how to diet on a budget

How to diet on a budget: comparing diet program costs is not the only way to save money on dieting. Here's how to get you results, without spending a fortune.

Comparing diet program costs is one way to maximize the amount of money you have to spend on dieting (or to make you run the other way with your hard earned money). But there are many other ways to still get the results that you want without signing onto or at least without paying full price for the expensive meal delivery programs.

Check out some options below, starting with discounts on the meal delivery programs and ending with a free diet kit from Atkins.

Meal Delivery Programs Using a Discount

  • Health Insurance Discounts for Diet Programs: Check with your health insurance company and see what types of discounts they offer. Many health insurance companies offer discounts to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and gym memberships. For example, I am with Blue Cross Blue Shield and I can get between a 10-35% discount on the Jenny Craig meal plans, as well as a discount of between $5-$30 on the Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating meal delivery program.
  • Flexible Spending Accounts for a Tax Discount: If you participate in a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for eligible healthcare expenses, then you might be able to use the tax advantage as a discount on weight loss programs. In order to use your FSA for this expense, you need to get a Letter of Medical Necessity from your physician diagnosing you with a medical condition.

Grocery Store Diet Programs

There are several companies which offer frozen diet meals in grocery stores that serve as substitutes for meal delivery programs.

  • Jenny Craig uses the American Diabetic Exchange System. If you are looking for a substitute to their delivered foods program, both Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice use the American Diabetic Association Exchange System as well (for example you might see this on the box: 1 1/2 Lean Meat, 2 Starch, 1/2 Fat).
  • Weight Watchers offers a line of frozen foods called Smart Ones. While they do not offer the American Diabetic Association Exchange System, they do provide points for those on the Weight Watchers diet. Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice both include Weight Watchers Points on their boxes; however each of these companies states that the point counts on the boxes are not endorsed by Weight Watchers.
  • Slim-Fast has a diet program based upon 3-2-1: 3 snacks, 2 Slim-Fast Shakes or Meal Bars, and 1 balanced meal. I purchased a six pack of Chocolate Mint snack bars for $3.50, and an 8 pack of shakes for $9.99. An estimated cost per day of this plan without the “balanced meal” would be $4.25. Over a three month period, an estimated cost would be $382.50.

Without coupons I walked into a Kroger’s last Thursday to purchase a myriad of lunches and dinners from the companies above to sample as well as to price. The taste was decent, but the ingredient labels were all very scary. Pricing was between $1.78 and $2.42 per meal (Smart Ones had the lowest at $1.78 and also the costliest meal at $2.42; it really depends on what you purchase). At these prices, three meals per day would cost between $5.34 and $7.26. Over a three month period that would be between $480.60 and $653.40.

How to Diet on a Budget: Buy Book Diet Programs

Books provide all of the information that you need to count your own calories, personalize your own diet, and jumpstart some weight loss at a fraction of the price you will pay when signing onto diet programs. However, whether or not this will work for you is dependent upon your motivation and accountability level. Unfortunately, I think many libraries and kitchen shelves are lined with forgotten diet books that would most likely have worked if someone kept motivated and dedicated. Some diet programs offered in book form include the South Beach Diet, Atkins, The Sonoma Diet, etc.

Another way you can save money is by purchasing cookbooks by the diet program companies instead of signing onto the programs themselves. By following the dishes in these books you know you will be eating low-calorie/low-carb/low-fat meals. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, and the South Beach diet all offer cookbooks.

Used book sales, eBay, and other used sites are littered with copies of diet books and diet cookbooks. Not only that, but you can also purchase an older set of Weight Watcher’s Points system from people on eBay.

How Can I Lose Weight with No Money for Food? Mimic Established Diet Programs

There is science behind each of the different dieting programs. While this information is proprietary to an extent, some of it is available for free.

  • Glycemic Index Diets: The Glycemic Index is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. This is the basis behind the South Beach Diet, NutriSystem, the Zone Diet and the Suzanne Somers Diet. Instead of purchasing these books and/or meal plans, you could consult a free list of foods and their glycemic index and follow the guidelines yourself.  You can also find a great free glycemic index list here.
  • Portion Control Diet: The food part of Jenny Craig’s three-tier system is based on portion control and calorie counting. Calorie information is available on every package of food, and if it is not, then that probably means you are eating a fresh fruit or vegetable (calories will be much less, but you can also look it up online depending on how strictly you want to count calories). You can figure out your personal caloric needs after taking into consideration your current weight, height, and weight goal.  The Mayo Clinic has a great slide show on portion sizes with visuals of common household items to help you remember them.

Free Diet Kit

Atkins diet quick start kit offers a quick start guide, the Atkins comprehensive carb counter, and three Atkins bars. Best of all, you can get it for free!

