Updated on 09.09.14

The One Hour Project: Do Some Basic Diet Hacking

Trent Hamm

No, I’m not going to talk again about eating at home or about how you should skip fast food. Instead, I’m going to talk about a handful of basic dietary things you can do that really, really save money over time. Some have a bit of a startup cost, but they will all save you some serious cash over the long run.

Small Dietary Changes that Can Save You Big

Drink your own bottled water, at least 64 ounces a day

Water is something that many Americans simply don’t drink enough of, and when they do, they often do it by drinking highly overpriced bottled water. The health effects are numerous: you feel less hungry (and thus eat less), reduces tiredness, and it helps your immune system in battling disease. Even better, water is about the least expensive beverage you can buy if you bottle it yourself.

Here’s what I recommend: get a few water bottles, fill them up from the tap each evening, and put them in the fridge. During the next day, grab them and drink them regularly, then in the evening, replace them again. I use six 16 ounce water bottles in this fashion and I generally get through almost all of them in a day.

What if your tap water is bad? Get a tap filter, seriously. Given the number of gallons that a single filter can clean, tap water is still way cheaper than the bottled stuff.

Never skip breakfast

At first glance, this seems to fly in the face of reason – wouldn’t eating breakfast be more expensive than not eating breakfast? Well, if you plan it well, breakfast can be really cheap and very convenient.

How does it benefit you? The biggest reason is that it provides a natural energy boost to start your day, and not a caffeine-based one, either (though breakfast can be supplemented by coffee, of course). The second biggest reason is that it encourages you to make better choices at lunchtime – without breakfast, it’s much easier to not make good choices either out of a lack of energy or a deep hunger. I didn’t really believe this myself until I tried it out – breakfast makes a huge difference in my day.

Eat more fiber

This is another idea that might surprise many of you, but it really works. If you like sweets, instead of picking up some candy, try eating some fresh fruits instead, like blueberries or raspberries or dried apricots or raisins, all of which are cheaper than good chocolate. I’ve started keeping dried fruits around to sate my needs, and I already really enjoy eating whole wheat bread – it’s more flavorful than white, especially if you make it yourself.

These options might directly save a little money, but the real savings comes over the long haul because these choices improve your health. I’m the last person to suggest that someone goes on any kind of strict diet, but even a small change or two can, over time, improve your health and thus reduce your health care costs over your lifetime.

Even better, add a bit of exercise to the pot. I am a huge fan of the fitness ladder, which is basically just a bunch of very simple exercises that you can do to put yourself in better shape. They can be done in fifteen minutes; I usually just do them right before a shower because I usually get a bit out of breath and sweaty.

So here’s the one hour plan: make an extra effort to do this stuff for a week. Try drinking more water and keeping more of it on hand. Eat some breakfast. Try some dried fruits, and maybe give a loaf of a whole grain bread a try. Maybe even exercise a little. See if it replaces other routines in your life simply and naturally. You might just find that you’re as happy as you were before, maybe even more healthy, and definitely with a few more coins jingling in your pocket.

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  1. Illiya says:

    Here’s more suggestion:
    1) Eat more eggs — One of the most cheapest protein out there :)
    2) I eat alot of ground turkey and I recently found a pound of ground turkey in the freezer section. The price was $1.99/lb which is cheaper than what I saw in the fresh meat section. Woohoo!
    3) Living in an ethnic neighborhood in Brooklyn, I can walk to Chinese grocery stores — cheaper veggies and meat. I can buy a week worth of groceries under $20!

  2. FIRE Finance says:

    Great tips. Eating breakfast in the morning is a great plus. We are missing out on this point. We will set a goal of having it daily from today. Another useful fact about eating healthy is to eat organic. Organic is not always expensive and there are stores who offer great prices.

  3. dong says:

    I don’t think I’ve regularly eaten breakfast in over 15 years since mid way through high school. I’m sort of a camel when it comes to eating. I eat big meals and sporadically between them. It works for me, but sometimes I wonder if I might not be better off on more regular eating habits…

  4. Johanna says:

    Very good article. I would add “eat less meat” – it goes hand-in-hand with eating more fiber, most of the time. And when you eat a vegetarian meal, try to base it on beans, grains, and vegetables, rather than eggs, cheese, and mock meats. Healthier, and cheaper too.

  5. lorax says:

    Eat less meat is a good addition. Not only is it (normally) cheaper, but it’s better for you.

    While it’s good to remain hydrated, it is a urban legend that americans need to drink more water; see http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/8glasses.asp. But definitely prefer water over soda!

  6. Laura says:

    Great ideas! Be sure to watch portions on the dried fruit though- it can be like candy. If you make your own, it’s a great money saver, and you don’t have to have all the added sugar that store bought dried fruits typically have.

  7. dayatatime says:

    I agree about breakfast. One tip I have to offer is to suggest a little protein with your carb, to help keep you sated: an egg or egg white or generic-brand egg substitute with your oatmeal or whatever. Even plain yogurt has a nice amount of protein.

    As Lorax said, I also have read that there is such a thing as too much water. I have found, though, that if I have a glass of water when I think I’m hungry, sometimes–not always, of course–it turns out I was just dehydrated.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that my local health food stores often have competitive prices when they put things on sale. I wouldn’t have thought buying high-fiber hot cereal would be cheaper there than the generic brands of such cereal at the chain supermarkets, but it is. And I recently stocked up on four-serving packages of tofu discounted at $1.50 per package. I’ve found that the chain drugstores often put groceries on sale, too: a six-pack of generic-brand raisins for a dollar; a large can of Progresso lentil soup for $1.50. (I realize it is cheaper to buy a bag of lentils & make your own soup, but the Progresso is good to have on hand for emergencies.) I’m not near Sam’s or places like that, so these prices are cheap in my area (NYC).

  8. Lisa says:

    I second the opinion on eating some protein at breakfast (I eat peanut butter on whole wheat bread every morning) and that eggs are a great way to keep the food bill low.

  9. maxman says:

    I’m a follower of the Lean Plate Club and Sally Squires talks about this topic a lot.

    There are lots of ways to eat healthy and for less. Whole grains instead of processed. Only eat egg whites which are the egg’s source of protein and the yolk has lots of cholesterol. There are lots more, but I wanted to pass encouragement that it is possible.

  10. Heather says:

    The first thing I did when I decided to live a more frugal lifestyle (oh about 1 month ago), was invest in a water filtering pitcher for my refrigerator. I thought this would be a great investment in the long run because our household goes through at least 2 cases of water a week and my significant other refuses to drink anything less. In the short amount of time we have used this method we have saved a ton of money.

  11. James says:

    I agree with Laura on the dried fruit thing. If it’s store-bought, there’s probably sugar added. Eating regular fruit gets you the fiber and some extra water too! I would also recommend eating more for breakfast and lunch than for dinner, and adding snacks in between to control the ups and downs. Your body burns fat the best when it’s not too hungry or too full. Thanks for the tips Trent, and enjoy that home-made bread (sounds delicious).

  12. Mariette says:

    Thanks for the post Trent! It’s important to emphasize the link between physical health and fiscal health, particularly as it relates to your healthcare costs later in life. But also the healthier you eat, the more genuine energy you have to tackle things like extra income, your finances, your family, etc.

  13. DD says:

    I buy sprouting seeds on the net, and eat them in an omelet, on salads, and sandwiches all day long. I rinse them out and put them on my kitchen window counter to get green! It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

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