My Top 5 Tips For Eating Well On a Tight Budget


My husband and I like to think of ourselves as very intentional people. The decision to take on two more degrees and two student loans did not come lightly. We are nervous to commit to 100,000 or more it will take to get us through school but we do want to further our educations. If you are currently a student, or struggling to pay back your loans, then I hope you can relate.

Some days I feel like a five year old with my little tantrum hands wailing, wanting to scream “it’s not fair.”

As a married couple with life outside of school, we have even more responsibilities to meet than we did when we were single students during our undergraduate. I know I am not the only one struggling with this financial burden, and I am sure many of you have financial struggles in or out of school. Maybe we can band together and help change the system, but in the meantime, I think we can all join together and share some tips to help us all get through.

One question that I get asked all the time as a foodie with a student budget, is how to eat well without breaking the bank. Sometimes eating well gets compromised in effort to help make ends meet. Sometimes it is necessary to shift around the way you eat when you just don’t have money to allocate towards a grocery bill.

But it is possible and sometimes cheaper to eat real food on a budget. So here are some of my methods to maintain a nourishing, whole, unprocessed, and mostly organic or beyond organic diet when things getting really tight.

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

For us, processed food is the first thing to go. Per calorie, it may seem like you are getting your money’s worth. But the nutrient to dollar ratio is unfortunately low for packaged foods. My favorite are protein bars. I love the convenience, the macros and the taste, but the dollars really add up. So, when things are tight, I make my own. I have been eating this batch of Vegan Protein Bars this week. I also make granola bars, granola, crackers, yogurt, muffins, and trail mix to have on hand as easy, portable and convenient food so that we don’t have to resort to buying expensive food while we are out.  

2. Eat From a Garden

I almost put this as my number one tip for eating well on a budget, and it really is my number one tip. It is clear that a seed packet costs less than a bundle of lettuce, and with it you can eat lettuce for an entire summer. This goes for carrots, beets, radish, rutabaga, cucumbers, summer and winter squashes, tomatoes, grapes, kale, mustard greens, raspberries, broccoli, (I literally just listed the foods that I am looking at in our garden right now). You get to have a produce shop in your yard that produces fresh foods every day. It’ convenient, it is a gazillion times more nutritious, and it’s a much more enjoyable experience to harvest from your garden than to fight lines at the store! If you pay attention to your soil and avoid using chemicals, you are getting dense, health promoting foods that also come with beneficial bacteria.

3. Choose your Foundation then Supplement

For us these staples are black beans, lentils, rice, chickpeas, quinoa, oats, pinto beans, potatoes, greens, eggs when we have chickens. Choose cheap, whole foods that meat a variety of nutrient needs. We ensure that we are getting the protein, satiety and most of the carbohydrates we need from the beans are rice. We are both very active, so our calorie and carbohydrate needs are high (and expensive!) most of the time. Having a cheap base of whole foods, helps us to feel satisfied, have the energy we need, and allows us to add more expensive foods to our meals for taste and nutrient variety. For example, one week, I may make a pot of rice, a pot of black beans and we would have peaches, beet greens, romaine, tomatoes, beets, cabbage and hemp seeds. Then the next week, I might make a pot of quinoa and one of lentils, and we would have grapes, blueberries, turnips, turnip greens, kale, carrots, broccoli, and chia seeds. Having the bulk of our food coming from a cheaper source allows us the room to buy one “superfood” at a time. This week we bought maca powder, and next time, we will buy spirulina.

4. Buy In Bulk

This goes along with having a foundation. We pair up with a few friends who want to go in together on bulk orders. This is when we stalk up on grains, legume, nutritional yeast, dried fruit, and spices for the year. It costs more upfront but ends up saving you a lot of money in the long run.

5. Know your farmers

Don’t just shop at the farmer’s market, become a part of it. Form relationships with the people who grow your food, you can even go to the farm and help out for a morning. Work trades are often available, and most farmers will at least send you home with a big box of goodies for your help. Spending time getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you is one of the most enjoyable ways we have been able to eat beyond organic for cheaper than conventional prices at the grocery store. We had a farmer friend who specialized in tomatoes and peppers, and when preservation season would come around, he would often save us boxes of bruised and imperfect tomatoes each market and sell them to us at a very generous discount. Or when it was about to frost and kill his basil, meaning that he would have to harvest it all and sell it fast, he would come to us first. He was happy to know his basil was going to a good place, and we were happy to know where it had come from. It’s a win-win for everyone.