Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reigning in Your Grocery Bill While Taking Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. Actually, I’m still struggling a little bit. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered the topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been focusing on my budget a bit more closely and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low, but I don’t eat a ton, and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ll spend upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look into my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above, “Shopping from Your Pantry First”. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I know I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I still spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So why was this so?

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child when it came to me learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, trastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now, but when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

After I decided to take the deep dive, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping and how frequently I was shopping there. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entres.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store when I work my long days. These along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work will cost less than the frequent trips to local drug stores.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week and doing it solely at Whole Foods. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month at the less expensive grocery store at $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not to Belong

Now that I’ve decided to change my habits, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in that category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s just like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop and Shop that is equally as close and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting, or shop in line with my ideals.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about spices is, that for the most part they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months and add a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world and spices seem overwhelming, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking should be a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new to you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

And finally, here is a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary journey. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

Reparenting: Money, What’s its Real Purpose and How do we Avoid Collecting it to Feel Safe?

Money, another big topic (I guess I like the big issues). Amassing money is one of the most ubiquitous goals we have as humans and it’s connected to a lot of different emotional states. Safety being one and not without some wisdom. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on how we relate to money from the perspective of how it may make us feel safe. There are numerous reasons to want large sums of money to be sure. But if we don’t narrow it down, we’d be here for a while!

Money And Feeling Security

My views on money are not entirely in the camp of the root of all evil. For example, without money, or some form of interchangeable, fluid asset, I more than likely wouldn’t be wearing clothes. Mostly because I don’t know how to create a bolt of cloth on a loom, or really know how to grow cotton. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be cautiously skeptical of the accumulation of wealth and the power and influence that it may yield, because it is helpful at times.

Today, I want to look at how money’s correlated with our feeling fearful if we aren’t on our desired financial track. And if more is always better. In the way we have society set up now, you reach a certain age after working a specific amount of years and then hopefully you’ll have saved enough funds to comfortably live out your plans for retirement. If we don’t have enough, we could become destitute. Living hand to mouth and relying on government subsidies in low income housing. Or so I imagine this is how many of us who fear not having enough money, feels our futures will look. That is if we don’t save as much money as possible and as quickly as we’re able to.

I had a wake up call not to long ago, after I went through a divorce. I found myself with no savings, no assets and a daunting amount of debt. Mostly in the form of student loans and credit cards and all at the tender age of 34. I was pretty “normal”, as Dave Ramsey likes to put it. And yeah, I was scared for sure.

I had fears of being homeless. Begging for handouts because I felt like I had no resources to change my future for the better. And with no previous guidance and nobody to show me how to change, I felt lost. But as luck would have it, I have a father and stepmother who have been with me every step of the way since I woke up from the ways I used to live unsustainably. Without them, I don’t like to think where I would be.

Taking Charge Of My Future

And speaking of no idea, if you read my post on “being a part of someone’s solution without solving their problems”, you’ll know that I had little guidance as to how to feed myself properly, let alone balance a budget or show me how to diversify my retirement portfolio (which I’m still a little fuzzy on : )! So when my wake up call came at 34, I was over 100k in debt, I had nowhere to live because the woman I was with just kicked me out of the apartment we were sharing and had no job prospects or financial stability to speak of. This was a vulnerable place to be.

That’s when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps to getting out of debt. I’ll begin by saying that he’s not for everybody. He can be a bit overbearing at times. But for someone like me, who was given nothing in the way of personal boundaries or financial boundaries, he was just what I needed. What I like about his steps and the way he lays them out is: when you are so used to living with debt, so much debt that it’s difficult see your way out of it, you need the small wins of completing a step. For example, paying off a smaller bill or credit card balance. That way you begin to understand that you are the one who is in charge of getting you out of your debt. And that it’s an obtainable goal!

