When I was studying to become a Yoga Therapist, my college was located right across the street from a major trendy health-food chain. Everything in there was SO inviting, and it was a delicious treat to splash out on a matcha latte, ginger kombucha, or some raw dark chocolate with pink Himalayan salt. But as much as I’d have adored to do my grocery shop there, I’d have been broke within a week! My little indulgences were just that – an occasional treat – and my actual lunch was inside a thermos flask or tupperware box, brought from home.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that getting healthier has to mean spending a lot of money. It doesn’t. It might mean that you choose to redistribute your funds – what I once spent on too much wine I now save up to spend on a real treat (ie one that my body thinks is a treat too) like a deep-tissue massage – but healthy doesn’t have to mean expensive superfoods and gym memberships. Here are my favourite ways of taking care of my health, whilst also taking care of my bank balance.
1 – Plan your menu.
Once a week I take stock of what food we have (and what needs using up), then sit down with my recipe files and a pad and pen, make a meal plan for the week, write the shopping list accordingly, and do the big shop. A couple of hours invested here saves me several hours during the week when I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner or go to the supermarket, and it saves me so much money. No waste from poor planning, no hunger-driven impulse buys.
2 – Prep your meals.
When you’re busy and tired, the temptation to throw money at the dinner problem is real. Making double or even triple quantities of something like a vegetable-rich casserole or lasagne and freezing the excess is a great way of making sure you have healthy meals ready to go when time is tight, and it reduces that UberEats urge! The same goes for breakfasts and lunches – it only takes a few minutes to whizz up a smoothie and prep a hearty salad or wrap, and if you plan for that in your weekly shop and maybe even prep them before you go to bed, you’re good to go in the morning and saving tens of dollars every day.
3 –Get supermarket-savvy.
I used to live in a rural area with three farmers’ markets within a five minute drive. The fresh produce was cheap and incredible – it actually made it really hard to leave when the time came to move on! Now I live in a suburban area with not a market in sight, and I’ve had to relearn how to get the best out of the (way more expensive!) selection at the super. The thing that my time in the country showed me was the value of eating with the seasons; seasonal means local, which just makes sense. Import costs for food are high and we all know it’s bad for the environment to ship foods around the world – yes we love blueberries and avocados, but apples and carrots are fantastically healthy too, so be wary of getting starstruck by their more glamorous cousins just because they’re available! Check the reduced section for bargains (most plentiful in the evenings, and remember you can always freeze stuff!), and the frozen aisle is your friend for fruit and veg – those beloved berries are much cheaper in frozen form, they won’t go off, and fast-frozen produce retains almost all of its nutrients. And get familiar with the world-produce aisle – I was astonished by how much cheaper the exact same products such as nuts, lentils and coconut milk are in the very same shop when they have a non-mainstream brand label on them!
4 – Forget the fancy probiotics and get your oats.
Dr Michael Mosley’s programme ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’ did a study into which probiotic products were most effective. The surprise winner? Humble old oats. Yes, a daily dose of porridge or muesli was demonstrated to have a greater probiotic impact than any of the expensive (and usually sugar-filled) yoghurts and drinks, and they’re super-cheap. A big bag of own-brand oats costs very little, lasts for weeks, and gives you happy guts. Mix your own muesli by adding nuts, seeds and sultanas; stir up a warming porridge; or try this easy and delicious oat bread.
5 – Beans, beans, good for the heart…
Beans are such a winner. I used the canned sort because I think life’s too short for all the soaking and boiling of dried ones, and they’re just so easy and convenient. Chuck a tin of cannellini into a salad to make it a hearty meal; toss black beans into a bowl of soup for a filling, warming lunch; bulk out a stew with kidney beans; mash butter beans with chickpeas and olive oil for a riff on houmous; add soya beans to a stir-fry….. there are any number of ways that you can use them, they’re full of protein and fibre, and they’re cheap. Pulses such as lentils fall into this category too.
6 – Take advantage of YouTube for workouts.
There are so many trainers and teachers out there offering YouTube classes for free – you really don’t need to fork out for equipment and memberships. If you want a little more specialist guidance then try sites like glo.com or yogainternational.com, which offer a vast array of classes for a low monthly subscription that’s still a fraction of what you’d pay for in-person tuition, and have the added bonus that you can practice at a time that suits you with no travel time. You could go halves with a friend and practise together to keep motivation high and make it even cheaper.
7 – Go for more walks.
It’s so obvious that I hesitated before typing it, but it really is one of the best activities for your whole being and state of mind; and it’s totally free.
8 – Get the journalling habit.
A notebook costs next to nothing, and regular journalling is great for mental health. Don’t censor yourself, just let the thoughts flow onto the page.
9 – Invest in an inexpensive water bottle and keep-cup.
Most of us reading this live in countries where the tap water is clean and safe to drink, so carrying and refilling your own bottle saves money and the environment as well as prompting you to drink more water simply because it’s on hand. (Refilling is a nice opportunity for a moment of gratitude that you live in such a place too.) As for a keep-cup – again you’re helping the environment, plus it means you can make your own brew to go. Even if you prefer to buy out, most places now offer a discount when you provide your own cup, meaning that the small investment quickly pays for itself.
10 – Sleep yourself well.
Saving money by not going out? Treat yourself to an early night – proper sleep is a surefire way to effortlessly improve your health for free.
11 – And of course – meditate.
Meditation is so effective in alleviating so many health problems that if it were a pill we’d all be gobbling it by the handful. Big pharma doesn’t want us to pick up on that though; after all, meditation is absolutely free!