Dieting, as with anything else, does not have to be an expensive endeavor. You can still reach your weight loss goals without signing onto expensive meal delivery programs, or if you have enough money budgeted for these programs you can do your best to find discounts available to you so that you do not pay full price. After all, if you spend all of your money on a diet program then you won’t have any left over to reward yourself with a new outfit or two once you reach your goal.

How to Get all those Sexy Diet Nutrients, On a Budget

Sexy drink beverages, supplements, and super foods sourced from exotic locations—the Amazon, the Himalayans, the Andes—and promising amazing benefits have flooded the grocery market. Unfortunately, these super foods come with price tags that make you think only the stars and the financially independent can enjoy superb health. These types of products comprise a category of food called nutraceuticals, or products derived from food sources that provide extra health benefits, in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods.” Lots of claims are made on the packaging of these foods—anti-aging benefits, the ability to extend life, or lower cholesterol without pills—but many of these claims are not proven or backed up by the FDA. And the ones that are proven are based simply on the fact that the product contains the same types of nutrients as other, less expensive superfoods like blueberries, strawberries, rice and beans.

Inspired by an article I read in Oprah Magazine about Affordable Superfoods, I looked into what makes several of these popular superfoods “super”, and then how to get those same nutrients at a smaller cost. Please note, prices are approximate based on online and offline research.

  • Açaí Berry Juice ($12.29/16 oz.): These berries are native to Central and South America. Açaí berries are full of phytochemicals and anthocyanines, and manufacturers/retailers claim that the product has anti-aging attributes, aids with losing weight, gives quick and sustained energy, and results in you being more alert. Fortunately for us, there are more common sources for these same nutrients, including apples, cherries, grapes, radishes, blueberries, and other purple/blue/red fruits and veggies.
  • Chia Seeds ($21.70/lb.): These were an ancient food for the Aztecs and Mayans. They are high in omega fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6), antioxidants, calcium, protein, and fiber. Omega fats are crucial for proper brain function, healthy skin, healthy joints, and inflammation reduction. Fortunately for us, there are cheaper alternatives for omega fats and antioxidants. For omega-3 fatty acids, you can consume tuna and foods derived from soybeans. To get omega-6 fatty acids, you can consume eggs, avocados, poultry, and more.
  • Kombucha ($3.29/16 oz.): Kombucha is a colony of bacteria and yeast. The tea is this colony mixed with sugar and tea and fermented. Health benefits attributed to kombucha tea include stimulating the immune system, preventing cancer, and improving digestion and liver function. While you may not receive the same probiotic/bacteria cultures, you can eat yogurt with live cultures to gain some of your own microorganisms.
  • Quinoa ($4.29/lb.): Quinoa offers a complete protein (all of the amino acids that you need). Because of hyped-up marketing, the price has skyrocketed in recent years. Fortunately, you can get all of the amino acids you need through beans and brown rice for cheaper.
  • Virgin Coconut Oil ($8.89/16 oz.): The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid. This acid is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and has antiviral properties, leading many to claim that it can fight HIV, clear up acne and increase metabolism. The only other natural source that has higher lauric acid content is breast milk. How can you get around buying expensive coconut oil (or the alternative)? It turns out that lauric acid is also in dairy milk, nuts, seeds, and their oils.
  • Goji Berries ($17.99/16 oz.): These berries are commonly found in China, with their main miracle nutrients being carotenoid beta-carotene and phytochemicals. You can find beta-carotene in spinach, kale, carrots, apricots, peas, and red peppers. Lots of foods have phytochemicals, including berries, citrus, grapes, orange vegetables, etc.
  • Pomegranate Juice ($5.00/16 oz.): Pomegranates were originally native to Iran and the Himalayas in Northern India, but are now grown around the world. These are loaded with phytochemicals like polyphenols and ellagic acid, which help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Other sources of these polyphenols are concord grapes, cranberries, red wine, artichokes, parsley, strawberries, and all forms of tea.
  • Spirulina powder ($32.25/lb.): This is a type of blue-green algae that grows in warm, alkaline water. It is high in protein, as well as contains beta-carotenes and other carotenoids. People have claimed that Spirulina has anticancer and antiviral properties, as well as provides immune support by activating macrophages, T-cells and B-cells. Alternative sources of protein can be found in lean meats, eggs, dairy products, nuts, soybeans. Beta-carotenes and carotenoid alternative sources were discussed previously.

Out of all of the nutraceuticals above, we have chia seeds and quinoa in our household. In researching this article, I also bought a Kombucha drink—very interesting flavor that I am not all together sure I like (it might have to grow on you). What are some of the sexy new nutraceuticals you’ve seen lately? Which ones do you buy, and which ones do you leave on the shelf?

Have you dieted in the past, or are you currently dieting? How are your results? Have you found ways to save money? 

