The holidays are just around the corner, typically bringing yuletide cheer and major damage to your budget and waistline.
We rounded up some ways to cut back early without breaking the bank. Skip the flashy workout equipment, sky-high gym membership, and sneaky “health” foods.
Instead, wellness experts offer these simple ways to start losing weight without blowing your budget.
1. Ditch the beef.
Going meatless one night a week is a surefire way to knock off pounds and save money, says nutritionist Rania Batayneh of Essential Nutrition for You.
Skip the butcher and look for hearty and healthy meat substitutes like beans and mushrooms.
“A can of chickpeas might cost a dollar, whereas deli meat is much more expensive,” Batayneh says.
Hint: Buying dried beans that you rehydrate yourself is a great way to save at the grocery store. You’ll also knock all the added sodium that comes with canned beans.
2. Buy healthy foods in bulk.
There are pros and cons to buying in bulk, but it can be a great way to budget for long-term savings and weight loss.
For example, try buying a whole chicken.
“Buy a whole chicken and throw a portion of it together one night with steamed veggies,” says Nicole Chase, a registered and licensed dietitian. “Throw the leftover chicken on top of a salad with light dressing the next day for a quick and healthy meal.”
At the grocery store, try getting a massive container of oatmeal rather than sugar-laden individual packs. The same goes for buying big bags of rice and frozen veggies versus individual containers.
3. Stick to the perimeter at the grocery store.
Chase recommends shopping around the perimeter of stores as an easy way to avoid the expensive convenience foods that are usually stocked front and center.
“Middle aisles contain packaged and processed foods, which tend to be higher in sodium and have a tendency to be more expensive due to the costs associated with packaging,” Chase says.
That leaves the produce and frozen foods sections, which both offer great low-cost and healthy alternatives.
4. Steer clear of the salad bar.
Rather than blow $10 on a swanky salad bar, load up on whole veggies while they’re in season and at a lower price point, Chase says. Then dish up your own salads at home.
If you’ve got a hankering for butternut squash or sweet potatoes in summer, you’ll still be able to find pretty affordable options in the frozen food section.
Just avoid those convenient steamer bags. You pay more for their fancy packaging and could save that cash by steaming them the old-fashioned way.
5. Skip “healthy” convenience food.
Weight loss has much to do with portion control, but those helpful little 100-calorie pack snacks are nothing but a budget suck.
“We have portion distortion in this nation and even though I like that [100-calorie packs] are pre-portioned, that can be a more expensive option,” Batayneh says.
Instead, keep a measuring cup in your desk drawer to scoop out perfect portions of whatever you’re munching on at work (almonds, trail mix, etc.) rather than paying more for packaging.
6. Know what to look for on price tags.
When browsing healthy foods at the store, don’t just look at the sticker price, Chase says.
The unit price (for example: $0.26/oz.) tells you how much that box of whole grain cereal costs per ounce, so you can compare it to another brand of a different weight.
7. Turn your television into a workout coach.
No, this isn’t a free pass to scarf Cheetos and watch “Basketball Wives” all day.
A lot of cable networks like Time Warner and Comcast have free exercise channels on 24-hour rotation that Batayneh says are a great way to work out on the cheap.
The library is another great option for checking out free DVDs, and we’re big fans of interactive games you can play at home like Dance Central and anything on the Wii Fit.
8. Turn your home into a wellness center.
Avoid spending money on gyms at all by carving out a wellness nook in your home.
Whether you’ve got a spare room to use or simply lay out a yoga mat in the living room, make it your own workout sanctuary. Then stock up on cheap workout DVDs or set up a rotation with friends so you won’t get bored.
“Check eBay for used copies (of workout DVDs) and feel confident knowing that sellers rely on buyer feedback so the quality is usually top-notch,” Burnam says.
9. Rethink your commute.
“People don’t necessarily have to buy expensive equipment to get exercise,” Chase says. “You can just use your body.”
Try walking or biking to work if you live within a few miles. If that’s not an option, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead.
Not only will you save on gas, you’ll have a sure-fire way to burn calories every day — and it won’t cost you a dime.