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What to Buy at the Supermarket When You’re Broke

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Joanne Poh

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Cheap food, while not as cheap as before, is still available in Singapore. But eat all three meals at a hawker centre and you’re setting yourself up for diabetes or a heart attack later on in life, even if you do manage to maintain your willowy physique.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when a rotund physique was a sign of wealth and prosperity, no matter what your grandparents might say. These days, poor people are more likely to pack on the pounds by resorting to consuming cheap, unhealthy food.

They say health is wealth, and there’s nothing worse than being poor AND unhealthy, especially in a country with no welfare. So even if you’re broke, pay attention to your diet by following these tips.

 

Target foods that are dense in nutrients and, if you’re trying to gain weight, calories

Feeling your stomach acids start to digest your insides but not being able to afford anything is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you’re broke, your priority should be to buy foods that are as dense in nutrients as possible. If you’re trying to gain weight, you should also try to target foods that are dense in both nutrients and calories.

Nutrient-rich foods are usually going to come in the form of either meat or fruit and vegetables. Both these options are relatively expensive compared to white rice and sliced bread, BUT for every dollar you pay you actually receive MORE nutrients than you would from a dollar’s worth of instant noodles.

Some examples of nutrient-rich foods that are relatively inexpensive include:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrot
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes

Obviously, to ensure you get the maximum amount of nutrients for what you spend, you’ll want to get your foods at the cheapest possible source. This means NOT buying the pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables.

Meat is most definitely going to be your biggest expense, so you will want to scale back drastically on the amount of meat you consume if you haven’t already. At the supermarket, buy the cuts of meat that are on sale. You can also afford to buy larger amounts when a sale hits and then freeze them for use later.

 

Buy foods that fill you up for less

Even if you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals, if you find your stomach not just rumbling but bellowing throughout the day, you’ll need to find a way to keep yourself full enough such that you’re not hanging on for dear life until your next meal.

Aim to buy some foods that can fill you up at a low price. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Eggs: Not only are eggs a good source of protein, they also fill you up for a long time. People trying to lose weight often eat eggs as it stops them from getting hungry and binging later on.
  • Lentils: A classic poor man’s food, a bag of lentils from Mustafa costs a few dollars. Boil with some carrots and potatoes for a filling soup.
  • Oatmeal: A healthy, filling and much cheaper breakfast alternative to sugary cereals.

 

Avoid products that contain empty calories

You’ve heard of the term “empty calories” in terms of weight loss, I’m sure. But here’s why broke people need to pay attention, even if you have the body of a stalk of tau gey. Every single cent that you spend on empty calories is a cent wasted in terms of nutrition.

Here are some examples of foods that contain empty calories and are also relatively expensive:

  • Virtually any type of drink other than milk, including soft drinks and fruit juice
  • Any kinds of sweets and chips
  • Instant noodles
  • Cooking sauces and marinades
  • Salad dressing

If you’re reliant on processed items like salad dressing and pasta sauce, you can save a considerable amount of money and also improve your diet by finding a cheap and healthy DIY alternative.

For example, extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt can be used to dress salads, and you can just cook sliced cherry tomatoes on a low flame for an easy pasta sauce.

 

Cut out expensive convenience foods

While people generally think of the supermarket as the place to visit if you want to save money by not eating out, there are some products that can end up costing you even more than a good hawker centre binge. To save money, you’ll need to buy food in a relatively unaltered form, like vegetables with the stalks still attached.

On the other hand, foods that have been processed, pre-made or pre-prepared will cost more. We already talked about things like pre-made sauces and salad dressings earlier. Here are more foods you should stay away from.

  • Pre-cut or pre-washed vegetables: always more expensive than the unwashed version.
  • Frozen meals: whether it’s microwaveable fried rice, fish fingers or pizza, these cost a bomb
  • Processed snacks: Mamee, Roller Coaster, rice crackers and potato chips, even the ones that are labelled organic or healthy, give you a low level of nutrition for the high price you pay.

How do you eat healthy on a budget? Share your secrets in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.