Eat well without breaking the bank
You want to eat well—you just prefer not to hand over all your hard-earned cash to the grocery store cashier. We've got some good news for both your wallet and waistline: You can eat a healthy diet without breaking the bank. Registered dietitian Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger offers these smart, penny-pinching strategies. Try a few, and you'll find they really add up.

Shop around. Buy the Sunday newspaper and peruse the circulars, or check the Internet. You'll find store and manufacturer coupons that can save you quite a bit of money. And don't forget to check out warehouse stores and Internet grocers; they may offer competitive prices on specific brands and specialty foods.

One note: You may want to limit yourself to only a couple of stores. Think about itI: If have to drive all around town to get the best deals, you'll end up spending all your savings on gas. Not to mention, shopping in an unfamiliar store can be time-consuming.

Plan ahead. Take a few minutes to think about what you'd like to cook or make for the week. Then, whip up a list based on this meal plan, and stick to it. Don't buy anything that's not on the list.

Limit your trips. If you can, try to hit the supermarket no more than once a week. That will automatically help you keep your spending under control.

Fly solo. When it comes to shopping, going stag is the best way to save your greens. If you leave your spouse and kids at home, you can easily take $20 off your total bill.
Go on a full tank. You've heard it before and with good reason: Eat before you shop. When your stomach is rumbling, you're more likely to fall for marketing gimmicks, which means you'll end up with a fridge full of food you don't even really like. Plus, if you've eaten beforehand, you'll be less likely to feast on all those supermarket free samples.

Buy in bulk. The more you buy, the cheaper it can be. Just be sure not to overbuy, because you'll be wasting your savings if you end up having to toss a bunch of spoiled food. Try to buy only what you can use at a time. Your other option: Freeze the extras. You can stash almost anything in the freezer, including meat and produce. Generally, things with a high-water content, such as tomatoes, don't freeze as well (they tend to be mushy when they thaw). In this case, you can freeze it and add it to dishes like chili, soups or casseroles. Just be sure to wrap things well and write the date of purchase on them before burying them in your freezer.

Do the math. The fact that something is on sale doesn't automatically make it a good deal. Make sure to look at the unit price of a product and compare it to other brands to see if it's truly a discount.

Cash in on good deals. When you do find something that's a great price, make sure to stock up on it. Products that are sealed, like Cheerios, will keep for a quite a while. And you can always freeze foods, like produce, that would spoil before you'd be able to use it.

Show your loyalty. It's fine to pick up a few sale products here and there, but you'll benefit more if you do the bulk of your shopping at one store. That's because most stores offer VIP or loyalty cards to frequent buyers. That means you'll get personalized specials with savings on brands frequently purchased. In fact, some stores have a computer that scans your card and prints out coupons for brands you regularly purchase right there.

Be choosy about your checkout. Consider this the final hurdle. If you have an option, pick a checkout line that's not surrounded by shelves full of candy. Often, there are choices there that may seem like healthy options (such as granola bars), but aren't. Avoid temptation by opting for the aisle loaded with magazines instead. Then, you can browse the latest headlines while you wait instead of salivating over that Snickers bar.
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation


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