The average American spends just under 10 percent of his or her income on food every year. When money's tight, it's tempting to sacrifice quality to save a few bucks, especially since junk food prices are on the decline. The good news: you don't have to. Smart shopping can actually save you money:
1. Splurge on nutrition
Consider it an investment in your future: obesity-related medical bills aside, someone 40 pounds overweight is paid 9 percent less than his thinner colleagues. Our suggestion: pack as much nutrition as possible into the foods you buy.
2. Eat before you shop
A 2008 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that even if you're on a tight budget, you'll spend more if you shop with a stimulated appetite.
3. Check yourself out
Checkout lines are stocked with high-calorie sweets. Using the self-checkout line lowers impulse buys by 16.7 percent among men, and 32.1 percent among woman, according to a study by the IHL Group research firm.
4. Learn the lingo
"Whole grain" means the grains used haven't been stripped of their nutrients. "Multigrain" just means that multiple grains were used, but it says nothing of the level of refinement. Remember this when you're starting your day with a slice of toast.
5. Brew your own coffee
Instead of buying coffee from Starbucks, McDonald's, or the cafeteria at work, brewing your own cuppa joe can save you over $800 a year!
6. Work the edges
In general, the healthiest food in the supermarket is found along the walls. The dairy case, produce, and meats and seafood are all found in the outlying regions of the market, while the inner aisles tend to be dominated by things that come in boxes, bags, or cans. Most of this vast nutritional dead zone is composed of highly processed foods--and the less time you spend in there, the better.
7. Fewer ingredients means healthier food
You already read labels, of course, but unless you're the Stephen Hawking of foodstuffs, you'll find them pretty darn confusing. So when you must choose between two products and you're stumped, just pick the one with the shorter list of ingredients. It's almost always the right choice.
8. Avoid quickies
A study published by the Marketing Science Institute found that shoppers who made "quick trips" to the store purchased an average of 54 percent more merchandise than they planned. Instead, be thoughtful in your planning--keep a magnet-based notepad on your fridge and make notes throughout the week about what you need.
9. Bulk up
Discount clubs are great cost-saving alternatives, even if you have to pay a fee to join. Focus on items that you use a lot and that won't spoil, like paper products and frozen foods. Some shopping clubs also offer discounted gas. Cha-ching!
10. Stop the retail therapy
Sadness increased the amount of money that shoppers are willing to spend, according to a 2008 study in Psychological Science. Study participants who watched a sad film were willing to spend 4 times as much money for a product as those who watched a neutral film about nature.
TELL US: What's your monthly grocery shopping budget and how do you stick to it?
--By Carolyn Kylstra, adapted from Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide
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