I Promise I’ll Never End Up On Extreme Couponers

Do you ever start doing something and then think “Whoa, this is SO EASY and yet makes SUCH A DIFFERENCE I cannot believe I wasn’t doing it already!”? I suspect you have, since I do it at least once a week – chances are people smarter than myself do it occasionally.

Specifically, I have started putting some effort into reducing our grocery bill. We really need to get our finances in better shape (too much holiday spending, a car that needs replaced, other stuff that makes being an adult kind of suck, etc etc etc) but my previous all-or-nothing attempts have always ended with…nothing. I’m terrible at that approach.

This time I have been much more successful because I limited myself to two(ish)  particular changes. Let me tell you about them in great detail!

First, I stopped throwing away the grocery store circular they mail me each week in the free town paper. I don’t subscribe to the real newspaper paper and I don’t have to remember to go buy one on Sundays – this just shows up, with no cost or effort besides remembering not to toss it in the recycling bin. In the past I would save ALL the circulars and stare at them thinking “I should compare prices on stuff and make a chart and go to each store to buy specific things where they are the cheapest”. That never happened. I would end up at my regular grocery store with no idea what was on sale, buying things on impulse along with the things on my list.

Now instead of setting my bar at “find the very lowest prices and drive to three different grocery stores to save money” I settle for “Look at the circular of the one store where I shop”. I specifically look at stuff I know we are running out of, proteins, and convenient foods for the kids like Goldfish and fruit snacks. I discovered that even organic fruit goes on sale sometimes, so I can get the fancy apples for less than the regular ones if I’m paying attention. (I also discovered fruit in general is a really cheap snack – plus the kids can help themselves. WIN-WIN!)

On top of the regular sales, my grocery store (Stop & Shop – it’s the same as Giant in other parts of the country) has a few coupons attached to their ad that can bring the sale prices of an item even lower. For example, cherry tomatoes are usually $3.99. They were on sale for $2.99. With the coupon on the circular they were $1.99. That’s totally worth the ten seconds it took me to cut it out. The idea of “couponing” as depicted on TV and the more intimidating parts of the internet is still so overwhelming my brain completely shuts down at the very thought. I do not scour the internet for coupons. I do not steal my neighbor’s papers to get coupons. I don’t buy stuff I never would have bought without a coupon and hoard it in my basement. But if I can buy something with the coupon that I KNOW I will need (last week it was butter, down from $3.49 to $1.99) I will buy it and freeze it. There are also sometimes coupons to get bonus gas points, which is literally free money. Saving 30+ cents a gallon adds up over the course of a few months.

The second thing I do is meal plan with specific foods in mind. I enjoy meal planning. It reduces the “What’s for dinner?” stress by 10000% and results in a lot fewer pizzas and fast-food runs. But until recently, all I did was pull out my cookbooks, binders, magazines and Pinterest board to see what sounded good. Then I’d make a list, buy ALL THE THINGS and make dinner for 4-5 nights in a row. Now I am looking at my store circular and making note of what main ingredients are on sale BEFORE I plan. Two weeks ago I had a coupon for chuck roast. Since I know I can make easy, delicious, left-over producing drip beef sandwiches with a chuck roast, drip beef went on the menu. Recently my friend Mae suggested I check out Budget Bytes for inexpensive recipes and I am really enjoying it. (Special shout out to the dragon noodles which I’ve already made twice!) The site has lots of interesting, quick, easy recipes without tons of fancy, one-off ingredients. Buying a whole bottle of safflower oil because a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon will blow your budget quickly. With this kind of focus at the grocery store, I get MUCH less distracted by the bright shiny sales on stuff I don’t need. My mind gets in a zone – Must! Find! Exact! Pork Loin! On! Sale! – and shopping takes LESS time than it used to.

The other part of my new meal plan (which is the “ish” part of saying I’ve only done two(ish) things to save money) is making things from scratch. So far I have made focaccia rolls, pita bread, pasta sauce and hummus – none of them were very difficult and all were cheaper than their store-bought versions. I realize not everyone wants to do that much cooking/baking – in fact MOST people don’t, which is why there are 400 different kinds of tomato sauce in jars – but I have the time and interest so I’m happy to be doing it.

