Budgeting Groceries Part 1 – Truth About Extreme Couponing

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There’s a new trend on the horizon in budgeting groceries. Thanks to TLC’s new show, the craze of extreme couponing has really started to pick up in popularity. Couponing is great – you can combine coupons with sale prices and some stores will double the coupons which results in steeply discounted prices and the ability to really store up a good stockpile for a rainy day.

There is another side to it, however. I’ve been following the extreme couponing movement for a few years now, and I think after watching it for this time and couponing a little myself I can say there are some drawbacks that we need to educate ourselves about if we want to start going down that route.

The Quality of Food

If you start to follow the couponing deals, you may notice something. Many (though not all) of the extreme deals where you walk out with products for free or practically nothing, are deals on foods that are really not that healthy. Toaster pastries, sugar cereals, sweetened granola bars, tubes of sugary “kids” yogurt, frozen convenience foods full of MSG & sodium, and lots of other snack type foods are pretty much the majority there. I personally am not opposed to buying these foods on occasion, but I don’t feel that they really belong in the consistent rotation of what I feed my family. When I am making my shopping list, I don’t want to throw out healthy eating for the sake of budgeting groceries and saving some money.

There are coupons available for healthy foods – flour, rice, canned vegetables, juice, even produce and dairy occasionally – but they are not as common and are not usually the steep discounted deals where you walk away with 10 bags of flour for 20¢ each.

This is only part of it, however – food is only about half of what people use coupons for. You can get some pretty steep discounts on toiletries, cleaning products and other household items, and this can be a boon if you aren’t brand specific. I personally don’t care which brand of paper towels I get, and I’m pretty flexible with my shampoo & conditioner. Many of us are on the path of making a lot of these products ourselves, but most of us are not able to “do it all,” so being able to get these items for a lot less money can really make a big difference in budgeting groceries.

The Time Spent

Couponing to an extreme level takes a significant amount of time. I’ve done a little of the extreme variety here and there and I always liked the results but the time spent is a frustration to me. Many couponers seem to really enjoy this part, and so for those of you who really do have fun finding the matchups, printing and cutting your coupons, planning out your trip, it’s no big deal. But for those of us who find it a necessary evil, it can be frustrating to spend several hours trying to get everything put together and planned for a trip.

You wouldn’t really think it takes that much time, and there are many websites out there that do a lot of the matchup work for you. You can do internet searches for sites from your local area which are always the most helpful. But depending on how in-depth you go with this, it can take a lot of time to plan it out so your trip goes smoothly. I find that when I just try to go through my pile and pull out coupons on products that I happen to need that week, it takes about 15-20 minutes. But if I try to really maximize the deals and go to an extreme level, it’s not unusual for it to take several hours to plan it all out.

The Hidden Costs

There’s also quite a few hidden costs to couponing. Sometimes this gets a little glossed over so let’s just go over a few of them. Some of these may be a barrier to you, and some may not.

