Friday, March 21, 2014

10 Ways to Achieve Vibrant Health on a Shoe-String Budget

What if health is important to you, but you’re on a tight budget, putting all your money towards paying off debt, or (like me) doing a stint of voluntary poverty?

It IS possible to achieve vibrant health on a tiny budget, and I’m going to share some of the ways I’ve achieved this for our family of five, while living in an undeveloped country on a tiny income.

For the past 6 months or more, our gross income has been roughly AUD $300 per week, which needs to cover electricity, cooking gas, food, fuel and running costs of diesel 4x4 van, clothing, school fees, phone credit, internet, and other sundry items for our family of five, while also assisting and sometimes feeding others who come to us for help.

Despite the obvious budgetary challenges, healthy food is not something willing to sacrifice, so I’ve had to get really creative in this area. The following tips have helped me to make good health on a shoe-string budget possible.

For the purpose of this article, I'm going to assume that my clever readers already know the basics of being healthy: Little to no sugar or processed foods, plenty of raw fruit & vegetables, lots of leafy greens, little to no chemicals/artificial ingredients in both food and beauty products...etc, etc.

     1.    Plan & Prepare
I really can't stress this highly enough. A weekly or fortnightly menu plan is one of the best money and time savers. Yes, it does require some effort and discipline to get into the routine, but the savings are so worthwhile.

Before I do my grocery shopping, I do a quick check of fridge and pantry, to see what I already have. Next, I plan main meals for the next week. I usually try to work as many items from the fridge/pantry into this list, then I can clearly see what new ingredients need to be added to the shopping list, along with fruit and snacks.

During busy times when my routine has come unstuck and I don't bother planning the menu, I find myself rushing to the shops for one or two items (but leaving with 5 or 10...) because I don't have what I need to make dinner.

A menu plan also eliminates those evenings when you stand, staring into the depths of the pantry, dithering over what to make for dinner, while hungry children hang off your leg and whine in a most unattractive fashion. Enough said.

On my menu plan, I also list jobs that I need to do on a certain day, in preparation for the following day(s). For instance, today while I'm cooking a casserole, I need to bake some pumpkin for tomorrow's roast pumpkin salad. (“Doubling up” like this also saves on gas/electricity costs.)

Here in the islands, we have lots of little village shops, usually run by Chinese shop-keepers. The one closest to me is open long hours (7am – 10pm), but the prices are 10-20% higher than the other one down the road which is only open 8am – 5pm. I have watched the people in our house-hold wait until they are hungry at 8pm then decide to go to the shop, but the only shop still open is the more expensive one. This lack of forward thinking doesn’t serve them well, especially when they live close to the poverty line, and an extra 60-70 cents per day could make a real difference to them.

I also plan my shopping trips when I have the least amount of children with me. For example, if I go early on a week-day morning, both my older children are in school and I only have my daughter with me. Not only is it quicker and less stressful, but it always works out cheaper, since children inevitably get hungry when they go near shops. (Wait, maybe that’s just mine?)

Back home in Australia, my local health shop offered 25% discount on the first Monday of every month, so during the month I would make a note of any products we need (before we needed them), and then wait to buy them on that Monday. (By the way, this discount was not advertised, I found out only by asking in-store. It pays to ask!!)

2. Grow Your Own.
This is really the ultimate in saving. Not only is tending a garden great exercise, a source of relaxation and interest, uses less fossil fuels and resources, there really is no better feeling (or taste!) than picking straight from the garden.

When it comes to gardening, I have as much talent as an elephant, BUT there are some things that are so easy to grow, that even I cannot mess it up! These special few are: potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, zucchinis, rosemary, lavender, aloe vera, chives and silverbeet.

Even if you don't have a backyard, a sunny windowsill will grow herbs and sprouts. You can grow a batch of wheatgrass on the windowsill quickly, easily, and for less than a dollar.

3. Make Your Own.
You pay for convenience. If you're willing to make things from scratch, there are so many savings to be made.Here's just a couple of examples:

Natural Yogurt: A yoghurt maker costs about $20, and making your own yoghurt is so quick and simple, it will pay for itself in no time. You don't need to buy the special yoghurt starter packet for every new batch, just use half a cup of a previous batch of yoghurt as a starter, then add 1 and 1/3 cup of milk powder and add water as per usual.

Dairy-free milks: Oat and nut milks are super-easy to make at home, if you have a blender. You don’t need a nut milk bag, just get a piece of muslin cloth or some other loosely woven cloth to squeeze the milk from the pup. There are lots of instructions online.

Face & Body scrubs can be made with a little oil and sugar (or salt), with a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil added. This is just as effective as store-bought products, but without all the fillers and chemicals.

Face masks can be made using mashed up strawberries, avocado or raw honey.

A blender is a very worthwhile investment, not just for making smoothies, but also soups and sauces. I use mine at least once per day.

4. Make Use of Left-Overs.
Did you know that Australian homes and businesses throw out 7.5 million tonnes of food waste every year? That 7.5 million tonnes of food, not only fills up vast areas of landfill, but costs us about $7.8 billion. What a waste!

If you follow a menu plan, you should eliminate some of the food waste, as you will not be buying food on a whim, with no real plan for how you're going to use it up.

Spend your money on quality food, not quantity that will end up in the garbage.

