Making the Choice: Groceries or Rent? Logical tips for doing both!

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.



If I had $1 for every time someone told me, “it’s too expensive to eat healthy”, I would do all of my shopping in organic-only, no-packaging, fresh food markets! That would be awesome! The reality, though, is that we live in the real world. We need to pay rent, or the mortgage; clothe ourselves and our children, pay utility bills, car payments, insurances, daycare, etc., etc., etc.

The idealists among us like to say, “It’s also expensive to be sick. You need to eat well regardless of the cost. Invest in your health.” That’s an awesome thought and the people saying that, truly do mean well. Obviously, I agree with the sentiment. The problem is, if you have a limited budget with which to feed yourself and your family, it’s not so cut and dried. You can’t just invest in your health at the expense of everything else or you’ll be eating your good food under a bridge somewhere.

The problem is that soda is cheaper than water, canned ravioli is less expensive than any healthy alternative, and I can buy a whole package of Little Debbie Snack Cakes or one piece of fruit. The problem is that while healthy foods are advertised as “only $4 per serving for all of this wonderfulness” when you multiply $4 by 4 members of your family – that’s $16 per meal. If you eat three times a day, that’s $48 a day.

Sure: that’s cheaper than going out to eat for every meal but who can afford this?

A CNN Money Study done in 2014 reported “Americans’ median income is still 4.8% lower than it was at the start of the Recession in December 2007, and 5.9% below its January 2000 level.” Sentier Research shows that the average median American household for 2014 was $53,891 (and had grown to $54,510 by February 2015). That’s with many households being dual-income!

Before you throw in the towel and start munching on that 99-cent box of powdered sugar donuts, there is hope! Here are a few tips, and several resources, for how to not only pay your bills but also put some healthy food on the table.

General Tips

• One of the best ways to enjoy the most delicious (and inexpensive) fruit and veggies is to buy them in their seasonal peak. I stock up during the summer/fall. Cut up the fruit (sometimes I blanch the vegetables – depending on what they are) and either put it into sealed pouches or zip lock freezer baggies.

• Here’s a cool chart from showing what’s in season when.


Whether you plan to freeze or not, buying in season is always let expensive.

  • It’s frequently cheaper to buy frozen fruits and veggies. Make sure you look at the list of ingredients – you don’t want sauces, butter, or a bunch of extra ingredients.
  • Plant a garden if you can. It’s fun – especially for the kids – and you can’t get any more organic than that! I have rhubarb, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers growing in my small back yard. I’m going to have to start canning or giving some of the food away:  even this small space is producing more than I can eat!
  • Cooking at home is a lot less expensive than eating out.
  • Some people save money by clipping coupons, and I tip my hat to them!! My niece, Erica, is a coupon queen, but tbh, coupon clipping is just something I’ve never been good at. Even when I do have coupons, I never remember to bring them to the store with me so they usually sit at the house until they expire and then I throw them out.


Be Aware that you Pay for Convenience…

  • rollingpinMy sister buys turkey and grinds it herself. In my local grocery store yesterday, 93% ground turkey was $5.99 per pound. Turkey cutlets were $3.89 per pound. If I’m okay with chicken instead, boneless breasts were $3.19 per pound and buy one, get one.
  • Speaking of chicken, I used to buy whole chicken and then cut it up myself. I did not find that I saved enough to justify the work. There was so much waste and, evidently, I’m not an efficient butcher.
  • Sure it might be more convenient to buy individual serving sizes but it’s also a lot more expensive. For example, two individual servings of brown rice are $2.39. I can buy a 14 oz box of brown rice, with 8 servings, for $2.79. I buy larger bags/boxes of rice, pasta, and quinoa. Having said this, be aware that too much is, well, too much. I bought a huge turkey ham a while ago because it was a fantastic value! Problem is, that Brent and I ate turkey ham in every single thing I cooked from breakfast through dinner for about a week. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve felt like buying even a slice of turkey ham!
  • As for slices, remember those are individual servings too. Everything you buy that is “more” prepared, is going to cost more.


and Sometimes the Convenience is Worth it.

