savings, as it requires a good bit of cash up front!)

8. Grow a Garden

Typically, seeds for plants that grow fruit are much cheaper than buying the fruit. If you have the land, you should have a garden. That’s the only way to get truly fresh fruits and vegetables all summer long!

Yes, keeping the garden watered and keeping the bugs and animals away can be challenging, but once you realize how much better the food is, you’ll understand why it’s worth it!

9. Cook Meals Yourself

The more preparation that is yet to be done, the less you spend (relatively speaking.) For example, brewing your own green tea is maybe 25 cents per cup. Already prepared, it could be nearly $2 for the same thing!

fresh produce

And an $8 salad in the store – that’s about $1 worth of food and $7 worth of preparation time!

Same with cut fruit – $5 might get you a serving of cut fruit, while it would get you multiple pieces of fruit that you must cut yourself.

So cooking is something you should learn, especially if you like to save money by buying raw ingredients in bulk. Even if it’s not cooking per say, you could at least learn to clean and cut your own fruits and vegetables!

10. Order Online

For stuff that doesn’t spoil easily, like supplements, check online. You can find good prices and get free shipping, too!

At Amazon.com you get free shipping on any order over $35, but even at smaller stores you can qualify for free shipping on orders over $50 or $100.

Or, if you love a specific product, you might be able to get an autoship direct from the manufacturer, which typically has the free shipping benefit. You may even be able to do a “subscribe and save” offer through Amazon, where you not only get free shipping, but also a reduced price.

Eat up and save!

Photo credits: Jeff Keen | bcmom | KirrilyRobert

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7 Comments
  1. Yeah, you don’t have to eat like crap just because you’re on a budget. I hate how that’s an excuse for why people go to McDonald’s everyday. You can make your own sandwich at home way cheaper than a happy meal.

  2. Yay, thank you for these tips!

    My biggest savings have come from switching from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s.

  3. Putting in my $0.03 even though this is a 4 year old post.

    First up, this is from my experience of finally getting a sustained push to be healthy on. I’ve been what I would honestly call a disgusting fatbody most of my list, topping out at the start of the year at 360lbs.

    As of today, I’m just over 280 and still going down. I’ve been in a gym all of twice in that time, and honestly my body often hurts too much to exercise regularly. This is all loss with diet.

    Moving onto commentary on the points:

    1. I’ve tried clipping coupons, but I’ve found the same problem that I have with my (otherwise) favorite local market’s extra-savings plan (they use special coins): The food I look for almost never has a coupon or sale for it! The coupons and sales are all on the high-sugar, high-processed-FUD crap and not only the vegetables, white meats, etc. I gave up on coupons entirely.

    2. I tried this as well, but found running around to 4-5 stores every time I need groceries was too much of a pain, with the time wasted far outweighing the savings.

    3. See #1.

    4. Private labels can often be misleading; they are often the exact same products as the name brands (with extra added crap and all)… you might save money, but it often won’t be any more healthy. Instead, people need to learn how to religiously read labels. For example, I use Goya Premium Kidney Beans (canned) in my chili. Why not fresh? 90% less hassle, and this upper-level product has only a fraction of the salt content! Another example are the single serving Mott’s Natural Applesause cups. They have Apples, water and a single preservative in them.

    When I eat, especially at work, my meals are made up several days ahead of time at home. By using these smart items instead of eating out, weight has been practically dripping off of me.

    6. This one can depend on a lot on whether you’re using vegetables as a dish ingredient, or as a side dish. For sides, the medium sized cans of (often store brand) vegetables I buy are all available in a no-salt variety. Sometimes I just want to split up a can into my daily prefilled Tupperware containers as I make my next few day’s worth of meals.

    9. THIS THIS THIS A THOUSAND TIMES OVER! You don’t have to give up eating out entirely, but until you flush the majority of the crap out of your system with healthy eating, you’ll never lose the weight because your metabolism will just point and laugh hysterically at you!

    There should be a #11 on this list as well: LEARN YOUR SPICES! Healthy food can be made expecially delicious if you learn how spiced work together to create fantastic flavors. As you flush the crap out of your system, the flavors from spices will become all the MORE pronounced. Don’t let your taste buds with in a McComa any longer!

    Quick example of things I eat, and some I don’t at all, or only on rare occasions:

    ALWAYS: Fresh seafood (white and pink fish, plus canned tuna in water), turkey, pork, chicken, white rice, sweet potatoes/yams/similar good carbs, various peppers, mushrooms and onions, spinach, peas, corn, carrots, various fruits (applesauce, bananas, blueberries mostly)

    AVOID: Most all pastas, breads and other similar products made by processing raw grains down into powders, fried foods (although I do allow something once in a great while), most dairy, fruit juices.

    I’ve found that if I stay with my LIFESTYLE CHANGE (not diet!) with 80% of my meals in a week, my weight will stay steady. More than that, up to 100% and I will lose up to 4-5lbs on a given week. On average, I have been losing about 10-12lbs a month the past few months eating 3-5 good sized meals a day.

    The most important part: What I’ve changed is a SUSTAINABLE CHANGE; this isn’t a crash diet that will just let me balloon back up when I go “off” it… and some days, I DO go off it. I’ve been known to grab the occasional donut or slice of pizza at work, for example. It IS ok… IN MODERATION! Afterwards, just get back on your new plan and continue doing right; you can’t beat yourself up over a failure, because there are NO failures, just meandering off the path… and it’s just as easy to meander right back on!

  4. @TTFK

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

    (The post may have been published years ago, but I regularly review it for accuracy!)

  5. Let me second the idea of spices. You can skip fancy condiments and use cheap spices instead to get the same or even better flavors! A $1 jar of spice can save probably $20 by negating other ingredients.

  6. Tha is really difficult to live on a shoe string budget. I want to live better.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
Coach Levi's Mom
Hometown, PA