  1. The Gas Cost. This is a bigger barrier to me, since I live out in the mountains and it’s at least a 20 minute drive into town. I can’t just pop into town and get the latest great deal on a few tubes of toothpaste, because it already costs me over $6 in gas to make the round trip. I have put together an Excel spreadsheet which may help you calculate how much gas it costs you to go to the various stores that you do, especially if they are all spread out. You can download the spreadsheet here. Essentially, you enter your current gas price, your MPG that you get, and the miles driven to and from you stores. It calculates how much it costs to go from your home to any store, or from point A to point B. I’ve also found it handy when I’m thinking about driving somewhere unusual and want to know how much it will cost in gas.
  2. The Newspaper Cost. Sunday papers can be pretty expensive these days. Mine costs $2.50, so if I am going to get a paper for the purpose of having coupons, I need to know if there are going to be coupons in that paper that will make the cost worthwhile, and I need to know that they are coupons that I will use before they expire regardless of if I find an “extreme deal” on them or not. If you can get a subscription, sometimes it’s cheaper – we have a local deal for multiple papers which end up costing only $1 apiece which is a great deal. Additionally, some dollar stores sell Sunday papers for $1 each, so you may luck out with that as well.
  3. The Printing Cost. Printing coupons is really not that expensive, but it is an expense we should consider. Particularly, if you use an inkjet printer, the cost of the ink can become a serious expense. Since I can’t get the newspaper where I live, I do print a lot of coupons and so I opted for investing in a laser printer (I also print a lot of coloring sheets for my kids). It may or may not be worthwhile for you to so, but you should take an accurate idea that each coupon printed does have a cost attached to it, however minor that cost may be. Be selective about which coupons you print – I try to print only those coupons that I will use even if I do not see a phenomenal deal, because they are products that I will use.
  4. The Time Cost. I know I touched on this above a little, but I wanted to reiterate that the time cost is something you need to consider. Or perhaps we should call it the “Opportunity Cost.” Extreme Couponing takes a significant amount of time that you could be spending doing other things. Consider this: How many of these items that you could potentially buy are items that are simple, healthy, and easy to make? Case in point – why spend your time and money on boxed cereals (except for a special treat) when you can make your own healthy homemade granola for less? Sometimes it’s a better and easier bargain to buy the cereal, but not always. We just need to be mindful of the time we spend couponing, and the opportunity cost – what could you be doing around your home to save money in those hours that you might be spending planning out your shopping trips? Budgeting groceries is not always about spending less money at the store.

Couponing – A Great Way To Save

Couponing all around is a great way to save on your grocery budget. I personally use it to save a little here and there on items that I would normally buy, and I usually just stick with my local Winco store. Because I don’t really like to shop, I prefer to keep my sanity by only going to the one store as opposed to making trips to three or more stores to get all the bargains, and so I end up saving about 15% on top of their already low prices. My sister, on the other hand, loves shopping and she does great with couponing – she stocks up on a lot of food and gets some phenomenal deals and lots of free stuff. So obviously, your mileage may vary.

So if you are someone who is new to couponing, my only advice to you would be to not feel like you have to take it to an extreme level. There are many ways to save a lot when budgeting groceries that don’t involve spending all day shopping.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I saved 30% on my grocery budget by reducing my trips to the grocery store to every other week.


Bethany is a stay-home mom of two (with one on the way!) who lives in the shadow of Mt Rainier, WA. She operates a personal blog at Uncle Dutch Farms and likes to write lengthy reviews on her favorite kitchen tools at The Homesteader Kitchen. She loves to write, garden, spend time in the kitchen (except for the doing dishes part), and thinks that all little girls should be able to ride around in a tractor.

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  1. Heather says

    What a great article! I’m pretty anti-couponing myself and it’s refreshing to hear all the reasons plus more mentioned. Thanks!

    • melanie says

      I’m not anti-couponing, but I don’t use them as there is little healthy foods avaliable. When I actially find a usable coupon I will use it. But the high benifits are only found on junk foods 🙁

  2. Andrea McCann says

    Great article! I agree with a previous poster that many extreme couponers are addicted to the high and need help for hoarding issues. I caught a show on a woman that bought 72 bottles of mustard. While I like a little mustard on a sandwich now and then, I’m pretty sure my family of 3 would never go through that many bottles in a lifetime and who wants anything in their “pantry” (read basement, garage or toothpaste room) that has that kind of shelf life. I use coupons when I can, but only on items I need or regularly purchase. I wish extreme couponers would get together with local food pantries and put those “skills” to good use, helping them fill their shelves for those people that truly need the food, rather than stockpiling for the end of time.

  3. Diana says

    Wow. Great article and comments section!!!! I learned many years ago that couponing did not work for me. Items I did not use, travel between stores that had the sales, time out of my life I did not have to spare. ALWAYS found that store brands (at that time at least) were cheaper than coupon deals even on those items I would consider buying! Learned to do all my cooking from scratch. Learned to ‘throw together’ some kind of meal out of whatever my pantry held. Kids never minded. Somehow it always turned out pretty good. For many years ‘meat’ was no more than a ‘flavoring’. But there are many things one can do to assure sufficient protein. We don’t need as much protein NOR as much FOOD as we think. As Americans, we tend to overdo on both counts.
    I also am still trying to learn to garden. My sons are so good at it, but I have ‘no thumb’. I’ll get there eventually. Liked the comment about bucket gardening. Son introduced me to that concept and I love it. Did nothing this year, but gearing up for next… I so love this site!!!

