How not to save money on a healthy diet

We’ve covered different angles in my series, 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet. Like what you can buy at Costco, using a cash system, or how to make continunious kombucha, how to save money by reducing kitchen waste, and how to afford quality seafood on a budget.

Today I thought it could be just as helpful to share what NOT to do.

Concentrating on purity rather than nutrition
Whenever you research the dangers of our food system, there is a lot you learn about avoiding. I totally get that concern and share it. But we also need to make sure that we don’t focus so much on the purity of our diet that we forget about nutrition. For example, one thing that has been a tendency for myself is to overly fixate on only buying high-quality, organic or better-than-organic products.

While this is a good goal, sometimes I have lost sight of the big picture of nutrition. I believe pretty strongly in avoiding GM foods, especially on an every day basis, and I also have been convinced that there is enough research to warrant the goal of a 100% organic diet. But I also need to make sure that we are getting the protein and the produce (both which can be expensive and hard to buy in quantity when on a budget) we need to have good health. Julia Ross recommends that adults eat a decent serving of protein and 10-12 cups of produce every single day.

While that may not be the right goal for everyone, the point is this. In our imperfect world, with limited resources, there are times when we have to choose between two imperfect options. For me, that can look like choosing between 1) A completely pure, all-organic diet, that is lower in protein and produce than is optimal for me and/or my family and 2) Making some compromises so that I can afford the proper amount of produce and protein for my family, despite them not always being my first choice products. I can buy off of the Clean 15 list of produce, non-organically, if there is a sufficient savings to warrant it, for example. I have a hard time making compromises still, but I am trying. 😉

Making a low food budget your ultimate goal
Perhaps this is simply from my background of growing up around mostly stay-at-home wives and mothers who simply had to fit within the confines of their food budget, but I went into marriage feeling that part of my worth as a spouse was keeping a really frugal food budget.

I think because it was a real necessity for many of the wives in my community, a low food budget was often praised and exalted. Some of the blogs I like and follow get a lot of praise for the lowest possible food budget they can squeak by on. It has been a process for me to get out of that mindset. Instead, my new goal is “Making the best use of my resources for the health and happiness of my family and friends”.

When my food budget is my ultimate goal, I can stress over any hospitality/sharing of food that increased it. When keeping my food budget low is the ultimate goal, I can sacrifice a diet that would better serve my family’s health. When keeping my food budget as low as possible is my ultimate goal, I can cut out the “joy” foods, like desserts, fruits, and other natural treats (because they aren’t absolutely necessary).

While it is part of the goal and passion of my website to help normal people on normal budgets eat nourishing foods, my heart is not to help you cut your budget as low as possible, but rather, I hope to help you thrive with the resources you have.

I have two more things to say about this point. First, if you are on a low food budget out of necessity, there is no shame to that. You can create beautiful foods for surprisingly little. And two, if you came from a similar background and feel that your wifehood worth is equal to your low food budget, know there is no shame in investing money by buying good food for your family.

Letting worry and fear cloud your perspective
If you are trying to save money on a budget, and puzzling through which are the best compromises to make, and frustrated about the confines of your resources, fear and worry can become part of your routine.

This is how not to save money on a healthy diet. Worry is a stress on your body. While being concerned about something can be a good thing, as there could be real concerns and only “worry” will propel you to find a solution, worry is also a stress on your body. If you know that you are doing the best that you can with the resources you have, worrying about what you can’t change will just add an unnecessary stress to your body.

I can definitely be a worrywart myself, so I am really working on keeping a proper balance of caring about being a good steward of what I have, without unduly stressing about it. Stressing is not being a good steward of my mind and my body. As a Christian, I remember how Jesus told us not to worry about what we will eat or what we shall wear, but rather that we should seek first his Kingdom and His righteousness, and how God will give us what we need. My husband will sometimes quote from this passage to me, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Wise words.

