Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just Call Me.... Frugal Muse!

I've just started my own independent consulting business, and not to put too fine a point on it, things are rather tight without a regular income to depend on.

But even before this, I knew Something Had To Be Done about our grocery bill. I'm embarrassed to admit I was spending about $200 per week on groceries for our household of 3. (Well, I think pet food was lumped in there too, accounting for probably $80 per month.)

I've been taking a financial planning/education course. It was a real eye-opener to learn that I should have been spending only $100 per person per month, meaning a total of $300 per MONTH on our food. Yikes!!

Being a librarian, to figure out what to do about this problem I did what came naturally-- research. Which led me to Stephanie Nelson's extremely helpful book, The Coupon Mom's Guide To Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half.

I was extremely skeptical about whether any of this would work for me, because I don't tend to purchase a lot of processed foodsl,for which coupons are available, and of course I've been committed to serving the family only organically produced meats, poultry, and dairy products.

I was amazed to find that putting Coupon Mom's strategic shopping tips into practice, I have been saving closer to 70% on groceries. (I will admit I have suspended my trips to Whole Foods for the time being.)

Nelson's tips basically boil down to two main ideas:
1. Only purchase items that are on sale and have a corresponding coupon (as much as possible)
2. Stockpile items when they are at rock-bottom prices, which allows you to "shop your freezer and pantry" so you can always prepare meals from ingredients purchased at a discount.

Yes, it seems so simple and obvious, you'd think I'd have figured it out a long time ago.

To make this process easier, Coupon Mom has a terrific website ( that correlates weekly store specials with any available coupons. Each week, she makes available a list of Grocery Deals by state, so you just find your state, hit enter, and choose your store. Each store list not only gives the coupon info, she also lists the % you save by using the coupon as well.

When I first started using the site a couple of months ago, I just made a rule to stick to items on the list that showed savings of at least 50%. Although I had never tried "couponing" before, I bit the bullet and purchased a subscription to the Sunday newspaper so I could get the coupon circulars. Since I didn't have a stockpile of coupons to draw on, each week I purchase extra copies of the Sunday paper to get additional coupon fliers.

For those who can't abide the idea of using coupons, Nelson sagely advises that you can save about 30% just by sticking to store specials. Purchasing only items on sale each week can yield a surprising amount of savings! Not being inclined to fussiness, this is the method DC primarily uses with good results.

As I said, I've been able to save closer to 70% on my grocery bills over the past few months. So far, I have been able to stick to the $200/month budget for DS and me.

Yesterday I shopped at the Teeter and also at Lowes Foods, which was having some really good deals. For example, Lowes had the 50 oz. size of "All" brand liquid laundry detergent on sale. Normally, it costs $5.69, but the sale price was $2.99. AND I had a coupon for $2 off "All" from the Feb. 7 RedPlum coupon circular. After the store sale and coupon, I paid just $0.99 for the "All", a savings of 82%!

Here's the breakdown from Lowe's. I purchased 22 items.
Original price: $63.46
Store sales: $26.53
Coupons: $21.05
$ saved: $47.58
% saved: 75%

Of course, Nelson gives lots more tips on cutting down the food bill (other posts, perhaps?), but I've been very pleased with my success so far.

Another thing I really like about Nelson's website ( is that she also promotes her program "Cut Out Hunger" by identifying low/no cost items that can be donated to your local food bank (or family and friends who could use a hand!). In fact, the deal on the All detergent was so good I ended up purchasing 2 bottles and giving both to a friend. I wasn't going to bother at first, since I couldn't find the "HE" version of the "All," which I need for my front-loading washer. But then I realized it was such a great deal, I surely knew someone who could use it.

I've realized that while using coupons doesn't help much on organic food costs (with some exceptions), it helps save so much on the other items I need to buy that there may soon be room in my budget for organic meats again. I used to spend so much money on snack items, sliced meats, cheese, peanut butter, etc. for DS's school lunches that it was quite depressing. Thank heavens, using the strategic shopping tips I've learned, I've been able to get the items he enjoys at greatly reduced costs or even free.

Low-priced is nice, but FREE is GREAT!!

Chi miigwetch SCL: thank you to my son for creating this logo
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