Cooking on a budget

It’s not always easy to eat a balanced meal. Sometimes we want convenience, so we buy pre-made dinners that we just need to heat up. While these meals are convenient, in most cases these items are filled with preservatives and additives which can negatively affect our health.

Ordering take-out can be a healthier option (depending on what you order) that is still convenient. However, it can become very expensive.

So how do we balance it out between good food that’s easy and affordable? How do we cook on a budget?

Work with a dietitian

A dietitian is someone who can help you develop a specific, effective nutrition plan. This can include types of foods that are nutritious and budget-friendly. Dietitians should also be consulted if you have specific food allergies or health concerns.

Please note: Dietitian is a protected term in Canada, which means they need to have professional certification. Nutritionist is only a protected term in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia. This means that someone may be a nutritionist in British Columbia but not have the same credentials as someone in Alberta. Dietitians of Canada has an explanation and a chart of protected titles by province/territory that can help you identify what kind of health professional to consult for dietary needs.

Check the Canada Food Guide

The Canada Food Guide (CFG) is a great place to start to help us understand nutritious food choices and balanced meals.

The goal is to maintain a balanced diet, filled with nutrient-rich foods that will nourish and power our brains and bodies. The CFG also has tips on meal planning, food trends, improving your eating habits and healthy options for eating out in the community.

It’s important to note that depending on your unique needs, some recommendations in the CFG may not be appropriate for you. Always speak to a dietitian if you have any questions.

Meal planning

The most efficient way to cook on a budget is meal planning. This is when you pick out what meals you want to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for a period of several days.

There are several benefits to meal planning:

While planning ahead and decision making can be challenging after a brain injury, meal planning will help over the long-term. You will be able to take your time and make decisions in your home (not the grocery store) and will not have to worry as much about quick decision-making in the produce aisles.

When meal planning, the most effective process is the following:

  • Write out your meals for the week, including lunch and dinner. You can do this by using a calendar
  • Create your grocery list based on the ingredients needed for those meals
  • Grocery shop for the full week

When preparing your weekly meals, review the ingredients you already have in your freezer, pantry, and fridge. By using up the ingredients you already have on hand, you will reduce waste and the cost of purchasing new ingredients.

You can make your meals each day, or another option is to prepare meals for the week and store them. The wonderful thing about this option is that it reduces waste, organizes your diet, and all your meals are ready for you when you want them. You can store them in your fridge (or freezer if you won’t be eating them right away).

Cook in bulk

Making large meals such as stews and casseroles is a great way to reduce the amount of work that goes into cooking and stretching a dollar on your grocery list. Meals like lasagnas, lentil soups, and other big meals use affordable ingredients and can last a long time. Many of these options can be frozen, which is convenient for those times when you aren’t feeling up to preparing a meal from scratch.

Shop thoughtfully

There are ways to shop for food that can cut down on your expenses.

Buy budget-friendly alternatives

When cooking on a budget, it is important to note that there are many budget-friendly healthy alternatives to the regular foods we eat. Beans and lentils are a great protein alternative to meat, while a healthy margarine can replace mayonnaise and butter. Oatmeal, purchased in large, long-lasting bags, is a healthy and cost-effective option for breakfast. Vegetables and fruit such as  “cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, squash, broccoli, apples, bananas, [and] oranges,” are both nutritious and cost-effective options for cooking.

More budget-friendly healthy substitutions can be found on the Heart and Stroke website.

Choose foods that can be spread out over multiple meals

Foods that can be used in multiple ways can help you save money. A good example is roasted whole chickens. It can spread over many meals. It can be used in stir fry, stew or soup. You can also use the chicken bones to make your own homemade stock.

Choose your recipes before you shop

Recipes that have affordable ingredients (like rice) or ingredients that can be bought in bulk (again, like rice) can help make your grocery list less expensive. If you need some inspiration, there are a lot of healthy, low-budget recipes available on the Internet for free. We have also included some at the bottom of this page.