Setting Goals To Stay On Track, Even If You’re not used To Achieve Them

After I found Dave and his baby steps, I started to aggressively pay down my debt and set up an emergency fund. Dave suggests to have a thousand dollar emergency fund at first, until after paying down your high interest debt. His reason being, it makes no sense to go back into debt while you’re already paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in interest on credit cards or personal loans, if you’re able to set up a small emergency fund that can help you stay out of debt while paying off the debt you already have. And I agree. After I reach my debt repayment and 6 month emergency fund goals, I will revisit what my retirement goals are going to look like. But the biggest issue was, I had no idea where to even begin in setting and sticking to goals.

For a long time, I felt as though I were a passenger in the journey of my life. Not the one who was behind the wheel. When you’re a passenger, it’s easy to get into debt because the numbers don’t really mean anything. It’s not until you know your agency, know your power and the consequences and effect you have on your life, that you are able to understand just how badly your decisions can effect you.

But if you recognize you are the one behind the wheel, you are then able to make the decisions that keep you on the right track. Effecting your life for the better. Every choice you make in regards to your goals are what either drives you forward or sets you back. So if you decide to stop eating out to save money on your food budget, that’s a choice you’re making to stay on the right path.

And of course, it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be financially stable. What I imagine is so difficult is, that you have to show up for yourself and your goals everyday. Especially when you don’t want to. The phrase “fake it till you make it”, exemplifies this mindset well. Because it focuses on the need to cultivate the necessary discipline in order to achieving your goals, especially if you don’t feel as though you’re able to.

The reason I feel the saying is so apt is, that it implies that we’re able to make mistakes while learning how to achieve our goals. But I also like it for the perseverance element. You keep trying, or “faking it” no matter if it looks like you know what you’re doing. The point is to keep doing until you know what you’re doing. Because that time will come.

Because it’s that motivation that will help to keep you rooted in achieving your goals. You need to find your focus of course, or as we say in the yoga community, find your drishti. Your drishti is your focus and it usually refers to a point of reference for you to focus your gaze upon while you attempt a difficult balancing pose.

Finding Your Drishti, Focusing On What Really Matters

For me, my drishti was a combination of my fear of being destitute, mixed with a longing, almost a romantic idea, that my life could be the most interesting and gratifying endeavor I could undertake. But my drishti, if left unchecked, could perpetuate my fear of not having enough rather than satiating it. Once I’ve reached my financial goals, I could take my drishti and desire further, to obtain more than I need. All under the guise of us needing to feel safe.

This type of accumulating wealth under the pretense of safety, is akin to hoarding. If you already have enough, then no matter how much more you feel you need to collect, the rest is extra, too much. If you already have enough money and you keep hording it, the question you need to be asking yourself is, “why am I still accumulating so much wealth?” Is it coming from a sense of fear based thinking? Do you feel you need to take care of those you love? Why are, or aren’t you giving your money to charities? Or helping the greater good in some way with either your time or your money?

If answered honestly, it’s the answer to these questions that will help you to understand your relationship with your money and whether you own it, or it owns you. Because there’s nothing wrong with earning high wages. Or even amassing a large sum of wealth. The issue is when it becomes your drishti and you correlate money with your safety.

When Fear Becomes Your Drishti

So how do we keep ourselves focused on living a good life, where we are in control of our money, while also knowing that it can be dangerous if we handled it from a place of fear? I should probably mention here that I don’t make boatloads of money. So I may not be the most qualified person to answer this question. But I can draw on some parallels to how we react in moments of crisis or panic in relation to our money.

When I first learned about Covid and how potentially deadly it could be, I was not one of the many who ran to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper and bottles of water or bags of flour. But that’s not to say that I wasn’t frightened at times. Pandemics, no matter how you package them, awakens a primal fear that few are exempt from. So if I was afraid, then what allowed me to be calm in the face of all the fear based reactions that were happening around me?

I think the answer lies in my meditation practice. I know that if I react to the unknown with fear, I will more than likely make poor choices. If I take the time to sit with the fear and ask myself, “how do you (the fear) want me to be with you?” then I will usually make healthier decisions. And this is not something that is easy to do. Our fear is driven by millennia of evolution. Telling us to protect ourselves in the face of perceived dangers. But when our decisions are made from fear based thinking, panic sets in and that’s when we are prone to use violence or make other poor choices out of fear.

