Anybody else miss their coupons?
I used to love checking the receipt to see if I could save more than I spent, and I was pretty masterful at getting the great deals and then buying dozens of them. My mom would even share her coupons with me since she couldn’t use them all and I was too cheap to buy a Sunday paper.
Poor mom, she doesn’t even know what to send my way these days. Over the past two years, I use fewer and fewer items that have coupons, from grocery to pharmacy. They’re few and far between for produce, and bulk mail order grains and local farmers don’t really do coupons!
All that whining aside, it is possible to save money buying whole foods, and sometimes even really well-sourced “real food”, and it’s not that much more difficult than serious couponing. It just may take a little more creativity, the same amount of organization, and a lot of cutting – just not always with scissors.
My first set of tips in this Eat Well, Spend Less series is to be open to new opportunities to forage for sustenance. Not all food purchases are made in a grocery store!
Finding Real Food in Unexpected Places
You don’t have to go right to the farm or shop exclusively at health food stores and mail order specialty shops to eat real food. Whole foods, in their natural form, are more pervasive than we sometimes realize.
- Reduced Produce: Real food is in your grocery store, all over the produce section. I adore the reduced produce racks, where they sell slightly bruised apples, potatoes from a bag where one went bad, dented peppers, and other less than perfect fruits and vegetables.
If your store doesn’t do a reduced produce rack, write the manager and ask him/her to institute one. In these challenging food times, every little bit counts, and I think any wise manager would see your point. Use the draft example here as a starting point.
I sent a letter to my store asking them to forgo the Styrofoam trays, and now they use plastic bags almost exclusively! I even reuse the bags for future produce purchases.
Three KEY tips when buying second best produce:
(1) Don’t get stuff that’s just gross. If it has mold, is so old that it has probably lost all its nutrients (especially for broccoli and greens), or is otherwise unusable (like mushy avocados), don’t be tempted.
(2) Watch your price point – sometimes “reduced” is not even a good deal versus the store sale that week. Know the regular price on everything!
(3) Only buy what you can use or otherwise store in a day or two. Seems obvious, I know, but sometimes the prices are so tempting you end up needing a reduced produce garbage bag because your eyes were bigger than your time and energy.
- Local Butchers: You can stumble across some real gems in local butcher shops, sometimes finding sources of grassfed, organic, or almost-organic meats without traveling outside the city limits. You have to poke around, ask people you know, and maybe visit and ask the butcher lots of questions, but it’s a great thing once you find a winner.
Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher what they do with organ meats, suet, lard, and chicken feet. Sometimes you can get a super deal (or a freebie) just for chatting and asking the right questions.
If you’re not sure what to ask, start with these 10 Questions to Ask your Farmer (most of them apply) and check out some of my Q&A in Grand Rapids on my Local Resources page. Here’s a little more debate on meat.
My favorite bonus of the local butcher? He’ll cut the meat off the bone when I buy split chicken breasts, so I get a package of boneless chicken breasts and one of bones for stock.
Going in with friends: Sometimes, you really need to get to know the right people. Try a local Weston A. Price Foundation meeting (even if you don’t do all the Nourishing Traditions stuff, that’s a good place to find local food resources), chat up your farmer, or strike up foodie conversations at church. In no time at all, you’ll gather around you a list (keep their emails!) of people with whom you might find deals on:
*organic frozen cherries, 27 pounds at a time, $47 a bucket (cherry almond coconut crepes, pictured above)
*real maple syrup, by the gallon, $40
*raw cheese, in 5-pound blocks for $22 each
*good salt, in bulk
*coconut oil and olive oil, by the gallon, like this
These are all real bulk purchases I make with friends or that have come through my email. Every other week, someone is emailing offering a deal they found on SOMEthing healthy. It’s awesome to be clued in, and it didn’t take long at all. Start talking. Somebody knows something in your town, too!
- Via your milk or meat farm, or a Co-op: I think I’m probably lucky in that our raw milk farm does some bulk orders through Country Life Natural Foods and sends emails about other local farmers and their products. However, there are multitudinous co-ops around the country that do the same thing. You just need to look around, ask around, and see what you can find. If you can’t find anything, start one up and take a little cut for doing all the work!
Buying Part of Cow?: I added the question mark because although many people recommend buying a quarter or half cow to save money, you may have to do some serious math to make sure it’s worth it. If you usually only buy ground beef and cheap cuts like chuck roast and stew meat, a portion of a cow may end up costing just as much or more.
From a frugal standpoint only, getting a few steaks for a better deal isn’t really a good deal if you wouldn’t buy steaks anyway.
Make sure you compare “hanging weight” per pound, which is what you often are quoted, with the actual per-pound breakdown of the total price. The $2-something per pound might sound awesome, but you have to ask for a list of all the cuts you’ll get and approximate weight of each, then divide your total cost by the number of pounds. If that’s more than you’d pay for a pound of ground beef, stick with your ground beef and skip the steaks!
I finally bought a part of a cow last fall, splitting an eighth with a friend (I know, I know, I don’t really have a big freezer though, and even for that had to take a bag over to the in-laws!). I figure I saved a few bucks, but nothing major, and ONLY because I spoke up and asked for organ meats. With our lousy eighth, we got FOUR packages of beef liver, the whole heart, the tongue, 2 packs of soup bones, and the oxtail.
