Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

Fitness on a Budget

Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding, and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins diet, both of which are heavy on protein. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4 pounds — and her food bill doubled!

Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.


Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale, and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items marked down for quick sale, then freeze them.


Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food co-op that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.


Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.


Let go of your brand loyalties. Shop by best value, not by brand. Try the store brand. Most stores have a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy. If you try something and it is awful, ask for a refund. Some generic items are identical to their brand-name cousins, while others are pretty bad, so you be the judge.


Freeze extra rice or leftover pasta in freezer bags. Save up meat bones and scraps in the freezer to make stock or soup. Ditto on vegetables.

Stick to the perimeter. If you’re on a diet or special food plan, most everything you need is around the outside perimeter of the typical store (dairy, meat, produce), while the high-calorie, high-priced items are in those center aisles.


Prewashed bagged lettuce and precut veggies might be convenient, but they are expensive, precut vegetables usually three to four times more so. Individual packets of oatmeal are outrageously priced. The way to make sure you’re getting the best deal is to shop by price per unit, not package price. When it comes to produce, buy what’s in season and you’ll get the best price and best quality, too.


Eating more than is prescribed by your food plan will blow your diet and budget. Take the time to measure and weigh. Tomorrow, before you pour out your bowl of cereal, read the box to find out how much cereal makes a single serving. Now measure that amount into your bowl. Does it look a little puny? It’s possible your “dump method” has been treating you to three or four servings at a time instead of just one. Whoops.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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