    • Matt Jabs says

      Hi Diana, glad you like the site. I’m thinking about taking a master gardener class to be become better at providing our food. I hunt, fish, and process all my own meats and vegetables, but I’d really like to have a bigger, better garden!

      • melanie says

        I would love to have a garden, but we live in a townhome in the city…
        I am considering trying some container gardening this summer.
        It would be good for the kids to see where food comes from. but other than a tomato plant I am not sure what I can get a lot from in a small space…

  4. melanie says

    Unfortunatly, I have alsofoyund thatthe majority of coupon DEALS are on thins I either WON’T or RARELY buy.

    we don’t use comercial cleaners and beauty products because of the NASTY CHEMICALS in them…

    And there a few coupons for truely healthful foods, milk, grains, real rice,flour eggs etc. Not that we don’t buy convineince foods more than I would like… Such as canned soups… But a mom needs to feed her family and keep her sanity…

  5. Bethany says

    Susie, it sounds like you have a very well balanced approach to it! And I hear you on the learning to grow in shady conditions – we just moved and our new home is about 98% shaded. I’m trying to grow in buckets because I don’t even have any sunny spots big enough for an entire garden bed. it’s definitely a challenge. You should be able to grow cole crops though like cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and of course lots of greens will do really well in shady areas.

  6. Susie says

    I just wanted to add my two cents here about couponing and so on. (This would be a great topic on a forum.)

    My family has recently started couponing, not because of the t.v. show. We haven’t seen it. I don’t have cable, so I may not even be able to watch it? Anyway, I started because a friend at work was saving a lot. I DON’t do it in extreme measures though. My mother saves the inserts from her paper for me and I grab them when I visit. I sift through them and cut what I will use and keep them in a small envelope in my purse.
    I have been able to save a bit of money on a few things. However, there are a lot of coupons for stuff I don’t use like junk food, laundry detergent (I now make my own) and high priced stuff that is more expensive than the store brands. For example I was excited to see coupons for Morton salt the other day because salt was on my grocery list. When I got to the store the house brand was cheaper even with the coupon. So don’t be brand loyal and watch for sales!

    Regarding the conversation going there: I work too. I wish things were different, but they aren’t. I am glad that my husband and I both have jobs and that between us we can make a decent living for us and our little daughter. We don’t always make the best food choices, but we try and that is what counts! It seems that most people I know aren’t even trying to be conscious about being frugal or watching what they put in their mouths. I figure each little thing we do is one step closer to health and financial freedom.
    We don’t buy organic often because we simply can’t afford it. I do buy local produce when I can, we live in a city that makes this somewhat difficult, but we try. I do have my milk delivered by a local dairy that does not use antibiotics or growth hormones on their cows. However, I buy conventional cheese, due to cost.
    I belong to a religion that encourages food storage when possible for emergencies and my husband and I are starting with baby steps and spending $5 a week on bulk items that store well, like wheat and beans. I am excited and starting to feel really self reliant.
    I need to learn to garden, even though my backyard is very small (we live in a town house). We have huge trees so I need to research what will grow in shady conditions I learned last year the hard way that tomatoes are not in that catagory.

    I guess all of what I am trying to say here is that you don’t have to be perfect. Just do a little at a time and don’t feel guilty about the rest! We eat sugar cereal sometimes, we don’t tell our daughter no every time. A pop-tart for breakfast once in a blue moon is not the end of the world. The important part is that we are trying to find the best solutions that work for us.

    • Matt Jabs says

      You’re right Susie, this would be a great forum topic. I’m taking a poll for the month of June about forums and will proceed based on reader feedback. Right now it’s looking like I’ll be adding a forum! 🙂

  7. Leonore says

    Country Heart – you are already doing really well, so pat yourself on the back! I know a lot of people who have miles to go to get where you are now.

    I think I can help with a few things that might help you a bit.

