I come from a long line of frugal. My mom sewed my clothes and Halloween costumes growing up. My dad’s been known to show up at flea markets with a flashlight. And it took me years to figure out that when my grandpa said he found something at the “emporium”, he was actually referring to the town dump.
So while coupon clipping is practically in my genes, I took my couponing to a whole new level when Parents magazine challenged me to buy a week’s worth of healthy groceries for a family of four for less than $100 (you can read the story here). At about $70, my total came in well under the goal. But while researching the piece, I talked to some seriously hardcore clippers–women who put my $70 grocery bill to shame, like the women from Coupon Mom, MommySavers, and The Grocery Game–and I started following blogs like Money Saving Mom and My Frugal Adventures. And I caught the bug. Big time.
Now my coupon book (photo above) is busting at its seams, I get endorphin rushes when scoring free frozen vegetables and 14-cent boxes of pasta, and when I return from a grocery trip proclaiming “45 percent! I saved 45 percent!”, my husband breaks into his version of Wilco’s “Casino Queen” re-titled (naturally) “Coupon Queen”.
Sure, I’m still a slacker compared to those wonder-shoppers I mentioned above. But here’s some of what I’ve learned about saving bucks while stocking healthy stuff:
- Plan your meals for the whole week based on what you have already and the healthy foods that are on sale (check your store’s circular or website before you make your list). This step is crucial because it ensures you’ll buy everything you need for the week, eliminating last-minute trips to the store… or last-minute pizza delivery.
- You’ll see a lot of coupons for a lot of crappy food. But don’t buy junk that you don’t want your kids begging for the next week–no matter how cheap (or free) it is. For me, this includes, but is not limited to: Yogos, Pop-Tarts, Fruit Roll-Ups, Combos, Capri Suns, and Hostess Snack Cakes.
- Stick to fruits and vegetables that are in season. Choose bulk (not baby) carrots. They’re way cheaper and a ton sweeter. When you get home from the store, take five minutes to peel and cut them so they’re prepped for the week.
- There’s no shame in diving headfirst into the bargain bin. I recently snagged a big container of organic romaine for less than two bucks because it was nearing its “best by” date (since I typically eat my salads out of mixing bowls, it was gone in two nights anyway). Ditto for fish–eat it that night–and lean ground beef and turkey (freeze it when you get home).
- Don’t assume healthy food breaks the budget. Some of my favorite staples–like Ronzoni whole wheat pasta, Kashi cereal, and Brownberry Health Nut bread–tend to cost a bit more than their refined-flour shelf-mates, but they also periodically go on sale. And when they do, I combine my coupons with the store sales and buy several weeks’ worth. (If you have some extra space and cash, some basement shelving and a chest freezer pay for themselves in no time.)
Got any recession-friendly food shopping tips? Please share!