Twice a week, go through the fridge and pull out anything that is going to be soon past it's prime, then work out how to use it up. Vegetables, both raw and leftover cooked vegetables, can be used up in quiches, pies, savory muffins and fritters, stews, soups, fried rice, and casseroles.

On my weekly menu plan, I usually leave two meals for "easy" meals or leftover recipes.

Fruit and vegetable pulp left over from juicing can be used in muffins or desserts.

If you steam vegetables, don't throw out the water underneath. Let it cool and either turn it into vegetable stock, or pour it onto your pot plants or herbs. They'll appreciate the nutrient boost. Bones from beef or lamb or chicken can be boiled and made into stock.

And lastly, invest in a compost bin or worm farm. Not only will you never have to buy garden fertilizer again, you'll be amazed at how much less waste ends up in the garbage.

5. Invest in Quality Multi-Purpose Products or Super-foods
Coconut Oil is a great cooking oil. But it's also a wonderful face and body moisturizer, lip balm and hair conditioner. I never buy moisturizers, I just use my organic cold-pressed coconut oil.

Apple Cider Vinegar is a great health tonic. I take it once or twice per day (one tablespoon in a glass of water), but it can also be used in salad dressings, and used as a home remedy on many different skin conditions.

Personally, I don’t spend money on supplements (except Lugol’s Iodine). I prefer to spend the money on highly nutritious foods, such as chia seeds, berries, spirulina, etc. These offer the nutrients in perfect synergy as nature intended, in a bio-available form. As far as I'm concerned, super-foods are better value for money than supplements, since I need to eat something, anyway - it may as well be nutritious.

6. Less Meat, More Vegetables.
As a general rule, vegetables are cheaper, per kilo, than meat. In season, vegetables cost around $2 - $4/kg, while meat can be anything from $8 - $38/kg, especially if trying to buy organic, grass-fed meat. You do the math!

I am a vegetarian, so our family eats very little meat (I am the cook, after all!), and it makes a big difference to the budget.

Experiment with recipes from other cultures, such as Middle Eastern or Indian cooking, as these are often built around staples like lentils and pulses, rather than meats, which make for really cheap, but nutritious, meals.

Most vegetables can (and should) be eaten raw, which will further save you money on energy costs.

7. Intermittent Fasting
Now, hear me out. I’m not advocating that you make your children wait all day for a meal, nor that you should begin starving yourself. But intermittent fasting for adults is a great way to allow your body a rest from the usual act of digesting food all day long, and allow it to concentrate on cleansing and healing.

Did you know that every day our bodies expend as much energy on digesting food, as is required to run a marathon? When we give it a rest from digestion, it diverts that energy into cleaning out old wastes and toxins, healing wounds etc, and you’d be amazed at how much further the weekly food stocks last, even with one adult fasting for one day per week.

You can tailor your fasting to a schedule that suits your particular circumstance, but always start small and build from there. Many people start with daily 12-hour fasts (ie. No eating between 8pm-8am). I like to do a weekly 24 – 36 hour fast, eating no food but drinking plenty of water. I break the fast with fruit or a green smoothie.

8. Pack a Snack.
Any time I step out of the house, I always take water and a snack (piece of fruit or some nuts), even if I'm only planning on going out for a little while.

You never can tell how long you'll be, and expensive fast food or packaged snacks become a tempting option when your stomach is grumbling. It really does pay to think ahead.

9. Wild-Forage
As incredible as it sounds, there are super-foods growing all around you, but you probably refer to them as “weeds”. Plants like the humble dandelion are packed with vitamins and minerals. Wild greens often contain more nutrition than the farmed, cultivated greens like lettuce and cabbage – and they’re available for free.

I don’t claim to be an expert in wild-foraging, but I’ve picked up enough information from people like Green Deane, to identify several different edible plants that grow wild in our backyard, including dandelion, oriental hawks-beard, amaranth, wood-sorrel and plantain. I add them to my green smoothie, using a different variety each day. 

Unless you live in Antarctica, chances are you've got edible leaves/berries/roots growing all around you, but be sure you identify them correctly before eating, because some plants are poisonous to humans.

10. Barter/Swap/Trade.

We have a friend who we often help out by giving him a lift. In return, every few weeks he turns up here with bunches of ripe bananas, which we gratefully accept. Another friend would come and loan small amounts from my husband, which he would pay back within a week or two, along with a bag full of taro or sweet potato. 

These exact circumstances might not apply to you, but I bet there are people you know, who have something you don’t, while you have something they don’t. The trick is working out what it is.

For as long as I can remember, my grandad would buy all the local papers each week, read them, and then pass them along to my mum. My mum often gave them eggs when she had more than she needed, along with tomatoes or zucchinis, when she had more than enough. My mum got to the read the papers for free, they got eggs and vegetables. 

These arrangements didn’t start out as a formal agreement, they simply grow as a natural consequence of being generous to others. Most people respond to generosity, with generosity.

But there's nothing to stop you posting an ad on Craigslist or other local classifieds websites, for products or services to swap or trade.

 It’s important to remember the goal of swapping or bartering is that everybody gains. If anyone loses out from the transaction, you can bet it won't be a long-term arrangement.

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The Cure for Cancer...Is In Your Pantry? 
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Why I Decided To Become a Vegetarian

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