52 ways to save money on a healthy diet: Use Cash

Sometimes saving money while eating a healthy diet is as simple as figuring out a budget and then sticking to it. While I know it is not as simple as that, and I know that we all need very specific tips to help that happen, I don’t think it ever goes beyond that. With no budget, we are apt to spend more then we should (or at least I know very well that I am!).

But once you have set a budget, how do you stay in it? Well, one of the most effective things I have ever done for our budget was using a cash system. I know this is not a new idea to many of you, but I wanted to share what worked for me specifically in our healthy food budget.

The funny thing to me is that using cash when grocery shopping seems like such an old-fashioned idea now! But our little plastic cards are really a recent way to shop. Using cash does several things. First, if you only bring your budget amount of money to the store, you can’t spend more then that. Let me tell you, it has saved me from so many extra purchases! Secondly, physiologically, seeing our hard earned cash in person (instead of just a total on the register) helps put how much money we are spending in perspective.

This is how I did this method.

First, once we had a set amount for our budget, I figured out how much we spend on purchases directly from a farm (like raw milk), and from co-ops (like Azure Standard). I subtracted that from our budget, and then divided what was left between the weeks left in the month. That was my weekly budget. I put the cash for my co-op and the cash for my milk in envelopes, and then had an envelope for each week.

When I went grocery shopping for that week I simply took my envelope of cash, and forced myself to stay within it. If you are on a tight budget, this can be harder then it seems. Here are some ways I made it work.

1. Have some flexibility with your grocery list. I figured out before I went what items could go, if I had maxed my budget and had a few things left on my list. Non-essentials, basically. Staying in budget at times meant sacrificing something delicious on our grocery list, but it was worth it to keep in our budget.

2. I also kept a somewhat flexible menu plan, so that I could switch things around on my menu if I found better prices on food item. For example, if I had a certain vegetable on the list, but when I got to the store, I discovered another vegetable on sale, I could switch it around.

3. Start a notebook of store prices. Being able to keep track of how expensive certain items were at the store, allowed me to menu plan more easily on a frugal budget. At first it was really hard for me to menu plan a whole weeks worth of meals that all fit in our tight budget (trying to buy organic and whole foods). However, over time it became easier as I figured out the system.

4. Expect it to be a little confusing and harder to shop at first, but know it will get easier as you figure out what works for you. I was a little flustered the first time I was shopping this way, as I jotted down amounts in my price notebook, added grocery items in my cart together on a calculator, and tried to figure out what I could substitute for higher priced items. But it smoothed out over time.

5. Bring a calculator to the store. I brought one and would add up the amounts in the calculator as I added items into my cart. That way I knew exactly how much I was spending. Invaluable. Especially when all you have in your wallet is cash. I had a real horror of getting to the checkout and not having enough money to purchase everything.

This was single-handedly the most effect way we had to stay in our budget. Why? I was forced to come up with all sorts of menu items that were really frugal. If I had just been buying what I “needed” and then simply accepting however much it cost, our food budget would have been substantially higher.

However, notice I write everything above in the past tense? While this is certainly the most effective way to stay in budget, we have just gone through a challenging time with my health. It seems that most of it stemmed from incredibly low iron stores, which I am almost finished getting treated for (and, though hampered with a cold, I think I am starting to feel better finally!). Survival for us has meant that we haven’t stayed in our food budget very well. We all go through seasons when our “best practices” go to the wayside. And that has certainly been true for me! So if you are in a season like that right now, know you aren’t alone.

But if you really want to cut back on your food budget, try the cash method. Oh, and just makes sure you place all of your money in a safe place! That’s the one problem with cash. If you lose it, it is just too bad!

What about you? Have you ever tried to cash method for grocery shopping? Any tips or experiences to share?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Jenny says

    I totally agree with this! Doing a budget and using the cash system has been the best thing for my marriage and for paying off debt (thank you Dave Ramsey!)

    • Jenny says

      However, I still can’t afford organic, grassfed meat right now, but I can afford to do organic on the dirty dozen and I’m able to buy raw milk and eggs from grass fed cows and chickens. Someday when I’m completely out of debt, I’ll switch to organic grassfed meat too! Looking forward to the day I can buy a whole cow!

