Before you take another bite of that doughnut, think about this: If someone paid you $20 to put it down, would you?
A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that weight-loss study participants who received financial incentives were more likely to stick with a weight-loss program and lost more weight than study participants who received no incentives.
In other words, getting paid to lose pounds really works.
Money as Carrot and Stick
The Mayo Clinic researchers worked for a year with 100 participants, ages 18 to 63, each of whom had a body mass index of 30 or higher, which is considered obese. The goal for each participant was to lose four pounds per month, up to a predetermined target.
The participants were assigned to one of four groups. Two groups got no financial incentives. People in the other two groups earned $20 per month if they met their weight goals. Then there was this twist: Participants in the incentivized group who did not meet their monthly goals had to fork over $20 per month to put in a pool. Those in the incentivized groups who stuck with the study for the entire year were eligible for a lottery to win the cash.
The results were significant: 62 percent of those in the incentivized group lost weight, compared with 26 percent in the non-incentivized group. Even those who had to pay money into the pool had a higher level of complete participation in the study than those who had no financial incentive to continue.
"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives," said Steven Driver, MD, lead author of the study and an internal medicine resident at the Mayo Clinic.
How to Try This At Home
Consumers don't have to participate in an academic study to see if some cold hard cash convinces them to shed pounds.
HealthyWage.com has run weight-loss challenges tied to financial incentives for more than 100,000 individuals since 2009, according to the company. It has three programs that are structured similarly to the Mayo study, though joining will cost you:
The 10 percent challenge: Lose 10 percent of your body weight in six months and your $150 fee will be refunded, plus you'll earn another $150.
The BMI challenge: You can earn up to $1,000 if you move from a BMI of over 30 to one lower than 25 within one year.
The Matchup: Teams of five compete to earn cash prizes for weight loss, with a first prize of $10,000.
Of course, there's always the DIY approach -- ask someone you know play "banker" while you work to whittle down your waist. You just have to be sure to choose a person who is stern enough to make you pay up for every gained pound.
Your Food Bill is Going Up: Ways To Save In The Grocery Aisle
Getting Paid to Lose Weight Really Works
Sure, it's tempting to buy those neatly trimmed broccoli florets, but in doing so you're throwing money down the drain.
"Those packaged fruits and veggies that are already diced, chopped or sliced are marked up 40% over their whole-food counterparts," consumer money saving expert Andrea Woroch says.
The same goes for meat and poultry. Buying ground beef already formed into hamburger patties, or chicken cubes on skewers, can cost as much as 60 percent more than buying the raw ingredients and doing the prep yourself. "Once again, you are paying for the convenience," Woroch says.
She offers a better idea: If you're too busy to start slicing and dicing after a long day of work, carve out some time over the weekend to prepare ingredients for use during the week.
An item's label on the supermarket shelf should list its price per ounce or unit price. Use that apples-to-apples comparison between brands to figure out which gives you the best value for your buck, advises Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert from Coupons.com.
Comparing unit prices will also help you to determine if those bulk buys are really a good deal after all. You might be surprised by what you discover.
Not all organic produce is created equal.
For example, don't waste money on organic fruits and vegetables with tough or inedible peels such as pineapples, papayas, mangos and avocados. "Most of the pesticides can be removed or washed away," Woroch says, citing WebMd research.
If you do opt for organic, make sure you're getting the real thing. Look for the organic seal certified by the USDA, which confirms the food is grown, harvested, and processed according to federal standards.
Labels that boast "natural," "hormone-free" or "antibiotic-free" don't necessarily assure that food meets organic standards.
And when it comes to seafood, the U.S. has no organic fish regulations, so "don't waste your money on false food claims," Woroch says.
Follow retailers and store brands on social media sites for grocery savings.
For example, if you "like" a retailer like Wal-Mart (WMT) or a brand like Ronzoni on Facebook, you can get advance notice of deals and the scoop on upcoming sale events.
Don't take a sale sign at face value, Pavini tells DailyFinance. "If a sale says five for $10, don't feel obligated to buy all five. Check the store policy: Usually you will get the same discount even if you just buy a single quantity."
If you've missed out on a store sale, don't be shy to ask your supermarket to apply the deal to a later shopping trip. "If the item you want is out of stock, have the store give you a rain check so when the items is back in stock they will honor the sale price," Pavini says.
While many fresh fruits and vegetables are available year-round, they're usually less expensive when you buy them in season. So plan your meals according to what produce is freshest. You'll pay less -- and your food will taste better, too.