Plan to use up the ingredients you buy to eliminate waste

If you are making a meal with a particular ingredient you don’t use often, try to find more recipes that use the ingredient so it doesn’t go to waste. For example, an ingredient like fresh ginger has a limited shelf life and can be used in multiple recipes like stir fry and sauces so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Substitute less expensive ingredients into recipes

You can choose less expensive ingredients (for example, a cheaper cut of meat), particularly if you are using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker where the cooking process will make the food more tender.

Use coupons and shop the sales

Knowing what is on sale can really help to save you money. If you have a favourite grocery store, look at the weekly sales and coupons on their websites. You can also sign up for their email list to access potential savings.

If you want to shop around for the best deals on specific products, free apps like Reebee help you search the sales in your area.

Some grocers also have a discounted aisle or shelf in each department. These items are usually nearing their “sell by” date. However, if you are using the item within the next couple of days, it is a great way to save some money on groceries.

Most grocers also have rewards or points cards. This is a great way to earn rewards/money towards future items.

Use seasonal ingredients

Another method to reduce food costs is to cook with ingredients that are in season. This means buying fall vegetables like squash in the fall, and summer vegetables like zucchini in the summer.

Ingredients that grow in season are less expensive and readily available. This method also allows you to change up your menu and create seasonal menus that incorporate a greater variety of foods and nutritional options.

Here is a chart of vegetables and fruits according to their season, along with more tips on eating seasonally.

Some recipes to get you started

No matter what you like to eat, there are meals out there for you. Here are some compilation articles with recipes you can use for inspiration.

Make a budget using one of these templates

Government of Canada Budget Planner

This budget planner lets you input your budget information and auto-fills a template for you.

The Government of Canada also has a downloadable interactive budgeting template module that can be used.

Microsoft Excel Budget Templates

If you have Microsoft Excel on your computer, you have access to a wide variety of premade budget templates.

Google Sheets Budget Templates

If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, you can make a free Google account and access similar budget templates on Google Sheets.

Credit Canada Budget Planner & Expense Tracker

Credit Canada has an expense tracker and budget spreadsheet that you can download for free when you make an account. It’s an easy-to-use tool.

Work with a financial advisor if you need help with your budget

Understanding your finances can feel overwhelming, particularly after a brain injury when your financial situation may be different. If you need assistance, reach out to a financial advisor at your bank or through another financial company.

Managing money

After your brain injury, managing your finances is important. While there is public health coverage and insurance, you will still be facing new and most likely unexpected financial challenges such as loss of income (if you are not able to work), rehabilitation costs, adaptive equipment expenses, and possibly long-term care costs. This is all going to add up, and it can be overwhelming and stressful to manage finances on top of recovering from a brain injury.

The nature of your injury may also contribute to financial challenges.

It’s important to understand your current finances as best as possible, options for savings, and how to plan for the future. You should also be aware of financial assistance programs that may be available. You can ask for assistance from a financial professional or a caregiver to help with organizing and managing your finances.

Topics in this section include:

Tips for managing money after brain injury

Create a budget
A budget is the first step for anyone who wants to manage their money. By tracking how much money you make vs. how much you are spending, you can work towards savings goals. It also gives you and your family or primary caregiver a better understanding of monthly financial commitments.

The main components of a budget are your income and a list of your expenses. Your income is how much money you have coming to you every month. This would include a salary, employment insurance (EI), or other disability payments. You can also factor in the income of your partner or other members of the household if you share expenses. Your income should only include any money you get on a regular monthly basis.

Monthly expenses are anything that you pay for on a regular basis. This can include:

  • Childcare
  • Health
    • Health and rehabilitation expenses that aren’t covered by insurance or provincial/territorial health plans
  • Housing costs
    • Mortgage or rent payments
    • Utility bills
  • Personal costs
    • Credit cards
    • Debt payments
    • Entertainment (subscriptions to streaming services, for example)
    • Groceries
    • Personal hygiene products (toothpaste, period products, shampoo, etc.)
    • Phone bills
  • Transportation
    • Car payments or public transit costs
  • Pet-related costs

While most of these expenses are called ‘recurring expenses’ (meaning they are due every month or on a regular schedule), other expenses such as vehicle maintenance, home maintenance, and clothing don’t happen as often. In order to account for those expenses, you can put a designated amount of your income in your savings each month. Treat this amount of money like a fixed, recurring expense.

