Fitness on a Budget

May 18, 2021 Updated: May 18, 2021

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

Don’t Pay Full Price for Protein

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 that are marked down for quick sale, and then freeze.

Buy Carbs In Bulk

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.

Shop With a List

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.

Buy Generic

Let go of your brand loyalties. Shop by best value and not by brand. Try the store brand. Most all 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.

Don’t Throw Anything Away

Freeze extra rice or left over 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.

Don’t Pay for Convenience

Pre-washed bagged lettuce and pre-cut veggies might be convenient, but they are expensive. Pre-cut vegetables are three to four times more. 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.

Control Portions

Eating more than is prescribed by your food plan will blow your diet and your 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 that your “dump method” has been treating you to 3 to 4 servings at a time instead of just one. Whoops.

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021