My friend and I are having a food processor party with the heart next week. I kid you not. This is the kind of weird playdate you, too, can enjoy when you make the right friends. However, without those organ meat extras, I would hardly have had any savings over ground beef and stew meat. Ask for suet and render your own tallow, too, if you can. Huge savings there!
(Here’s how I use the liver, and I’ll be sharing on the tongue soon! Mwahahahaha! If you follow on Facebook, you already know a little bit about the results of that. UPDATE: Here’s how to make beef tongue fajitas.)
Once you’ve bought your food, there are countless ways you can cut costs in the kitchen itself.
Top 5 Cost Cutting Measures in the Kitchen
By the way, you’ll hear my top 5 frugal foods and favorite frugal recipes next week, including homemade yogurt, homemade chicken stock, and dry beans…in case they feel missing from this list.
- Make from scratch: Surely one of the most obvious – if you do more work yourself, you pay somebody else less and keep more money in your pocket. My recipes page will give you tons of ideas on how to start, and two of the Eat Well, Spend Less ladies are dishing out on homemade convenience and pantry foods as well. Watch for tomorrow’s post, as I’ll excerpt from each of the participants and tell you how to find all of them!
Consider the savings: How much per hour are you saving? Save your sanity, too, and if you need to make cuts, make sure they make sense. For example, I make homemade tortillas because I insist on only the best quality grains recipes, but for many people, making tortillas only save a dollar and takes half an hour. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work (unless the nutrition is more important than the frugality).
This is one reason my Monday Missions have impact ratings on them – you can see at a glance if something is going to make a huge difference, and you know it’s worth it if it saves you money, increases your nutrition, AND helps the Earth. If it hardly takes any time, you have a real winner!
- Stretch the Meat: I have become more and more adept over the years at using less meat and still resulting in tasty meals. Meat is expensive, and although we need to eat it, if your budget won’t allow, it’s an option for cuts. Here are a few ideas from Facebook readers:
My best money saving tip is to prepare larger cuts of meat (a chicken, a roast) with lots of side dishes, saving half or more of the meats for other meals (quesadillas, soup, stew, burritos, cottage pie, sandwiches, etc.). In this way, I can stretch $10 to $20 worth of meat into 2 or 3 meals, easily. Leanne
My biggest money saving tip is to stretch the meat in our dinners over at least two meals. I buy only grass-fed beef and when I do, we have it grilled one night and then sliced on a salad or in burritos the second night. I cook 2 organic chicken breasts at a time. My husband eats one. My son and I split half of another. The remaining half becomes chicken salad for lunches. Emily
The Everything Beans Book also has great ideas for using less meat without compromising nutrition.
- Use it all! Don’t waste food: This may seem obvious, but between the produce that gets slimy on accident because it was purchased without a plan and the food we serve at the table that won’t fit in our stomachs, I’m willing to bet that your garbage eats more of your food than you’d like to admit.
With the high caliber of KS readership, I’m sure you’re all well below the average American, who has a real problem with wasting food. To achieve this, meal planning is of utmost importance. We’ll talk more about meal planning next week as well, so be ready for some challenges!
- Use a less expensive alternative: Sometimes you can get a similar results with a more frugal choice of ingredient, such as…
- Oatmeal and rice – although grains aren’t always the best choice, a breakfast of oatmeal and a rice side dish at dinner will help to cut your budget over eggs and green vegetables, so keep them in consideration, and just make sure to prepare them properly by soaking.
- Cabbage instead of lettuce – when you’re building a salad, grab a cabbage for $1 or less a pound instead of the lettuce now at $2/pound, and you get as much if not more nutrition for half the price! Mix both together if cabbage alone is too crunchy. (Here’s a good Cabbage Salad recipe.)
- Beans instead of meat – for example, did you know you can make tacos with half lentils and no one will know the difference?
- Fresh jalapenos (or frozen from the Farmer’s Market, even better) over canned chiles
- Regular potatoes instead of reds
- What else can you think of? I have a feeling I’m only scratching the surface on this category…
For the next three weeks, you can look for highly informative and budget-saving posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less series from these lovely ladies:
- Aimee from Simple Bites
- Alyssa from Kingdom First Mom
- Carrie from Denver Bargains
- Jessica from LifeasMOM
- Katie from Good Life Eats
- Katie from Kitchen Stewardship
- Mandi from Life Your Way
- Shaina from Food for My Family
- Tammy from Tammy’s Recipes
My Wednesday posts will be a wrap-up of all the posts from the week, with a little excerpt and direct link to each participants’ page. So come back tomorrow for more money-saving tips!
Myself, I had so much to say that I have another post today dishing out on how I prioritize my food budget and make purchasing decisions…
If you’d rather have 300 pages of tips and instructions on how to save money buying real food, you absolutely must check out Stephanie Langford’s Real Food on a Real Budget. I don’t think she missed anything!
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate with Stephanie Langford, which means I’ll receive commission on purchases made starting here. She’s also a friend, and her book is excellently written and comprehensive, so I have many motives for mentioning RFRB today! See my full disclosure statement here.