Sales and coupons are great, but remember that sometimes bargain foods may not be quality foods. In that case, you need to choose between paying a little extra to enjoy dinner now or spending less to eat foods that could very well lead to medical expenses in the long run. Sometimes an up-front investment in healthier food choices spares you from doctor bills and missed work down the road.
- Look for bargains ~ Look for what’s on sale in stores – whether that’s produce, meats, or grains – and be flexible and willing to substitute ingredients. If free range ground turkey is on special, swap it out with the chicken dish you had planned. Coupons are helpful, but be cautious not to use coupons for items you wouldn’t ordinarily buy. Spending 50 cents less on something that wasn’t on your list means you’re actually overspending your total grocery budget. Aside from “X cents off” coupons, there are coupons that allow you to get free items. These coupons are mostly offered for trial items, which is great since then you can try a new product with zero risk.
- Online coupons ~ Search online for manufacturers coupons on items you regularly buy. You can also often take an online product survey and earn coupons for products. Lots of coupon sites are free — just log in and enjoy the savings. Also, be sure to check your favorite store’s website to search for printable coupons. You’ll find coupons for everything from food to health and beauty aids.
- Store cards ~ Many stores try to drum up business by offering savings cards. Whenever you shop at that store, if you have a card, certain items will be on sale. Often, store card savings and coupons can be used together. But a warning! Be careful. Before you go for the discounted item, compare the same item with the store brand. The latter may be the better deal. Of course, you need to look at the ingredient lists to make sure the deal is really worth it or if you are getting ingredients you would rather pay a little more to avoid.
- Stick to your list ~ A list prompts you to take inventory of what you already have before you leave the house. It’s the only way to prevent buying unnecessary duplicate ingredients! Another easy way to stick to your list is to use a calculator as you shop. This helps you stay within your budget and limit any unnecessary spending. Not buying treats and packaged goods that are on display but not on your list will also help you avoid unbudgeted and unhealthy junk food.
- Eat something before you go grocery shopping ~ Actually, it’s always a smart idea to have eaten something before you leave the house — then you won’t wind up making unhealthy choices when hunger pangs strike, because they won’t strike. But you definitely want to shop in a not-hungry state so that you’ll be less inclined to purchase junk foods. You’ll be able to stay on track and only purchase the things you need from the grocery store instead of packing your cart with instant munchies.
- Read labels ~ Notice unit prices as well as the end prices of items. Unit prices are usually listed in small print on the front of grocery store shelves, right beneath the item indicated (which is also where you’ll see the final end price). The unit price gives a price per ounce or pound, which makes it much easier to compare costs between brands and across different sizes. When you decide on an item, look to see how many servings there are in the package to make sure it will be enough to feed the number of people you will be serving. Also keep a sharp eye out for ingredients you’d rather avoid.
- Avoid prepared foods ~ Pre-cut and pre-washed foods are convenient, but you’ll pay more for that convenience, both in terms of price and potential ill health. For example, buying a pre-made grain salad at the deli counter may save you time, but there may be refined canola or soy oil in it, not to mention added sugars. Or consider instant mashed potatoes. They’re quick, but buying potatoes and cooking them yourself is a healthier, less processed option, one that avoids unhealthy ingredients and results in much better flavor. Bagged lettuce is more expensive pound for pound, and it poses a higher chance of having been contaminated compared to a single head of lettuce.
- Save money on produce ~ If you know you’ll use it all, buy two- or three-pound bags of apples, onions, oranges, lemons, avocados, etc. to save money. Buy carrots by the bunch rather than pre-washed and pre-cut. Look for in-season produce for the freshest flavor and best prices. Buy frozen vegetables if the fresh versions of the vegetables you want or need for a recipe are too expensive. (And if you have leftover fresh veggies at home that you can’t use, freeze them!)
- Shop the perimeter ~ The healthiest foods are around the perimeter of the store. The center aisles, on the other hand, are where you’ll find processed junk foods. Stick to healthy necessities and avoid the junk foods filled with preservatives, chemicals, artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, etc.
- Look up and down for savings ~ A lot of behind-the-scenes marketing goes on in grocery stores! The most expensive foods are kept at eye level while the less expensive foods are kept on the bottom and top-most shelves. These less-expensive, less-obvious items are often the healthiest foods as well as the best deals. A good example is with popcorn where you will see all the cheap and unhealthy microwave versions in the middle shelves and the good ole fashioned dry popcorn way down on the bottom shelf!
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Look for my FREE shopping guide coming soon to help you make healthy choices and live a healthy lifestyle!