“I buy three copies of the Sunday paper,” the contestant says, adding, “I share the coupons with my sister and mother. We pay about $10 a week for groceries.” My eyebrows shot up. The speaker was a finalist in the contest a local newspaper is sponsoring on how to be a champion frugalista.
“Maybe I’m missing something,” I thought and today, when the newspaper came, I looked at the giant insert folder, stuffed with ads. And all this time I thought newspaper readership was down. And here we have people buying multiple papers, just for this treasure trove. I spread the hefty ad pile on the table, grabbed a scissors, and started flipping through fliers. It took about an hour and a half to clip the coupons.
The first flier was from a grocery store about five miles away. On sale was Easter candy (not interested, except for Peeps Jousting), Cinnamon buns, frozen dinners (too much sodium, too many preservatives), and a cleaner I never use because it is too harsh. I did find a coupon for $0.40 off a roll of paper towels. A quick calculation of the 10 mile round trip to get one roll of paper towels would cost me about $0.60 in gas. Total saving: a $0.20 loss.
On to the second store, one where we shop frequently, and closer to home. Another coupon for a popular brand of paper towels–again, $0.40. (The house brand was cheaper without the coupon.) Two coupons for frozen foods–a popular brand, totaling $1.60. Another set of coupons for frozen meals, short-cut products that help you create meals from leftovers, canned spaghetti, and frozen juice product (less than 10% juice.)
Off to the store for some comparison shopping. Checked the frozen foods for sodium–way too much, plus preservatives I don’t think are good for me. Compared the price for dry noodles and jarred sauce, which turned out to be a better buy (and less sodium) per serving than opening a can. The shortcut product was starch-heavy, so I compared buying some fresh spinach to extend the meal, and preferred that.
The frozen juice product was actually a bargain, but it had a lot of sugar in it, so I chose three oranges (cheaper, but wouldn’t make as much juice) and decided to make iced-tea instead.
Almost every coupon is for prepared food, easy-to-bake products, and other food that you can make cheaper yourself. I have a lemon cake that is delicious and easy to make. On evenings when I’m cleaning the kitchen, I combine the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag, and check to make sure I have eggs, milk and canola oil. In other words, I make my own mixes.
We eat fresh vegetables. I save leftovers of the veggies (freeze them) and use them in soups, stews, or casseroles. Using broccoli slaw (or make your own in a food processor) provides a great base for teriyaki chicken, salmon salad, or other meat salads. And it’s less processed than a constant diet of canned pasta.
I love whole grains (bulgar wheat is a favorite) because they are filling. If you eat whole grains with high fiber, they fill you up, and provide the kind of carbohydrates you need without making you fat. I use them under sauces, in salads, and as a side dish. They are incredibly cheap.
What about the coupons? For the way I eat, they don’t save me money. I do use them for detergent, soap, and products I’m brand loyal to.
To save money, I shop for meat and vegetables at a local ethnic store that has inexpensive fish, meat, and spotless vegetables. I pick up whole grains and dairy products at a locally-owned store that is a combination of farmer’s market and health-food store, with great prices. (Yes, some of their items are more expensive–and I don’t buy those items there.)
I splurge on organic fruits and vegetables because I don’t want to eat pesticides that soak through soft–skinned fruit, because I eat the skin.
For some items–cereal, paper towels, soap, detergent, I go to a membership store. I buy house brands or brand-loyal items there.
All of these stores are within 3 miles of my house. I do have to go to multiple stores, but so do coupon users. And I save time by not going through fliers. Some of the mega-savers spend 46-53 hours a week shopping and clipping coupons.
Sure, I pay more than $10 a week for groceries. And we don’t have a large family with lots of kids. But for the way I like to eat, because I need to watch my weight, my way works. And it’s inexpensive, overall. And before you think I have a boring diet, I do have splurges: cheap, warm, fresh churros from a local store, and premium Starbucks ice cream. Not eaten together.
If you absolutely love coupons, but don’t want to spend your life clipping them, look for sites that do the work for you.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She runs workshops for people who want to learn how to write well and clearly. She also has a site for journalers who want to keep an art journal, but can’t draw. Visit raw-art-journals to learn about raw-art.