28 replies
  1. Jeffrey
    Jeffrey says:

    I must admit that I hate the word diet simply because it gives the impression that it is a course that can be done and then once you reach your goal, abandoned (no longer on the diet). Just like with saving money and getting your finances in order, losing weight and getting healthy requires a fundamental change in the way you have been doing things in the past and is a lifelong commitment.

    Reply
  2. Frugal Queen
    Frugal Queen says:

    There are plenty of ways which cheap. Most diet plans are on line, they give the basics and you can borrow books on nutrition, calories exercise from the library. I found Zumba on Youtube, and lots of exercise advise, also on Youtube. I get together with some people from church and we have a weigh in. We have a walking group – free. I ride my bike – free. I walk to work – free. I walk to the supermarket – free. I buy less as I have to carry it home. I cook from scratch so it’s no one’s fault but my own, so I reduce fat, calories, quantity. I use a smaller plate and I eat more vegetables and cut back on starchy and fatty foods. I make sure I’m active for at least one hour a day and make sure I alway walk three miles at least a day. Cheap enough?

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Hi Frugal Queen!

      Love your ideas. Sounds like you have a very healthy lifestyle. We live six blocks down from a bayou, so I like to walk up there and then run to the next redlight, then walk home. We also have bikes, but we need to fix the tires.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
      • Kristina
        Kristina says:

        If you live in Houston Discovery Green has some great fitness classes for free and there outside. I’ve done the free Zumba classes there and they are a blast

        Reply
        • Amanda L Grossman
          Amanda L Grossman says:

          Hi Kristina! I am in Houston. Have you ever tried the $5 community yoga classes at YogaOne? They are 8:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so you’d have to be a morning person, but very worth it.

          Thanks for the tip!

          Reply
  3. Sandy @ Yes, I Am Cheap
    Sandy @ Yes, I Am Cheap says:

    Using health insurance to diet sounds like a good idea. Some of your readers might consider looking into their employer’s wellness programs. Employers sometimes offer dieting options because a healthy employee is a productive employee.

    Reply
  4. Thad P
    Thad P says:

    I diet about once every 10 years…when my weight reaches a point I stop feeling comfortable. For me, carbs are killers. I can look at a bowl of rice and gain 2 pounds.

    6 years ago I started running at least 3 times a week, but still managed to put on a couple of pounds a year. Nothing terrible, but frustrating. 3 months ago, after we got iPhones, I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt, that suggested two great apps.

    1 was LoseIt and the other called MapMyFitness. I found that LoseIt helped tremendously because it made me aware of portion sizes and connected what I ate to a target count of calories (needed to reach a goal by July 2012). I have lost 18 lbs since then, and, more importantly, I don’t really feel like I have changed my eating choices as much as how much.

    Thanks for some excellent advice on diet plans. We all struggle with it I guess. But knowledge is power, and I want to be empowered!

    Reply
  5. Thad P
    Thad P says:

    I diet about once every 10 years…when my weight reaches a point I stop feeling comfortable. For me, carbs are killers. I can look at a bowl of rice and gain 2 pounds.

    6 years ago I started running at least 3 times a week, but still managed to put on a couple of pounds a year. Nothing terrible, but frustrating. 3 months ago, after we got iPhones, I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt, that suggested two great apps.

    1 was LoseIt and the other called MapMyFitness. I found that LoseIt helped tremendously because it made me aware of portion sizes and connected what I ate to a target count of calories (needed to reach a goal by July 2012). I have lost 18 lbs since then, and, more importantly, I don’t really feel like I have changed my eating choices as much as how much.

    Thanks for some excellent advice on diet plans. We all struggle with it I guess. But knowledge is power, and I want to be empowered!

    Reply
  6. femmefrugality
    femmefrugality says:

    I’ve had success using a dieting cookbook when a family member had some dietary restrictions for a time. It was great. We were able to go shopping like normal, just keeping in mind what we had to cook out of the book that week. And I lost weight!

    Reply
    • FruGal
      FruGal says:

      Great strategy. Plus, it was probably nice that you could eat some of the same foods as the family member with dietary restrictions so that they didn’t feel so isolated when eating with others.

      Reply
  7. Squirrelers
    Squirrelers says:

    Knowledge and discipline – these two attributes might be the most important factors in dieting on a budget.

    Of course, it’s more about a healthy lifestyle than a “diet”. But whatever terms are used, simply taking the time to understand what to eat, and having the discipline to do so, can be the way to go. Easier said than done for many, I know 🙂

    Reply
  8. Kristin Duffy
    Kristin Duffy says:

    I agree with your healthy lifestyle loving commenters! A diet is expensive because no matter how much money you spend, dieting doesn’t work. But losing weight and keeping it off comes cheap- eat healthy, exercise (which can easily be free- walking or running for example)= save money on doctor and hospital bills, junk food, insurance costs, even gasoline!

    Reply

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