You may have heard of the "Freshman 15," a reference to the amount of weight some students seem to gain during their first year of college. But what about the "Recession 15"? That's right. If we're not careful, thinner paychecks could lead to heftier waistlines. But you can eat healthy on a budget.
Here are some tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck without blowing your calorie allowance:
• Don't buy what you don't need. Take stock of your cabinets before leaving the house. Otherwise, you could end up with, say, four jars of mayonnaise! Countless studies have shown that making a grocery list ahead of time is the best way to avoid overshopping, overspending, and ultimately, overeating. The more organized you are about shopping for groceries, the fewer trips you will make to the supermarket (and the more you'll save on gas, too). Arrange your shopping list according to the layout of the store to avoid backtracking. Save this list on your computer, print out a copy early in the week, and circle the foods you need as the week unfolds. Family members can easily indicate their favorites, too.
• Consider grocery shopping online. You'll be more inclined to buy only what you need—not all of the "extras" that beckon from store shelves. These services, if available in your home town, also provide lists that include prepared foods, as well as make-your-own personalized lists that you can store for quick reference and future use. The beauty of this type of shopping is that you can coordinate your shopping list with special sales of the week.
• Don't overlook large containers. While a jar or a box of something might seem to cost more than you'd otherwise like to spend, pay attention to how many servings you can get out of that one container. Buying oatmeal, cereal, or nuts in bulk may seem pricey at the time, but those items will probably last a while.
• Cut coupons and search circulars for sales and specials. And don't forget to check your grocery receipt—you can sometimes find coupons on the back. If you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. Just visit your favorite supermarket's website or search for the products you use. A manufacturer's Web address is often listed on the product label.
• Buy store brands and use grocery store loyalty cards, which offer in-store discounts to cardholders. Both may lead to savings.
• Never shop when hungry. Although you've probably heard this a million times … it bears repeating. Empty stomachs could lead to empty pockets, as hunger impairs rational food decision-making skills.
• Rethink your relationship with convenience foods. Convenience foods may save you time, but they aren't necessarily wallet-friendly. Microwaving a bowl of regular oatmeal rather than pouring hot water over a pre-measured package adds only a few minutes. You're likely to save by cutting fruits and veggies yourself instead of purchasing pre-cut types. (But if you'll eat the pre-cut more readily, try to make room for them in your budget. It is a true waste if you wind up tossing out whole fruits and veggies instead of tossing them in a salad because you didn't have time to prepare them.)
• Invest in staple foods and stock up on canned goods and non-perishables when they're on sale. Buying in bulk can also lead to savings. But be sure to do the math to ensure that you actually do save by buying a larger package. If an item is on sale, the cost of the larger size might eclipse the price of two of the smaller sizes.
• Remember to check expiration dates. Select items that will have longevity in your fridge or pantry to avoid squandering money on foods that will quickly go to waste. This could also save you time, as you won't have to go food shopping as frequently.
• Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, such as meat.
What's inside the box will go inside you, so don't forget to also read food labels to see what you're really buying. The key is learning which foods are the healthiest to shop for, finding them on sale, and then buying extra. Your wallet, and health, will thank you.
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.