I received the following email from a reader, Janelle, and thought the discussion would be helpful to many of you.
I’ve been reading your weblog off and on for a while, and have a question for you. I notice that most (not all) of the “deals” you get, and that are out there with coupons are for foods that I don’t choose to feed my family. Processed, not organic, not local, containing high fructose corn syrup, etc. While I admit, we’re not perfect, how does a family that often eats granola (from the bulk bins or homemade), homecooked meals, and uses natural or kitchen (vinegar, etc) products to clean, actually use the tips that you offer for saving money in groceries?
I do score on the times that cheeses, some crackers and such go on sale, but we’re not big eaters of “boxed cereal”, frozen meals, cow milk, soda, or that kind of stuff. We have a food budget of about $300 for two adults and an almost 4 year old, and stay under it most months, but it’d be great to do better.
I guess my frustration is more with the manufacturers/stores for offering discounts on products that are “easy” but not necessarily “healthy” to me. I would rather see good savings coupons on fresh fruits and veggies, flours, and the stuff on the outside isles of the store rather than on the isles in the middle (where most of the not so good for you stuff lives)…
To speak directly to this reader, your monthly budget is really low for eating the type of food you are eating. You’re doing a great job. You are already using strategies to save money — cooking from scratch, using simple ingredients to cook & clean, and being intentional with how you spend your money. You could probably teach us a lot about saving money when shopping the perimeter of the store!
The more “unconventional” of a shopper or eater you are, the more difficult it is to save money in the conventional way — by couponing and store sales. Manufacturers release coupons on products that #1. they produce and #2. that the mainstream is consuming. General Mills does not provide fresh, real food. It’s not their business. And it’s these companies that release coupons.
The more mainstream a product is, the more incentive manufacturer’s have to release coupons. The more the mainstream public buys environmentally-friendly cleaning products, for instance, companies will offer more opportunities to save on these products. Be patient. Ways to save on organic, local, environmentally-friendly products are coming.
You can save money on fresh, real food, it just takes a little more work and imagination. Here are some suggestions:
- Shop farmer’s markets
- Menu-plan using food you already have in your home and sale items
- Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile when you come across a sale on food you do eat. Chances are you will do a lot of stockpiling during Thanksgiving and Christmas on baking and from-scratch items (flour, baking soda, powder, stock, butter, cheese, meat, etc)
- Buy as much as possible in bulk (the Bob’s Red Mill store in Milwaukie is a great option). You don’t have to go there every week — I do my bulk item shopping once every few months.
- Buy beef (if you eat it) in bulk from a local farmer. You can get high quality, grass-fed beef relatively inexpensively this way.
- Use coupons to save on the processed food or household items you do use
Honestly, fresh, local, organic food costs money. It’s not cheap for small, independent farmers to produce quality food. The higher the quality, the more you will spend. That’s why I try to spend as little as possible on the “junk” (which we eat) by couponing to free up more money to spend on the quality food.
If you’re interested in learning more about eating local, “real food” and saving money, check out these resources & blogs from the Portland area:
:: Passionate Homemaking (check out her blogroll for other like-minded blogs)
:: Sustainable Living on a Budget
:: Frugal Granola
:: Making Dough (Emily has some fabulous posts on cooking from scratch — she is a great writer and an inspring cook! She also coupons.)
And just to address the anonymous commenters that question what Rebecca and I are buying during our deal trips — the stuff you see posted makes up only a portion of what we purchase and serve our families. We are both committed to eating lots of produce, local meat and high quality dairy. But posts about our regular priced produce trip or outrageously priced raw milk would be uninteresting to most of you. This is a blog about couponing and saving money by living frugally. Period. I hope we are serving those of you desiring the same well.
Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions for how to save money without using coupons on “real food” or other resources out there on the web!
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