Young, hungry, and on a budget (in Chicago)

The old saying goes “you live and you learn” and that’s exactly what this blog post is about. I have only been in the city for a week, but I have have already learned some things and know fully well that I will keep learning more. This post is a work in progress. Expect more posts and tips on city living, (mostly) healthy eating, and having fun without breaking the bank. Expect to learn as I learn! My boyfriend and I are both recent college grads with more schooling ahead for both us so we will definitely need to stick to a budget! 😛

My tips (so far) for having fun and (mostly) healthy living on a budget in the city:

1. Stock up on essentials, especially if there are sales. Case in point: you will always need toilet paper and baking ingredients such as flour. We stocked up on those things. Now the rest of our shopping trips for the next month or so will be solely food!

2. Don’t buy groceries at convenience stores such as Walgreens. Convenience stores often sell grocery items, such as peanut butter, for more than the local grocery store. It is worth the slightly longer walk or bus trip in the city to go to an actual grocery store.

3. Buy groceries on a weekly basis. Only buy what you plan on eating for the week with the exception of sales on any essential items such as baking ingredients.  This tip is also in part because when you walk most places or rely on public transit you can’t carry ten bags of groceries home. Before moving to Chicago I would only grocery shop a few times a month and really stock up on each trip. Unfortunately every once in a while I would buy more produce than I could eat before it went bad. Wasting food makes me sad in general and on a budget I really don’t want to waste so hence weekly grocery shopping. Make a detailed list before shopping and try to stick to it…

4. …BUT also shop the sales/ be flexible. What I mean by this is say you planned on buying whole wheat bagels in a particular grocery trip, but only whole wheat English muffins are on sale. Buy the English Muffins instead. Make a detailed grocery list, but also go to the store with an open mind and be willing to make substitutions in order to save a few bucks.

5. Check out the Farmer’s Market. One way to buy produce on a weekly basis is to checkout your local Farmer’s market. While they can be pricey for some items they also have some great deals. Also, for me personally, I am willing to shell out a few extra bucks on occasion to support local farmers and eat food that hasn’t been grown in a different country and shipped thousands of miles to our local supermarket.

I went to one yesterday and they had a lot of great deals on vegetables and then my boyfriend and I each picked one “splurge item”. For me it was homemade fruit jam and for him it was a homemade salsa. We got a delicious loaf of bread and all the produce we need for the next week minus a bag of carrots and perhaps some fresh fruit!

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6. Check out free or reduced price events in your area. In Chicago there are a lot of free concerts and outdoor movies throughout the summer! At Taste of Chicago Thursday we saw a free Janelle Monae concert which was cool. She was talented and is relatively popular- she was an act at Bonaroo a month ago.  There are also several relatively cheap events such as Wicker Park Fest in a few weeks that we plan to check out. I hear Millennium Park has free concerts each week too so that will be worth checking out!

7. Look for deals at your local restaurants and bars. As a person who recently moved to Chicago I am not yet sure which places have to best deals, but know I will be searching! I will be on the lookout, especially, for deals on beers and pizza, but I’ll keep my eye on healthier deals too. 😛 When you know the deals maybe limit yourself to going out to eat or to grab drinks on the nights/days with deals (if this is a reasonable compromise).

8. Make your own snacks. Snack items such a protein bars, chips, snack mixes, etc. are considered convenience items so they often charge a lot for them. In the long run you can save your wallet and your health by making your own. All making snacks cost is a little time if you use ingredients you always have on hand (for example most of my snacks use oatmeal and nuts/seeds since I always buy those things in bulk). I tend to chose snacks that are simple to make, made with ingredients already in my kitchen, and are not very time consuming.In the last week I’ve made banana oat protein bars, granola, and peanut butter energy bites as snacks for my boyfriend and I to eat in  addition to fresh produce, hummus, and popcorn.

For anyone interested here’s the recipe for peanut butter energy bites which I adapted from the Oatmeal Nut Butter Balls recipe on PB Fingers a blog that I highly recommend to others who want some healthy recipe ideas. 🙂 They are super easy and only take about ten minutes to make.

Peanut Butter Energy Bites

yield: approximately 10-12 bites

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked oatmeal

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup milled flax seed

1/3 cup honey

dash of cinnamon

dark chocolate chips (if desired)

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1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Once combined roll into balls.

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2. Stick the bites in the refrigerator and grab one whenever you want a quick snack!

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(9. One last money saving tip!) Instead of going out for pizza and beer on a Saturday night make a frozen Gino’s East pizza and buy your own beer. It’s PRACTICALLY the same thing, right?! 😛  I’m actually KIDDING, even on a budget you should go out sometimes, but that was definitely my boyfriend and I last night!

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We were too lazy to brave the pouring rain/crappy conditions and go to an actual bar last night. We plan on checking out some of the local watering holes later this week!

Well, I hope you all have a great rest of your Sunday. 🙂 It’s time for us to get a workout in, get the rest of our groceries for the week, and who knows what else. 😛

What are your favorite ways to have fun on a budget?

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10 thoughts on “Young, hungry, and on a budget (in Chicago)

  1. Great advice! I also participate in a CSA, which definitely helps save money on veggies and my local food co-op is pretty great too 🙂

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