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Budget Busters: How to achieve financial wellbeing

By February 27, 2023April 19th, 2024No Comments

Eating healthy is expensive – there, I said it.

When it comes to cleaning up our diet, we think that will be somewhere we can save money. We all want to believe that our diet can be nutritious and cheap, and it can (ish), but getting there can be tricky. Let me explain.

The challenge I am going to set myself is to live off 50 for one week to feed and nourish myself and my significant other.

A bit of background, I am a relatively exercise-obsessed individual, training most days and subsequently burning lots of energy, my partner, although not as outwardly obsessed, cycles 30 mins to work each way and does 30-minute workouts 4 or 5 times per week. In addition, we go for walks most days. I mention these things only to communicate the degree of difficulty; we eat lots to keep moving!

So the first thing is to buy ingredients.  So for breakfast, I usually have porridge, generally, with a fresh apple, some cinnamon,and chia seeds.  

For lunch, either leftovers or a protein smoothie;
Protein powder, Brazil nuts, oat milk, bananas, raw cacao. For dinner, fairly standard: 3 out of 4 nights, we have meat or fish with veggies and a starchy carb – usually rice or potatoes . At some stage throughout the day – usually after dinner, we have some dark chocolate, about three squares each.

Did we make it through the week? 

Yes, but we cheated.

OK, so here is what I became apparent, protein sources are expensive, protein is heralded for its support for body composition, but goodness, it eats your food budget.
My preferred options are fresh fish and a combination of meat. But with a budget in mind, my options narrowed.
Salmon at €8 for four darns was way too much; I would quickly eat two at dinner, as would my partner, leaving zero leftovers, covering 1 of 21 meals!
Don’t get me started on my fondness for a rib-eye steak; I didn’t even dare look.
Cheaper protein sources come in the form of beef mince (my partner does not like) or stewing meats (cooking time was a barrier). So I opted for chicken breast; €8 for 750g or four big breasts – definitely not the cheapest option, but a happy medium between price and inclination.

At this point, I am sure some of you are screaming at your computer; what about “insert non-fish or meat food’’! Like chickpeas, tofu or lentils?
First, we include many of these foods in our diet, including this week. Secondly, most of these are more of a mixed nutrient source. Take chickpeas, for example; 150 g or about a mug full (a standard dinner portion) contains about 10g of protein, while one portion of my chicken breasts is closer to 50g.
Discussion of the macronutrients in much more detail is beyond the scope of this piece, but, for reference, I try to get at a minimum of 100g of protein per day – I am sure you can do the maths there, but in short, that’s a whole lot of chickpeas…and a lot of fibre.  

Moving on to the other foods in my week, starchy carbs are generally cheap such as rice, potatoes, oats and grains. Great for me, as I burn lots of glycogen, exercising and refuelling with carbs helps my recovery and rebounds me. If you are more sedentary than this, consider reducing your intake here.

As for fruit and veggies, most are relatively cheap. I bulked up on apples, bananas, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, courgettes, mushrooms and broccoli.  And that’s how I spent money, and we survived!
But now I must confess my sins and detail how I cheated.

Here is a list of all things I used that I did not factor for:  

Herbs and spices; I bought none, and food needs them! So I used what I had lying around.
Kitchen equipment: high-powered blender, pressure cooker, chef knives, pots, pans, graters, chopping boards, the list goes on! All of which I had, and potentially needed to prepare much of what I was eating.
Time: Time is money, and cooking from scratch takes time; yes, some meals are quick but are they as quick as taking an oven pizza out of a box? No…they are not.

So, where does that leave us?  

Eating healthy is more expensive than processed, unhealthy food in the short term.
But what is money if not to trade it for things that give us happiness, security, comfort and health? So if there is ever something to trade your hard-earned money for, I would argue that you cannot do much better than proper nourishment.

In terms of saving money, what did I learn:

80% of your weekly shop can be cheap and healthy: fruit, veg and healthy carbs should make up most of your diet. As for protein, a small investment in good quality protein sources is worth it, and if you can afford it, I would not skimp.
Save money on removing takeaways, excess alcohol and take away coffees and keep your diet quality a priority.

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