The result is our grocery budget has been reduced by almost 50% ALREADY. On my first big shopping trip after I started being more mindful I saved 30% – around $40. My second smaller trip I saved 40%. My grocery store prints a running total of how much I’ve saved over the year at the bottom of my receipt and my goal is to get over $1200 by the end of 2013. That works out saving $100 a month with a food budget of around $350 a month, which includes breakfasts for me and the kids, lunch for me and the kids, lunch for E to take to work, dinner for all of us plus snacks, fruit and special treats. I’ve never tried to stick to a budget so closely before, so I’m not completely confident in my ability to do it but I am TRYING…which costs nothing.

As you can probably see from the list of stuff I’ve been making, I haven’t been keeping up with Paleo eating while I’ve been trying to reduce our costs. It’s hard to do both – grass-fed beef, coconut oil, nuts and organic produce add up quickly while flour and potatoes are cheap – but I’m hoping as I get better at it (and once our CSA starts up again) I can get back to my bacon diet. 

Since I’ve made these changes with so little effort I’m totally open to more ideas. What do you do to save money at the grocery store?

p.s.

regrowing green onions

Want to feel like MacGyver mixed with Laura Ingalls? Put the white part of your green onions in a glass of water and regrow them. BOOM! Money saving AND cool to watch. (Tip from The Kitchn via Homemade Serenity)

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15 Responses to “I Promise I’ll Never End Up On Extreme Couponers”

  1. Other Erin says:

    Way to go! I’m such a nerd I love shopping to see how cheaply I can get all of the stuff we need for a week.
    Fruit (frozen is super cheap for berries), roasted sweet potatoes with salt and olive oil, cut up veggies, canned olives (rinsed) and raw nuts/dried fruit from the bulk section make good, less expensive paleo snacks. Skipping the organic-ness isn’t the end of the world – a lot of people doing paleo do because it’s just too expensive.

  2. Amanda says:

    I know it’s a bit of a hike for you but have you considered shopping on the base when little Evan is at school? It’s seldom I ever find a better real than what I get at the commissary. We don’t have weekly sale flyers but there is a monthly one AND FREE COUPONS. There is a whole wall of help your self coupon flyers that normally you would pay for in a newspaper.

    I will admit I do print coupons off the computer too but only for things that I always buy. wholly guacamole is our favorite and they always have $1 off coupons on there facebook page, plus it’s only $1.99 at the base so I buy tons of it for a $1 and freeze it.

    • bebehblog says:

      Ugh, The Commissary. I keep telling myself I’m going to shop there EXCLUSIVELY once they open the new one…although at this rate I sort of doubt that’s ever going to happen.

  3. I need to try the green onion trick! I sometimes have a random recipe that calls for them, but I never buy them because I feel like I waste them.

    I need to start keeping better track of our grocery spending/savings. I did my first hard-core menu planning this week, and it pretty much exhausted me. I’ll probably post about it next week once I see how it goes and if I can drum up the energy to do it again.
    Misty @ The Family Math recently posted… What’s Cooking

  4. Joanna says:

    Oh yay! I’m so on this kick too and I’ve been working up my blog post to share. I realized one day that my grocery bill was high, I was coming home from work and cooking 4-5 DIFFERENT meals per week. Whiny, hungry children and the need to stop spending so much money have inspired me.

    I meal plan based on the store circular too. I also try to google recipes that include a lot of the same ingredients. If I’m buying fresh herbs or produce, I want to make sure it will be used in more than one meal.

    I also make sure at least one night is leftover night and if I’m cooking something that can be frozen, I double it and stick one in the freezer.

    It has been a lot of leg work in the beginning but I’m starting to get an arsenal of recipes so one day it won’t be so big.

    Last week my grocery bill was $50 less than it normally is.