In the case of a pandemic, if we’re lucky, this type of fear based thinking may have lead us to purchase large amounts of pantry staples and toilet paper. But if we take that fear and focus on our money, then a six month emergency fund may not seem like enough. It may then turn into an obsession. How much money can I amass, regardless of the means I use to obtain it.

So how do we feel safe? Safe enough to not panic and collect what we may not need because we’re reacting from a place of fear based decision making? From my experience, this happens when we face our fears around money. And this is as individual as each person is unique. But there are some resources that we may all be able to rely on.

Resources For Feeling Safe

Community

Friends and family or a group of trusted people who have experienced, or are experiencing something similar to what we’re going through. Wherever you are, community can help. When you need to ask advice or maybe just need a listening ear when you’re in the middle of wrestling with your fears.

I’ve been paying off my debt for a while now. And I’m lucky that I have close friends that I can ask advice from and share resources with. One friend, who was also dealing with a large amount of credit card debt, I introduced to Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. He was so grateful because he felt as though he had been on his own for so long with this burden. Just knowing that you’re not alone can make the difference.

The Ramsey community is also a great resource. They provide feedback on a number of budget related questions. And also offer moral support and enthusiasm for those working the steps. This is something that is definitely needed while in the middle of your debt journey and what my friend above was lacking.

Finding a Guide

Also, finding a mentor, someone who’s forged a path and knows some of the road you are about to travel can feel very supportive. They can show you how you may get stuck along the way and resources to get you back on track. Again, this is something I learned from Dave Ramsey’s podcast.

I didn’t know how to put a budget together before I was 35. This is a little embarrassing to admit, but also, no one ever showed me how. I first learned how to budget using the envelope system. Which in brief, is as it sounds: A series of envelopes, with cash allocated for each category of your budget for a one month period. When you run out of money in your envelope, you’re out until you refill the envelope next month. This can be a bit of a wake up call if you’re not used to budgeting with cash so be forewarned and be vigilant! You don’t want to run out of grocery money in the first week of the month!

Trust Yourself

Trust yourself to be the person you envision as being your best self. The person who can deal with and handle unseen situations as they arise. Follow through with the plans you’ve made that are in your own best interests and trust that you know what those (your best interests) are.

The more often you make decisions that affect you for the better, the greater the trust you build with yourself will be. And really, that’s the goal, to build a trusting relationship with yourself. To know that you are able to rely on yourself when the important decisions need to be made.

But if we’ve spent a lifetime making questionable decisions about our future and present, then we may have some work to do to build trust. I feel this happens when we show up for ourselves while making decisions and forgive ourselves for not knowing the way each time we make a decision. Also knowing that we’re not hurting ourselves intentionally with our uncertain decision making. If we can keep this in mind, then the greater the trust we cultivate with ourselves will be. And trust from my experience is definitely correlated with safety.

Working Towards a Future With More Ease

Working to build trust with yourself is a priority for a sense of safety. And we build it by making sound decisions from a calm, non-fear based place. Dealing with the fears and insecurities we have, as they come up, by talking them through with trusted friends and family or a community of like minded people who are experiencing similar situations, will help to calm these worries. Also work to reset our focus on what’s important.

The sense of wellbeing we gain by setting an intention to complete our financial goals and by following through in a calm, consistent manner is invaluable. Also by not grasping fearfully onto solutions that we feel will solve our money problems, i.e. our lack of money and the more money is better mindset. If we can get to this place while making our decisions about our money, then we will truly gain a sense of ease while trusting ourselves and feeling safer for it.

And it isn’t easy. Feeling safe in an environment where people are literally taking advantage of a person’s felt sense of calm through advertising to make money, happens all the time. But if we take the time to confront our fears and build trust in ourselves, rather than piling up mountains of cash, we will feel safer for it. Also just know, you got this :] Be well, and peace.

Image Credits: “Money” by aresauburn™ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Edited: 5/28/22

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