  2. Rachel says

    I know I should try this. Sometimes I tend to let all my work in the kitchen give me an excuse to not have to work so hard at other things. And I often get indignant that just because we want to eat healthy doesn’t mean we have to eat boring and bland. Which I realize are just pathetic excuses. And, I just got done freaking out at my husband last night because this week our food/general budget somehow got out of hand and we were way over for the week.

    Sometimes I just need to have a little pity party for myself and be angry that “other” people don’t have to worry about what they spend. And that’s when I’m thankful for bloggers and “friends” like you, who remind me what’s worthwhile and that while some people might not worry about money, there are lots of others who work just as hard on it as we do, and that it’s really for the best. Thanks for your timely words of wisdom. I appreciate them.

    Glad you’re feeling better. Having something going on that causes exhaustion is just so hard, especially on mommas trying to run households!

    • KimiHarris says

      Thanks, Rachel! I am so very grateful that I am starting to feel better. Sometimes I envy friends with more money too. But, a quick look around at my family, and it doesn’t take long to realize how blessed I am too. 🙂

  3. says

    I *love* that you included that last note about seasons when our best practices aren’t manageable to survive. I’ve experienced this recently also, as I was working one step at a time at adjusting our diet whole food and moving toward GAPS diet, when suddenly I was surprised by pregnancy and crippling morning sickness. Forget GAPS; forget most whole food as we regressed in good part to cans, jars, and boxes. But we know where our ultimate goal is; we haven’t let go of all the good practices (e.g. butter rather than margarine); and this is only a temporary setback with wonderful rewards which we will eventually overcome and be so much better off than if we hadn’t experienced the setback in the first place.

    • says

      I’m so glad that you mentioned this Netty. We have tried the envelope method before, but prefer the convenience of our debit cards. We signed up with Mint this past weekend, and I can already see how it will benefit our family. I have been telling everyone I know about it! I am a nerd for charts and organization:)

  4. says

    Kimi, I understand the horror of not having enough money at check-out! When we were first married, we used only cash and that happened – boy was it embarrassing!

    What has helped me the most is like you said, plan (write it down) but be flexible for sales. I started a notebook in which I write all expenses down so I know exactly where the money is going each month – it also provides accountability because I know others will see it!

    It has been challenging to stay on GAPS and stick to the budget but I think it has encouraged creativity.

    Thanks for the encouragement and hope you get over your cold soon!

    • KimiHarris says

      Thanks, Dina-Marie! I do have a bit of a cold, but me not feeling well (as referenced to above), is referring to my low iron stores. Almost done with my treatment. I am pretty amazed at how different I am feeling. 🙂

  5. Kylie says

    This is coming at just the right time. I have been struggling to feed our family of 6 healthily on a budget of $150 (including cleaning products, soap, toilet paper, etc.) I have been working hard to come up with inexpensive meals and carrying my calculator through the grocery store!

  6. says

    this will most definitely come in handy for us if my partner decides to go to graduate school this year! we’ve been biting our fingernails about how we’ll afford our food since it’s the way i manage living with a chronic disease.

    and i too appreciate the acknowledgement that we don’t always stay as disciplined in all things as we’d like. it’s essential to build in wiggle room for an overall effective strategy.

    again kimi–so grateful for all you do and SO happy to hear that you’re feeling better. hang in there! xo, ariyele

  7. Pippi says

    I love the idea of using cash — we used to do that when my husband was a grad student and I was waiting on my immigration papers. Now we use our credit card, however, because we get points with it. Since our family is so spread out flying is an unavoidable part of lives. The points we get buying groceries have paid for emergency flights home to be with sick relatives, visit new babies, and be at best friends’ weddings. It is definitely harder to keep track of and it’s easier to overspend with a credit card, though!

  8. Lisa Guinn says

    Hi Kimi,
    Any suggestions as to the best way to “price” the stores for the best pricing? We have 3 different stores near me that I could shop at and other than walking through the store and writing every price down I am not sure of the best way to compare prices and would appreciate any ideas or suggestions!
    Thanks so much,

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