    This week it was $30 more… but it’s because I decided to take advantage of some great sales and stock my freezer up with a few meals.

    I also saw the bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts were on sale for 99 cents per pound so I roasted them and then shredded and cubed them and froze them in two cup increments for use later in various recipes like tacos, salads, enchiladas, etc.

    I’d be happy to chat more with you about what I do and some of my go to recipes :).
    Joanna recently posted… 19 Months

  5. Kristi says:

    This is so interesting to me. To be honest, I am not mindful of our bill and between Whole Foods, Costco and Jewel we spend a lot. Maybe I need to re-frame HOW I meal plan and it would save me money. I struggle with getting something HEALTHY on the table when I get home from work with two kids and husband. I need to get going on this. Maybe we could all swap our easy go to recipes?
    Kristi recently posted… Cate 15 Months

  6. Audrey says:

    I am a horrible couponer. I never find anything that we actually eat so it seems pointless. We are a 3 store shopping family ourselves – I hit the supercenter on payday for our big shopping trip and then when we run out of milk (we go through 5 gallons a week) or other weekly items I go to the closer store. For specialty things we can’t get at the other two – like a certain brand of cheap popcorn or my seltzer water or just hitting the salad bar cus it’s awesome – we go to the other close store that’s a little pricier.

    I have tried the green onion trick, unfortunately my husband thinks this means he can just eat them as snacks so we end up having to buy more anyway. *sigh*
    Audrey recently posted… sew finished

  7. I have zero patience to coupon but I’ve also been working on cutting our food budget down. Meal planning is a MUST and when I plan every meal not just dinners I’m amazed at how much food we can buy for the same price or less than way I make spur of the moment choices for breakfast, lunch or snacks.

    I need to work on planning ahead for the staples…like milk and Diet Pepsi (I have a mild addiction) instead of having to run out in between shopping weeks.
    Jennifer @ Also Known As…the Wife recently posted… No So Extreme Home Makeover: Living Room Edition

    • bebehblog says:

      I can’t even tell you how happy I was to find a Diet Coke coupon in this week’s circular. It was like a tiny miracle.

  8. Jen F (from Robinson) says:

    Thanks for this Suzanne. I have been thinking I need to start doing SOMETHING to get my insane grocery/Target spending under control. I pay no attention to the prices of things that go in the cart. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even know how much our milk costs. $5?? I need to start somewhere.

    Also, the green onions are totally my kind of gardening. That is amazing.

    • bebehblog says:

      Honestly, I thought I knew what stuff cost but after checking the flier and coupons I realized I had no idea. Especially when it comes to meat – the prices vary SO MUCH when stuff is on sale it’s crazy.

  9. Sarah says:

    I am addicted to Deals to Meals – they comparison shop for you! dealstomeals.com I’m planning to check out Lozo.com, too…
    Sarah recently posted… “I Love Lulu” – a retro birthday party

  10. Emily says:

    I’m amazed at this. I watched one episode of that coupon tv show and had a bit of a panic attack. I need to get better at looking through the circulars and actually bringing coupons to the store with me rather than cutting them out and finding them in the drawer, expired, a month later. I’m all about the gas points at Giant, though… I feel a serious sense of accomplishment when the gas meter tells me how much I saved per gallon. I didn’t realize there were coupons with bonus gas points… that may just be my motivation!
    Emily recently posted… Moving On Up… to a Toddler Bed!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this. Coupon ing has always been too much for me. I end up spending too much time and buying things I wouldn’t have I there weren’t a coupon. This is much more up my alley. I usually shop mostly at Aldi, where coupons aren’t accepted. But there’s no reason I can’t plan my menu aroun their sales each week. Great tips.
    Kim@NewlyWoodwards recently posted… You-musts

  12. We buy our meat in bulk and i generally never buy chicken breasts/pork/turkeys unless they are on sale. Then I stock up. Most of the time I buy the store brand canned veggies and things like that, just because they are generally a bit cheaper. Meal planning for the week helps, too!
    Julie Sancken recently posted… Back to the Grind

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