But the point is this, worry will not change anything, but actually make you less healthy, both in mind and body. So don’t let keeping a budget and trying to eat healthy become a huge stress in your life.

What other mistakes do you think we make when on a budget?

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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. Rachel says

    I am so totally guilty of the first one. But, sometimes when money gets tight (as it does in certain seasons since my husband is a grad student and I am a SAHM of 4), we just have to buy regular old costco chicken since it is the toughest to find pastured for an affordable price around here. Luckily our CSA and backyard garden keeps us stocked on produce and we have excellent beef farmers around that provide amazing prices on pastured beef. I definitely got out of the Cheapest is Best mentality for a food budget a while ago. I still cringe when I see blogs about how to save money and live on $100 a month or something and their grocery haul pictures depict loads of cheap store bread and canned foods. Cut back on cable and iGadgets first! 🙂 Thanks for this post.

  2. Chaundelle says

    I am a stay at home wife. Our kids are grown and off on their own. With my hubby being the only “bread” winner, our food budget is tight. I’ve been working on creating more and more of “do it yourself” kinds of mixes, and yes, I will buy SOME processed food. But I am more concerned about quality, so we are willing to sacrifice quantity for quality. So I don’t buy as many items as I used to, but I do try to buy a better quality. I am also growing a lot of our own veggies, and we raise chickens for eggs. I also barter with eggs for items. We also went in “halfsies” with a friend to raise a pig and have it processed. It was by far the best pork we have ever ate. The total cost for over 150lbs was less than $200!

    • KimiHarris says

      Love how cheap you got your pork! That’s great. As far and quantity versus quality, I suppose it depends on which way you tend to lean. I lean towards buying less, despite the fact that it could be better to buy more quantity of produce/protein, and make some compromises.

  3. Alyssa says

    Let me first say I love your blog! I so appreciate your nutrient sense recipes that are muh more affordable and use good ingredients that aren’t so obscure. This post is just what I needed to hear. Lately we have not done a great job of sticking to our grocery budget and it has been stressing me out terribly. I know that God will provide for us not matter what even if it isn’t with a pastured chicken or organic veggies. Thank you for this!

  4. Candace says

    Thank you for sharing your wise words! I am often guilty of the third one, though I quote that Scripture to myself all the time.

  5. says

    GREAT post. I love, love, love number one. What a great reminder to strive for nutrition in general rather than perfection, which is supremely impossible. Thanks for this!

  6. says

    What a well-thought-out post! I have multiple food allergies/sensitivities and am a pescatarian, and my husband is a vegetarian. As such, keeping to a budget can be really tough if one doesn’t know how/have time to cook from scratch. I went into my marriage believing that my contribution as the non-bread-winning spouse is to feed the family and feed it well while on a budget. I bought a couple of really great cookbooks and learned to cook from whole, plant-based foods. Over the years, I’ve found it easier and easier to use my growing knowledge of flavors and textures to create satisfying pantry-raid meals when the pantry & freezer are full. I’m fortunate to live in a major metropolitan city that prides itself on local, sustainable, organic food and some farms are as close as 30 minutes away, so we have lots of farmers markets and a couple of CSAs year-round, as well as a culture that promotes backyard farming.

  7. Lindsey H. says

    Good reminders! I so often feel guilty because our food is such a huge chunk of our budget. Still working on the many things I can do to cut down on it (make more things myself), but it doesn’t happen all at once!

  8. KatieLeAnne says

    Thanks for this post; it’s what I needed today! I was the same when I first got married with trying to get by being as cheap as possible. In recent months I have gone a little overboard into the too much stress area of trying to change everything to quality food. Now I’m trying to find my happy medium in worrying about the quality of the food. I figure at least I’m eating virtually no processed foods, but not all of my produce and meat is organic either.

