Why Americans are broke and overweight

FGF Why Americans are broke and overweightIf your waistline is expanding while your bank account is shrinking, a new survey may have uncovered the caloric culprit.

According to a survey of more than 1,123 American workers released Tuesday by Principal Financial Group, two in three Americans said they blew their budget in 2014 — and it’s Americans’ appetites for food that are the main causes for this budget busting.

Dining out is the No. 1 thing Americans say they blew their budget on in 2014 (consequently, it also means they blow their diets: a study of more than 12,500 people published by Public Health Nutrition this year shows that on days when people eat out they consume an average of 200 calories more than those who eat at home). Eating out is followed closely by spending on food/groceries, with 18% of American workers saying they blew their budget on food/groceries.

Meanwhile, the much-ballyhooed “latte factor” doesn’t seem to be the problem many financial gurus say it is: Just 3% of Americans say buying coffee caused them to derail their spending. Spending on housing/home improvements and clothing, apparel and shoes also don’t make many Americans blow their budgets either, at 10% apiece.

10 ways Americans blow their budget

Percent of employees who say they blew their budget on these items in 2014

Luke Vandermillion, the vice president of retirement and investor services for Principal, says that food may top our budget-blowing list because of “the convenience factor.” “It’s probably a function of our busy, time-deprived population,” he says; we’re hungry or need to feed the family and just grab what’s convenient rather than what’s inexpensive.

So how can Americans save money on food come 2015 (other than trying to avoid buying pricey foods while on the run)? Here are four little-known ways:

Never pay full price for these foods.

Some foods — cheese, cereal and salty snacks in particular — nearly always have a coupon associated with them, which means you likely shouldn’t pay full price for them. Here’s a list of 10 foods that you can almost always find a coupon for.

Get the same item in a different department.

You can save 50% and sometimes more by shopping for the same item (nuts and cheese in particular) in different departments. Lauren Greutman, the author of “How to Coupon Effectively”, says that, for example, she’s found sesame seeds in different locations in the store (the spice aisle vs. the sushi counter) that had a price difference of $2.

Going to the fish counter may also derail your budget. You may think the fish that’s laid over ice is fresh but it might have been previously frozen on the boat; if you buy that same kind of fish frozen, you can save 40%.

Get paid to shop.

You can get cash for grocery shopping when you use apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51, says Erin Konrad, a spokesperson for CouponPal. Using Ibotta, you look at messages for items that have rebates before you shop, then once you buy them, send a photo of your receipt and they will send you cash via PayPal, Venmo or a gift card.

Dine out during the week, using discounted gift cards and coupons.

Saturday is the most popular day for Americans to eat out — and also one of the least likely days to find a weekly special. Instead, opting to eat out on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday at your local favorite spot may yield deals. You may also want to combine those deals with coupons — Stephanie Nelson, the founder of CouponMom.com, recommends using Restaurant.com to search for coupons and Cherie W. Lowe, the founder of The Queen of Free, says to sign up for restaurant mailing lists to get coupons, freebies and deals — and pay for your meal using a discounted gift card, which you can purchase on a site like GiftCardGranny.com.

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