    I also eat Cheerios and Kashi, and they are pretty good choices. Of course, even if you’re not doing “extreme couponing” you can keep an eye out for when they are on sale and stock up a bit at those times. But if you really want to save money, try making cooked oatmeal a few times a week. I’m not talking about the flavored oatmeal in packets, but the kind that you scoop out of a big container and cook on the stovetop or microwave. It absolutely couldn’t be simpler to cook and it’s one of the cheapest foods there is. I like to add a tablespoon of peanut butter or soy butter to it to ramp up the protein and good fats, both of which will keep me feeling full longer.

    Speaking of peanut butter, most of the major brands have a more natural variety that they’re selling. Look for the one without the hydrogenated oil. It’s usually the same price as the regular.

    I agree that raw milk is best, but it is not available at all in my state. When my ship comes in I’ll buy organic milk, but for now I’m still buying the supermarket variety. I can get un-homogenized milk locally, and when I’m feeling flush I get some. It’s relatively local, and according to some things I’ve read homogenization is not the best thing for us either. But, we do what we can, and don’t do what we cannot.

    Eggs – I try to get them from the farmers’ market whenever possible. These farmers don’t cage the chickens, which are allowed to scratch around the farmyard eating things that chickens are supposed to eat – bugs, seeds, etc. The yolks are rich and luscious, and the eggs are so fresh they stand up and salute. Again from my reading, I understand that eggs raised this way have a healthier fat profile than factory farm eggs. More of the good fats and less of the bad. I count eggs as a healthy go-to food.

    I love getting stuff from the market because I talk to the farmer and I know I’m buying from an individual source. If there’s an egg recall (like last year) I won’t be affected. When tomatoes were suspect I didn’t worry – mine came from Barry’s tomato patch. They all tell me they use organic growing methods, and I choose to believe them.

    We have visited many of the farms that we buy from, and (don’t let this freak you out) last year’s cute piglet is this season’s pork chop and sausage. Hey, if you are going to eat meat, you should get used to the fact that a real animal made that possible, and honor them by not pretending otherwise. And these pigs are raised so much more humanely than any factory farmed pig. I know that their lives are much, much better on this farm.

    And, again, the lipid (fat) profile for the pork, beef, lamb, and chicken that we get from our local farmers is much healthier than the meats we get at the supermarket. So when we do eat red meat at least it is a better choice. To save money on this, and to save calories, we have cut our portions back. No more do we buy an entire strip steak for each of us. One steak, and we share. Portions are about 3 oz for me and around 4-5 for my husband. Thomas Jefferson said that meat should be a condiment. I might not go quite that far, but we surely don’t need it to fill the entire plate.

    Most co-ops don’t require membership for you to shop at them, so check out and see if there are any near you. If not, don’t go driving all over creation to find one – it’s not worth the time or gas.

    There are some pastas that have extra protein or fiber – try some and see if there are any that you like (the texture in some is really different). Couscous is also a type of pasta, and made with white flour. Whole wheat couscous is available in some places.

    OK – don’t let your husband at the stove! Or do the shopping! How is he with salad-making? How about laundry and dusting? I hope you’re not doing all the housework. If he wants to add things to his food you really can’t stop him – we all get to decide for ourselves what goes in our mouths.

    Grocery list – this is where you can make a big impact on your budget and your time. Start by planning out a week’s worth of dinners. Use your store’s sale flyer each week to check what is on special. Remember to factor in any leftovers you’ll have so you don’t waste food. Either eat them for lunches, freeze them for later, or incorporate them into another dinner. Once you have your menu planned you can start on your grocery list, beginning with the items you will need for the planned meals. Then put down the other things you always need – milk, bread, butter, eggs, lunch items, fruit for snacks, etc. Check on your pantry staples like oils, vinegars, flour, spices, etc. and add any in that you are low on.

    Fish – wild caught is best. Farmed fish has many of the same problems as feedlot land animals. They are generally raised in overcrowded conditions in water that is less than clean. Frozen fish is ok if you don’t mind the texture change that occurs at freezing. Some people don’t notice it, but I do so I don’t buy it. Salmon is great – lots of Omega-3’s. Tuna is good, but because it’s at the top of its food chain it tends to store mercury. It’s recommended that we limit our tuna consumption. Fish oils are great for us so any oily fish is good. If your supermarket sells wild caught – even if it’s frozen – it’s fine to buy from them. No need to buy a whole fish or to feel you need to run out with a net.

