Losing Weight on a Budget

When budgets are tight and finances are top of mind, habits for a healthy lifestyle can fall by the weigh-side (pardon the pun).  Is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight only for the rich and famous?  Not at all. 

Here are some great tips, resources and reminders on how to shed the pounds and get active without busting your wallet or pants at the seams.

Shopping for Healthy Food
All too-often we read about people complaining healthy foods are more expensive than fast-food or junk foods.  Really?  Since our family has gone on a budget diet, we’ve found exactly the opposite. 

Healthy foods – whole wheat breads, fruits, vegetables, non-processed meats – are more filling and less-expensive than the processed foods.  Yes, you spend a little more time cooking but you can feed a family a healthy meal.  I’ve been buying fresh whole chickens for less than $1.00/lb.  A whole roasted chicken for $4 with some veggies provides our family with two meals.  That’s less than a McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal that would feed one person for one meal.

There are a number of weight-loss programs out there that provide pre-packaged meals for less than $10/day.  That may be a great option if you are single, but if you are in a family situation like mine, it’s doubling my monthly grocery budget.

Tracking Your Food
Studies show that people who keep a food journal lose more weight than those who do not.  In fact, in the study, those who kept a food journal lost double the amount of weight than those who did not.

By writing down every morsel you eat, you are much more likely to question that next bite.   Your cost can be as little as a pen and paper.  There are also a number of sites that are easy to use and in many cases, free that will help you track.  

My favorite is The Daily Plate.  I’ve been a member since they launched and find the tracking tools to be great along with fun and supportive groups.  Having online support from others in the same situation helps with the motivation and discipline.  The Daily Plate is free for use of most features or you can upgrade to Gold for $29.95/year. 

A friend of mine uses Weight Watchers with monthly meetings and online tools for around $30-$40/mo.  She’s been quite successful and likes the in-person meetings coupled with the online tracking tools.

I also started on Wellness360 where you get paid for planning and tracking your healthier lifestyle.  Get friends and family to start tracking and you earn bonuses as well.  Now that’s improved healthcare… getting paid to be healthier.

If you have a gym membership – use it!   Check with your employer and healthcare provider for discounts or reimbursements on memberships.  For those of us on a budget looking to cut expenses and ditching the monthly dues, there are still plenty of options for keeping active including:

  • Take a walk!  For the investment of a decent pair of walking shoes you can walk away the pounds.  Give yourself 30 minutes a day to decrease stress and increase oxygen.  Ask family, friends or neighbors to join you.  Walking with a friend will keep you motivated and less likely to skip a day.
  • Used exercise equipment – If you have room in your home, look on Craigslist for a stationary bike, treadmill or pilates machine.   
  • Used exercise tapes/DVD’s – your local library, thrift shop, Craiglist or even eBay are great places to look for exercise tapes or DVD’s.  Ask around to see if anyone has a stack collecting dust.

Need More Support?
Long-term healthcare costs are rising and staying healthy is an investment.  Insurance companies and HMO’s realize this and are starting to offer free services to help you evaluate, plan and track your way to a healthier lifestyle.  Check with your employer or your insurer’s web site about services they may offer. 

The Car and Coffee Index

Quick!  You have $4 to spend.  What will you buy?  A double Venti, extra-hot, non-fat, extra foam vanilla latte or not quite one gallon of gas?   Which will it be?  For many of us the choice is becoming clear – coffee at home or the office and less driving.

Are we surprised that within 24 hours of each other, the announcements for Starbucks to close 600 under-performing stores and General Motors shares fall below  $10 for the first time since 1954

It’s the Car and Coffee Index or CCI for short.  We could put the housing market in there as well… but CCHI sounded funny and where would people make their brew?   As you can see in the below chart, as gas prices rise, the Starbuck’s stock price falls.  What an interesting inverse relationship!


As consumers worry about the basics – food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and transportation to and from work – the extras in life get bumped to the wayside.  People are worried – and I’m not saying that to scare you.  I’m worried.  I’m feeling it.  I’ve got some hard decisions to make around the family budget and our future and somehow a giggle over a grande isn’t going to make it better.