By comparing the amount of money coming to you (income) to the amount of money that goes out (expenses) every month, you can figure out how much extra money you have to save or spend on other items.

You can also use a budget to track your savings. This includes your personal savings account and any investments you have – for example, a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), or Canadian Disability Savings Grants & Bonds.

How to make a budget

You can make a budget on paper, on a digital spreadsheet, or using budgeting software. If you aren’t sure where to get started, ask a caregiver, friend or family member for help.

Track your spending
You can use a journal, a receipt holder, or an app on your phone to track your spending for the month. This is especially handy if you don’t have a clear idea of your monthly expenses or aren’t aware that you may be spending excessively.
Use available banking services
Banks have developed plenty of online services to make managing your money simple – plus you can do it from home. You can check your accounts, deposit cheques, and set up pre-authorized payments and deposits.
Set a credit card limit, or keep it for emergencies only
Credit card debt can be a big expense for some people, particularly if they are impulsive shoppers. One of the ways you can better manage this particular expense is to set a lower limit on your credit card. You can also reserve your credit card specifically for emergencies.
Ask for help or work with a finance expert
If you aren’t sure where to start with your finances, ask a caregiver, friend or family member for help. You can also reach out to a financial advisor. Please note that many professional financial advisor services are an out-of-pocket cost. Take some time to ask for recommendations for professionals in your area or that your friends/family have worked with before.
Use finance and savings tools
There are all kinds of ways to save a few dollars here and there – and that’s how the savings add up.

There are several free applications for smartphones and tablets and websites that can help you save money through finding promotion codes, ways to trim your expenses, cashback deals, free gifts and more.

Savings plans

The Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)
The Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) was designed to provide long-term private funding to people with disabilities and help support their families. Earnings accumulate tax-free until you take the money out.

Who is eligible for a Registered Disability Savings Plan?

You are eligible for a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) if you [1]:

  • Are eligible for the Disability Tax Credit (disability amount);
  • Are a Canadian resident;
  • Are under 60 years of age (if 59, you must apply before the end of the calendar year in which you turn 59); and
  • Have a social insurance number

If you are under 18 years of age, your parents or legal representative may establish the RDSP for your benefit.

How to apply for a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)

You can open a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) through a participating financial institution. You will have to speak to someone at your bank.

Canadian Disability Savings Grants & Bonds
Another savings option that may be available to you is the Canadian Disability Savings Grants and Bonds.

Canada Disability Savings Grant

Through the Canada Disability Savings Grant, the Government of Canada deposits money into your RDSP to help you save. They provide matching grants depending on the amount contributed and the beneficiary’s family income.

Canada Disability Savings Bond

Through the Canada Disability Savings Bond, the Government of Canada deposits money into the RDSPs of low-income and modest-income Canadians. If you qualify for the bond, you could receive a yearly payment from the government. Contributions do not need to be made to the RDSP in order to receive the bond. Please keep in mind that there is a lifetime limit.

Financial assistance after brain injury

After a brain injury, you may be eligible for financial assistance at the federal or provincial/territorial levels. Find out more about financial assistance available after brain injury in Canada.

Please note: you may not be eligible for all financial assistance programs. You can find additional resources for managing money on the Government of Canada website.

Provincial and territorial disability services

Each province and territory has disability services. They can help you find out what financial assistance may be available to you.

See sources

Renovation funding

After release from the hospital or rehabilitation to a house there may need to be renovations to make it more accessible. There are financial grants that can be applied for to make those renovations more affordable.

British Columbia
No available programs at the provincial level. For more local information, reach out to your local brain injury association.
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Northwest Territories
Nova Scotia
Prince Edward Island