    I’ll see what I can find in the recipe department. We do a lot of experimenting around here, which means I don’t always have the good stuff written down. But I do have some.

    My dog ate all our plants as well, including the daffodils and tulips. I now have an upside down tomato plant – we’ll see how that goes.

    I could say a lot more, and I have a lot more tricks up my sleeve, but I’m pretty sure I’ve said enough! Let me know if you have more questions, and good luck!

  8. Country heart roaming the city says

    I knew I should have picked that breadmaker up last year when I saw it!
    Our eating plan now is, buying regular milk (as I have read that Organic is still pasturized and makes no difference unless you get Raw which I just can’t afford the drive and the $7 a week in milk.)

    We rotate our breakfast of eating cheerios, Kashi cereal, a banana and almost an egg everyday which I buy the cheapest as more studies showed that the eggs in the supermarket are just selling you a scam 9 times out of 10. The one egg I have heard of is Milo eggs.

    Meats: I know I need to start buying better meats instead of the BOGO at Winndixie chicken strips. I figure that has to be better then buying fast food and eating redmeat. Meat is so expensive and my husband is stubborn about lightning up on the meat consumption.

    Work Lunches: I buy Smuckers peanut butter from evil Wal-mart and the Special request jelly from Costco. I get my bread for 1.40 from a Spanish store ( the Arnold bread) I get Hormel sodium nitrate free lunch meats for sandwiches. We eat Stonyfield Organic yogurt or Chobani with Kashi bars almost every day during workdays. I will be switching our fruits and veggies to reduce the amounts of toxins we are getting to the Organic kinds from the “dirty dozen”. Our veggies are lacking but we do eat Organic Broccoli and Green beans i get from Costco frozen.

    Dinners: I notice too many carbs in them lately and I bought Spaghetti sauce in bulk when it was on sale. All in glass jars and I think EVO is better then soybean oil so I buy sauces when they are on sale Ragu light and Barilla. They both carry a brand with ingredients I can prounounce. We eat alot of whole chickens in soups or baked with my homemade bbq sauce of Organic kethup (tastes better) and Molasses with honeymustard. I use Couscous with meat and veggies and Brown rice in soups and as a side dish.

    On my husband: I love him ever so much but the man..cannot cook unless it is meat and potatoes.I told him I wanted to incorporate fresher healthier eating back into our diet and as before he just kind of laughed it off. We were eating very healthy for awhile. He constantly uses high heat and he does not exactly take the time to follow recipes or directions very well. I have written down every price of every item we buy regularly and the ounces in hopes of reducing our food bill over time. I can give him a list and its not always bought correctly so it ends up being more or the wrong items. He got caught hiding a SALT, Garlic and Parsley powder with modified corn starch in it from Mccormicks LOL! He loves the stuff

    I apologize for being a little rough yesterday. I just am stretched and strapped like many and trying to keep the faith.
    I will work on baby steps and Lenore thank you for taking the time out to help me. I don’t know how to really make a proper grocery list, I just grab what we use most and whatever healthy thing I can buy reduced price or on clearance.

    A big issue lately has been fish! I can’t remember what one is best (farmed or wild but I think wild caught? Is Walmart frozen fish safe and worth it or am I better off buying a whole fish? Which leads me to the next question of which fish are good for you (besides salmon and tuna)

    Hmm..I think thats the major things other then I really have no idea how to get into a Co-op and I would like to buy a whole Grass fed cow to stick in my nonexistant deep freezer as well as a chicken.

    Yes I am trying gardening but my dog keeps trying to eat my plants when I put him in the back yard!!