  9. tina says

    We have children with food allergies and sensitivities. We have realized that most of those issues relate directly back to GMO ingredients- gmo corn fed beef, chicken and eggs are some of the big allergens. They can eat farm raised, grass fed and grass finished beef and two of the three can eat chicken eggs from chickens fed a non soy food. I can’t compromise on the quality of those proteins because it literally is a matter of life or death.
    Unfortunately it isn’t just a question of organic vs commercial with us, even the organic can be an issue – for example we recently found out the apples and pears are sprayed with antibiotics, which was a puzzle fit for some issues we have been dealing with.
    We can’t cut corners with our food. However, we have REALLY reduced our health care expenses in the past several years as we’ve completely converted our diet to a non GMO, sustainably raised foods diet.
    I work very closely with our farmers market, buy as much in volume as possible. We have buying clubs to buy 25 or 50# bags of lentils, navy beans, black beans etc. Every week we have at least one big batch of legumes which will stretch into several meals. I make broths to help the nutrient density of those soups.

    We cut corners by not buying all the electronic gizmos “all the other kids have”, our cars are not the latest models, we don’t have premium TV, skip some of the pricey after school sports programs etc. We try to put our money where our mouth is, hoping that is the best investment.

  10. Beth says

    There are so many good points in this post and the comments.

    I think a concept you were describing is “False Savings” when extreme budgeting is the goal and the quality of food, and subsequent health, suffers. I like to say that you can pay the farmer or pay the doctor.

    One way I like to economize while being assured of getting high quality, nutrient-dense food is to go in with friends on a bulk purchase of a grassfed cow, lamb or pig, and getting a whole or half to get the better price point, depending on the size of the animal, and then having some friends over and splitting the various cuts amongst us. Having a chest freezer allows me to be able to buy this way, and I only have to go to the freezer to thaw something for dinner rather than having to run to the store. In the long run, it’s a cost savings and at the same time I’m getting high quality protein and fat. Plus I can often get the odd bits (bones, knuckles, organs, feet, etc.) for a lot less or nothing.

  11. Rosemind says

    I LOVE this post! Thank you for speaking to my heart regarding the balance we must strike to provide what is best for each of our families. There are some areas I don’t compromise on, but we do live in an ethnically-rich city with local shops that sells healthy meats and freshly made, foods with high destiny nutrition. Then I do not shop again for the pay period until my pantry is near empty except for a few produce perishables.

  12. says

    These are great points! I recently had to address the first point and came to the hard decision that I could not afford an all organic diet. After a lot of research, I made the decision that my protein and dairy was the most important to buy of excellent quality and plenty of produce, no matter whether it was organic or not, was more important than it being organic. I could not do it all without continually going over budget and putting my family into debt.

  13. cirelo says

    Some research I have been going over lately points to some evidence that phyto-chemicals present in produce could help protect the body from pesticides. Have you heard anything at all to that effect? It made me think that eating your veggies organic or not might be for the best even if you can’t afford organic options. But I don’t know if there was credence to the argument.

  14. karla says

    Can I just say, I appreciate your saying what probably a lot of people pursuing a healthier way of life are thinking: “How can I afford this?” But, the question for me has been, “how can I not?” Our bodies deserve, YES, they do, deserve the best, highest quality, organic and nutrient-dense foods available. We have so many things in this life that are NOT necessary, that we can keep within a smaller budget or eliminate altogether. Our food should be number one. Why? In a way, its life or death. Imagine feeling great ALL the time. Imagine feeding your body what it needs to repair and repel sickness, ALL the time! It is possible. And, it really should be a priority. Your body will thank you!! Just something to consider-Is there somewhere else you can put your need for a reduced budget, so that you can afford the most essential real, “super”, organic, and raw foods? I couldn’t possibly know what I know about how essential our food is to our body’s processes and not make buying the good, no, GREAT/ BEST food a priority-number one.

  15. Laura says

    ::sigh of relief:: thanks for the encouragement! Sometimes the facets of nourishing and frugal of home-making can feel like a tug if war. It’s best to focus on doing as best as our budget allows. No need to be fanatical. Also, thank you for quoting scripture! It is refreshing to read.

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