Most food budget tips will tell you to stock up on cheap fillers like rice, potatoes, pasta and canned beans and soups. The canned beans might not be so bad, but if you’re a fickle diabetic like me, you want to stick to a low carb diet. This reduces the amount of insulin you take every day, improves your numbers, and ultimately, results in a consistent weight and clear head.
One of the biggest obstacles to figuring out a doable budget for me was creating a reasonable food budget without the help of the handy rice and pasta fillers that Steph and the Old Man are able to use. It’s been a brutal learning period.
Here’s some tips I’ve come up with for how to eat low-carb on a budget:
1) Buy cheap vegetables. Forget those pre-cut bags of broccoli and cauliflower. Cabbage is 50 cents a head (prob’ly cheaper in other places), and it’s really filling. There are also a million ways to cook it. It’s a poor person’s food. People have been creative. Carrots and frozen peas are some other great low-cost filler vegetables (brussels sprouts aren’t bad either, but they aren’t the cheapest thing on the block).
2) Buy your meat in bulk. Go to Sam’s Club or Costco, if you can, and buy those big packs of chicken breasts for stewing meat. Divide them up into individual bags when you get home and freeze them. Take them out the night before to defrost for your chicken stir fry the next night. No more pre-cooked meats. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re making an offer on that new house.
3) Breakfast doesn’t have to be a full-out affair. I was used to the eggs and bacon routine from my Atkins days, so when I got diagnosed, I just ported that over. But it ended up taking up too much time, and bacon (even turkey bacon) isn’t exactly cheap. Plus, I could only stomach it with cheese and mixed veggies, and that meant going through more cheese every week than my pocket was comfortable with. I buy frozen blueberries in bulk and defrost a cup of those, dust them in Splenda, and eat them in the morning while I’m catching up on blogs.
4) What about that Splenda? Buy it in bulk, too. It always feels like a major expense, though I don’t go through a lot of it. When I buy it in bulk, I’m spending maybe $5.99 a month on it. Buying it at the store means I’m spending $7.99-8.99. This may not sound like a huge difference, but that’s 2 or 3 iTunes songs you get to download every month now, or a pair of socks (I have learned how to mend my socks. I like iTunes more than I like buying new socks).
5) Low carb tortillas are a must. They’re expensive: $2.99 for a pack of 8. But they do replace all of your bread products, and with that 90-per calorie count and 9-per carb count, you just can’t beat them. I buy Tam-x-ico’s Low Carb Tortillas. I buy two packages per week. That’s a whopping $6 on bread products, but if you think about it, I’m not buying bread, pitas, bagels, chips, crackers or any other type of snack food of a similar variety. So $6 a week on bread products really isn’t that bad.
6) Speaking of tortillas, since this is your only bread product, you’re going to want to get creative with them. Use them for sandwich wraps for lunch, grilled wraps for dinner, fajitas, nachos or chips (cut them up and fry them or bake them in your toaster oven), quesadillas, and etc. Get your $6 worth.
7) Yogurt is great… just choose the right kind. There’s a great low-carb yogurt called Fage that has like 9 carbs a serving, and a very reasonable calorie count. You can use this as an additional breakfast item, add it to your whole-wheat pancakes, or mix it with frozen berries and Splenda for a great sweet treat. Thing is, Fage is a tad on the expensive size. For just over a dollar less, you can buy Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt. Fewer carbs (6 per serving), and cheaper price. It’s your best bet. Like the Fage, opt for the 0% fat version. They taste exactly the same as the full fat, but have something ridiculous like 1/3 to 1/4 of the calories.
8) And, what about berries? The highest cost item on my food bill every week was fresh berries. What can I say? I was addicted. Don’t buy them fresh unless it’s the time of year where they’re in season, and it’s cheaper to buy fresh than frozen. Otherwise, buy your low carb blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries frozen. Seriously. You’ll save loads.
9) Watch the cheese. This is my biggest weakness. It’s the best no-carb snack on the planet! Stick to low-fat string cheese (in my opinion, it tastes better than full fat) and some kind of extra sharp cheddar cheese for your sandwiches, fajiitas, and the like. If you must, you can buy feta or blue cheese for your salads, but at $3-$4 a week, it’s not always a worthwhile expense for me. Some weeks, I’d rather buy socks.
10) Don’t shop hungry. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this before as a great stupid “weight loss” tip, but let’s think about where it’s really hitting you: your budget. Nothing looks better than $4 packages of pecans and $5 cheese and spinach pre-made quesadillas when I’m shopping hungry, and the urge to add “just one more thing because I’m so cool!” to the basket quickly becomes $20 worth of “just one more thing”s.
11) Only buy thing’s you’ll eat. This might sound obvious, too, but if you’re buying three packages of spinach a week for your lunch salads and only using 2 and throwing out the other one, that’s $1.99 in the hole. You could have bought some SnapPea Crisps or a dark chocolate bar instead. If you only drink half a gallon of milk a week, don’t buy a gallon. Unless it’s something you’re buying in bulk and freezing, only buy what you’re going to use that week. Waste not.
12) No incidentals. No magazines, no books, no string, no plants, no random greeting cards. You can buy these things out of your fun budget when you’re out on a different trip, to have fun. Make grocery shopping about grocery shopping. If the budgets are separate (for me, my fun budget and grocery budget are very much separate), then separate them in your head. Piling things on and figuring you’ll sort out the costs later means no headache now, but a nasty realization later when you sit down with the recipes and realize you blew half your monthly fun budget on a Bob Greene book, an Oprah magazine, some notebook paper, and a handful of pens.
If I stick absolutely to my “rules” every week, I still probably spend $70-80 a week on groceries (this also includes toiletries – razors, face wash, soap and the like). This might still sound really high to people used to living on rice and pasta. The best I ever did on groceries was $50 a week… eight years ago. I did that by drastically reducing my food intake (two eggs and mixed veggies separated into two portions: one portion for breakfast, one for lunch, and mixed veggies, brown rice and sausage for dinner. String cheese to snack on. That’s it. It was wicked tight, and not the funnest thing I’ve ever done).
$70-80 a week will be annoying, but comfortable. You’ll still get snacks and a variety of sugar-friendly food, and you won’t have to go without soap.