    I’ll start earlier next year. Thank you for any help and I am so glad there is a site out there like this one. I will be getting the $60 budget plan asap.
    OH my email is [email protected] if you have any advice or healthy recipes I can make on the go or quickly. Nothing with peas as my D.H. won’t touch them. Thank you so much for letting me vent:)

  9. Country heart roaming the city says

    Ok this SOUNDS great and wonderful but how is one to apply that type of living to working a fulltime job because I am the wife who covers our insurance? My husband has not been able to get fulltime work as an animator so I work instead of living the dream of house wife with kids. First thing we definitely need to do is get a handle on bills. I like the breakdown you did on financial matters. I started couponing out of necessity and noticed YES you can get a ton of dead foods for free. Ronzini noodles don’t look all that bad to me and sorry but the Bible has taught me you can still eat meat and be healthy..I did the whole vegetarian route and it actually made my health worse after a few years from lack of protein. You are just going to pay alot more for quality meats in the city. I tried buying organics from a guy whose lived the farm life and he ran the health store, I still follow some guideline I learned with EVO, making my own salad dressing, and using seasalt. Unfortunately I could not afford to drive 30 minutes and spend 130 for a week of groceries( this was before gas hit the roof) $7.00 for one gallon of raw milk!! If there is a way to do this on a limited budget..I wish it wasn’t such a well kept secret. I don’t know what a wheat berry is or how to make bread out of it.. I don’t know what the proper equipment needed for everyday homemade foods are and probably can’y afford that anyway. so I buy HFC free Arnold bread because its the highest quality I can afford. $6.25 for ONE loaf of Organic bread?! I tithe on Sunday and pray for an answer because I want to eat healthier but HOW is that possible when you work fulltime and try to run the house as a stay at home person?? Completely..and utterly..frustrated 🙁 The upside is I found a farmers market I am driving 25 minutes to and PRAY I can afford it with my limited funds. I watched Food Inc (thats the one where the two college kids go out and find how much corn is in our everday life correct? ) I dont think I am going to be horribly ill from eat a probably abused chicken and yes I try and sneak in some fish now and then at $10 a pound.

      • Leonore says

        I agree – baby steps. Make reasonable adjustments in ways that work for you. The farmers’ market is a great place to start if you can manage to get there. If not, go to your supermarket and shop there, and just work on buying reasonably whole foods, and organics when you can afford them. Some cities have co-ops where you can get kitchen staples like whole wheat flour, other grains, beans, nuts, etc. in bulk, and often they carry organics. Not many of us can manage to get everything exactly as we would like, so just do your best.

        If your husband isn’t working full time, maybe he can do some of the shopping and/or cooking. My husband does a lot of our cooking, and when I was working extra-long days earlier in my career he did all the cooking, and pretty much everything else around the house. If he hadn’t it wouldn’t have gotten done, because I worked too many hours.

        I have one suggestion for an investment piece for your kitchen. I picked up a breadmaker at a yard sale last year. Now, you may not be as lucky as I was to happen upon an almost-new machine for $7! But even at retail, you can get a pretty good one for under $100. Once you have it you can control the ingredients that go into your bread, keep the price low (probably around $1) and it is FAST and easy to throw the ingredients in and set the machine up. I got so I can do it in under 5 minutes. I haven’t bought a loaf of bread in a year. I have no idea how I lived without this all these years! If you are paying over $6 per loaf, and if you go through 1 or 2 loaves a week, you’ll see savings in under 4 months.

        BTW, a wheat berry is just a grain of wheat before it’s milled into flour. Use them, or don’t use them. There is no imperative either way.

        Relax, and keep reading and learning ways to streamline processes and you will ease into this.

    • Bethany says

      Country Heart – Oh I read so much of myself in your post! A year ago I was working full-time to provide for my family because my husband couldn’t get work. Actually, he was an artist and at one point a few years ago we just decided that he needed to go back to school so he could get into a more marketable career. I hated working, wanted desperately to stay home with our kids, but work I did, because it was a means to an end.

      Lenore has really covered most of the advice I would give you and it is really spot-on. A few things though that I would bring up. First off, I want to tell you to NOT feel like you have to “do it all.” I can’t afford to spend $130/week either for groceries. So I have a couple questions for you.

