By Beth Janes, SELF magazine
Before you hit the market, follow these tips to shrink your bill (without compromising your healthy-eating habits). Our writer tried it, and reduced her weekly bill from $120 to $75!
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1. Plan Ahead to Get Ahead
Every food and finance pro I spoke to told me that meal planning and shopping lists are key to preventing impulse buys that jack up your bill. My first thought: Duh. My second: Um, I should probably stop being lazy and try it. Terry Conlan, former chef at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas, had a tip for making planning a breeze: Determine how many dinners you'll have at home that week, write down a lean protein (fish, chicken) and veggie side (salad, steamed broccoli) for each meal, and then add any ingredients for specific recipes, like soy sauce and bamboo shoots, if you're turning Monday night's chicken into a stir-fry.
2. Seek Out Sales
A store's sale items, not your stomach, should dictate which items you toss into your cart, says Gregory Karp, author of The 1-2-3 Money Plan. Take a quick look at the store's website before heading over, then make a beeline for the items you want. Otherwise, grab a copy of the circular on your way in-and stride right past distracting temptations.
3. Stockpile Staples
Karp recommended that when I spot a good discount on canned goods or anything freezable, such as soup, pasta sauce or meat, I get two or three of the items and store the extras. At first, I hated this strategy-it sent my bill in the wrong direction! But I learned that sometimes you have to spend money to save money. One week, frozen vegetables were on sale for $1.25 each, a savings of $1.14 per bag. I bought six bags instead of one, which meant shelling out more cash up front, but I saved 50 percent over the following month and a half.
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4. Divide Your Food Dollars
When my grocery gurus suggested I schlep to a separate produce market to buy fruit and veggies, I thought it would be a time-suck. But then I saw the prices at the small shop in my 'hood. On my first visit, broccoli was $1.29 a pound versus $1.99 at my Chicago-area chain supermarket. Avocados were $1.98 each rather than $2.49. My basket of produce and other odds and ends rang up to around $35, a savings of almost $16. Ka-ching!
5. Shop Solo
If your kids are begging for cereal or antsy to get out of the store, you tend to make more impulse purchases, says Robin Miller, chef and author of Robin Takes 5. That can hurt you at the cash register and on the scale. I don't have kids, but her point hit home. Shopping with my husband is like being on Supermarket Sweep: He wants to get in and out of the store in record time, grabbing anything he sees as he sprints toward the checkout. I don't have time to comparison-shop, so we leave with cookies or ice cream. Or both. Now I shop by myself while he tidies up the house.
6. If You Forgot It, Forget It
Every time I'd run into the store for something I left off my list, say, a green pepper, I came out $10 to $20 poorer because I'd spy other items-like a new flavor of my favorite brand of hummus-that I hadn't planned on buying but suddenly couldn't imagine leaving without. If you forgot something on your weekly trip, make do by subbing what you have on hand for the missing ingredient.
See more: Food Swaps to Keep You Slim All Season Long
7. Cash Out
If you're having a hard time keeping impulse purchases out of your cart (oh, look, Mallomars!), pay in cash. Research shows we're more careful with our spending when handing over greenbacks than we are when swiping a credit or debit card.
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By Beth Janes, SELF magazine