SambraThe water at my house is loaded with chlorine, disinfectants, and many other things (Water Report). It’s definitely not something I’m going to drink. I also travel a lot, so bottled water is much more convenient. At home I have several glass and metal containers that I refill with water. On the road, since I don’t check luggage, plastic bottles just work better. I buy one on Monday when I fly out and I reuse that bottle until Thursday or Friday when I return home. Rather than buy individual bottles of water, I fill this one up either from a gallon jug or drinking fountain. Aren’t there concerns about drinking from plastic? Yes. As with everything else though, I just do the best I can. I’m not going to have access to pure mountain spring water all the time, and I will not check a bag just so I can carry a metal drinking water container.

  • If I am getting something just for myself and/or I have a limited time to eat it, the convenience may be worth thespices price. For example, I’m traveling and I want some almond butter with breakfast but I’m only going to be on the road for a couple of days. Since peanut butter is not allowed in my carry-on, it makes sense for me to go somewhere like Whole Foods and grind only enough for a couple of days. That’s cheaper than buying a big jar, and I hate throwing food out!! Win-win. Many times I will shop from the bulk bins here: great for flours, spices, beans, grains, and nuts.


Look at the Big Picture Cost.

  • Make as much as you can from raw ingredients. For example, I buy bagged beans and throw them in the crockpot for a few hours vice buying canned beans. My friend, Karen, does this too. I make my own lemonade, pancakes (with flour, baking soda/powder, etc., not from a mix), spice mixes, and other things.
  • What I mean by “look at the big picture cost” is, while it may be more expensive to buy ingredients – let’s use lasagna as an example – the amount of servings you get are also greater. This freezes well and is much healthier than the freezer section stuff you’ll find.


Shop Early When you Can:  



When I worked at a grocery store, one of the very first things we did in the morning was mark-down day old products and go through the fresh produce. If you can go to the store in the morning, you may find discounted fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products. My sister, Florence, saves a ton of money this way!




 Check out Store Brands:

  • It’s super important to learn how to read labels, and to look at the list of ingredients in everything you buy. Many times, though, the store brand is just as good (in flavor, quality, and nutrition) as pricey options.
  • There is a Dollar Tree in the same parking lot as my local grocery store. Stopping in there first has saved me some money: I’ve found Bob’s Red Mill flours and a host of other name brand products. Even if I don’t buy groceries here, I can find the cleaners, soap powder, and other household items I use which, ultimately, leaves more money for groceries.
  • Big club stores like BJs, Costco, and Sam’s may save you some money. The downside is that you’ll need to pay for a membership and typically need to buy really large sizes. That’s great for dividing up and putting in the freezer if you have room; not everybody does.


Store your Food Correctly: 

  • One of my pet peeves is throwing out food so whatever I’m not going to eat right away, I need to store so that it stays fresh. Freezer bags are important; as is trying to remove as much air as possible before you seal the bag.Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 4.58.39 AM
  • Storing your greens in a container with paper towel on the bottom, and on top, keeps them fresh for up to ten days!  Several people are doing this but, most recently it was my friend Nicole who reminded me of it.
  • Once raw meat is un-thawed, it should not be refrozen but it is absolutely okay to refreeze after it’s been cooked.
  • Here are ideas to keep food fresh longer. AND



  1. Hey Debbie, this is a brilliant article, and very comprehensive with all your tips.

    Although I’m based in the UK, as a mum of three (and a big burly hubby with a large appetite 🙂 ), I can relate entirely to everything you’re saying here.

    In addition to all of your tips, we’re lucky in that we live near to local farmers markets. We’re also not too far from London’s famous Billingsgate Fish Market, and Smithfields Meat Market, so we’re able to buy in bulk much cheaper then freeze it.

    You’re right, with a little planning, you can feed a family healthily without compromising on the budget.

  2. I look through the week’s specials at all our local stores, then go to the Self Nutrition Data website to look up what health benefits each of the “on sale” items provides. Because my spouse has high cholesterol, low thyroid, fatty liver and diabetes, I look at the LDL and HDL levels, the protein profile, the balance between the various heart-function minerals (magnesium, potassium, phosphorus) and the glycemic index, versus the calories per serving. I then buy heaviest from what is both cheapest cost and highest health benefit per serving. We include everything for each recipe: the sweeteners, if any; salt; herbs and spices; fats and any toss-in flavor enhancers. That way, I know down to the last microgram how much of each nutrient we are getting in a given dish, and I choose dishes for later in the day or week based on any deficits.

    1. That’s fantastic Jack!! Thanks for sharing.

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