In the good old days, my husband and I would hop in the car and drive to Starbucks to get a coffee in the morning or afternoon.  It was just something to do and we had the disposable income to enjoy such jaunts.  Appearantly, so did the rest of America as the lines were long no matter what time of day.  It was like standing in line at a methadone clinic to get a fix, only at Starbucks those in line were much cleaner. 

About 10 months or so ago… yes, beginning talk of the Recession that we still supposedly aren’t technically in… we stopped this habit.  Why?  We were becoming more concerned with our income, debt, interest rates and availability of cash. 

Today we make our own coffee at home.  To be more specific, my husband is in charge of the morning brew process.  While I do miss our chats on the way to Starbucks in the car and the casual time that we can no longer afford, I am deeply appreciative of the coffee brought to my desk each morning – sometimes with a kiss.

And what of the American love affair with the car?  Shattered like a weak brew left to burn in the bottom of the pot.  As Auto Observer reports on 2008 June Car Sales 

American car buyers became very discouraged in June. Beaten down by high gas prices and other contributors to growing household financial stress, they bought 8 percent fewer vehicles than a year earlier.

I guess we aren’t so concerned about cupholders anymore.

Food-Shopping Tips – Ask the Cashier

If there’s anyone who knows the food business and how to save, it’s the people working in the store. The New York Times ran an article today, Food-Shopping Tips Direct from the Store Manager with some interesting insights. 

Specifically –

WHAT KIND OF GROCER DO YOU PATRONIZE? So this is what you have to ask yourself: If you are patronizing a grocer that doubles your coupons, discounts your gasoline or runs other expensive promotions, how exactly are they staying in business? Are they gouging you on the second most popular brand when the most popular one goes on sale? Do prices bounce around so frequently that it’s impossible to keep the baseline in your head?

Shoppers can play the discount game and win by shopping six different stores, buying only the sale items and products they have coupons for, buying in bulk and then cooking from the pantry and freezer. 

As much as I love the thrill of the hunt, with gas prices above $4.40 in my area,  stores out of my usual route, three kids, two dogs and a full-time job, it’s a trade-off between my time budget and my money budget.

So what are you to do?  Ask the cashier.

Unlike the store manager, the cashiers and people at the customer service desk are probably a bit closer to feeling the same pinch you and I are in.  Rising food and gas prices and the need to make paychecks go furhter.

The next time you are in the store, take a few extra minutes to visit the Customer Service Desk and talk with the cashier during checkout.  Explain that your personal budget is tightening and your looking for some advice on how to shop smarter.   My bet is that each person will shower you with empathy and advice that will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year.

On a recent trip to my local Safeway, I stopped off at the Customer Service Desk for a quick chat.  Janice, an employee for 12 years gave me a two tips on shopping smarter that have already paid off.

Grab the print circular at the entrance of the store.  I always thought these were junk touting what my card was already saving.  Not true!  The circular has additional specials and coupons.  I saved an additional $3.00 on a block of cheese that was on my list that day.

Raincheck!  Keep a pen and notepad handy.  When you see that an item you normally buy is on special and out of stock, write down the item, size and sale price.  While at the checkout, ask for a raincheck.  It’s a hand-written coupon for the item good for 90 days depending on the store. 

Even if it wasn’t on your list for today, it’s guaranteed savings for the next time you shop.   My husband used a raincheck this morning that I requested over the Memorial Day weekend.  At the time I had the raincheck written up for 4 packs of Hebrew National Hot Dogs, normally $4.99 each, on sale 2 for $5.00.  We didn’t need hot dogs, but the special had left the shelves empty.  We needed them this weekend and used our 2 for $5.00 to save $10.00 on the 4 packs.

Ask the cashier while at the checkout where they are finding the best deals both in and out of the store.   I’ve found better quality and less expensive places to buy meat and produce.  I’ve learned what to avoid in the store – “it’s always priced too high, even with the specials” and what’s always a bargain.

Restaurant.com Gift Certificates on the Cheap

In cruising my inbox and web sites the following deal popped up – dining out has never been so cheap!

Regular prices: $25 restaurant gift certificates for $10. 
Deal: 60% off + an additional $10 gift certificate for each gift certificate purchased. 

Coupon code: MEALS
Expires: June 30, 2008