      First – if your husband hasn’t been working as an animator, is he at home or working part-time? Does he have any domestic skills? Mine doesn’t (not even meat & potatoes) – which is one reason why it works best for us to have me at home, but if your husband can garden and you have the space, you can save tremendous amounts of money. Gardening can be quite cheap… though I think maybe that should be another post. What can he potentially do to help? Can you keep a few hens where you live? Most cities are becoming more and more chicken-friendly. I have 5 hens and I get way more eggs than I can eat – they cost me about $.75/dozen in feed and in my area I sell the extras for $3.50/dozen. Nothing huge but it makes the eggs we eat free 🙂 My coop is put together from scrap materials and seconds from Home Depot and I think it cost me about $50.

      The other thing is mainly – do you have a plan to get yourself out of this position? I am also a Christian and it was kind of surprising to us when it was made obvious to us that God’s plan for us was for my husband to “give up his dream” and go to school so he could get a regular job. It took years of prayer to get us to that point though. He’s a packaging designer now and he really really enjoys his job, and we both enjoy the quality of life that we have now that I’m at home. If you want to be at home, and your husband wants that as well, try and see if you can make a plan on how you can achieve that. Matt’s advice on getting out of debt is a good one, although I will say we focused on getting my husband through school before we worried about getting out of debt, since we were barely able to make ends meet during that time. We accepted state assistance with food stamps and daycare costs during that time without reservations, because we knew we have paid into it and would continue to pay into it once he was finished and working full-time.

      The other thing is this – just so you know, I eat meat and I don’t do the organic thing. I agree that chemical-free is best, but the truth is, Certified Organic doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore. It just means that the farmers use list B of approved chemicals vs. List A for conventional farmers. We did try to minimalize the meat we ate due to its cost, but I am also one who doesn’t feel healthy on a meatless diet. I love raw milk – but I only buy it on a splurge once or twice a year. I try to buy things as locally as possible, but you need to do what you can with the means that you have. I will tell you what my personal philosophy on diet is – I don’t avoid any one food, but I try to cut out as much processing as I can. That means I buy wheat berries and grind them myself. Lenore s on the right track as far as buying staples in bulk… that’s exactly what I do. I bought 250 lbs of wheat on my last trip at $.30/lb. They store just fine, don’t go bad and I get fresh fresh whole wheat flour for $.30/lb.

      Do what you CAN. Yes, confinement fed meat is a terrible industry, but it isn’t easy to switch over. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford to buy the organic or pasture raised meat. First, do what you can to get yourself in a position to live life with a little more financial freedom. One of those things for me personally was becoming less dependent on “the system” for food, which is why I grow a lot of my own food and have chickens. But I wasn’t able to do all that while I was working and still have hair on my head, you know what I mean? And I certainly didn’t have the time and energy to do any extreme couponing either. You just need to not worry about what you can’t do and focus on what you can. Combine that with a plan on changing that position you are in, and someday you will be able to eat the way that you want to. Lenore gave you a lot of good practical advice as well, and I agree that just making baby steps is the way to go.

  10. Leonore says

    I use the odd coupon for paper goods and soap, and I occasionally buy bags of frozen fruit or vegetables for when I can’t get fresh easily. But other than that, I found what most of you have – the products that have the coupons are ones I do not use.

    I once was at a gathering of 30-something women (I’m in my 50’s) and mentioned this: that I just don’t use the products that I find coupons for. I asked what kinds of stuff they buy – maybe I was missing something. For about 10 minutes they kept saying “everything” over and over, and couldn’t seem to come up with examples. Finally they started to tell me about frozen this and boxed that. When I said that I didn’t buy those things, but we cooked nearly all of our own food from fresh ingredients, they looked at me like I’d started spewing hate language. “Well, if you’re going to be picky…..” I haven’t been invited back. Not that I’m sad about that. Back when I was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth, most people cooked real food – every day. Not that we didn’t enjoy a little convenience now and then, but there’s a whole “lost generation” that seems to think that 3 meals a day come out of a box or a drive-thru.

    I’ve made another observation about couponing, and especially extreme couponing. Most stores match the manufacturers’ discounts (usually under $1). That means that the store is taking a smaller profit on those items in order to lure shoppers to the store. Those shoppers who buy mostly packaged foods and coupons take a slice of the store’s profits, which means that those of us who purchase the more wholesome ingredients (fresh, organic, local, non-gmo, non-patented) pay MORE than full price.

    I can’t say that I’ve got any documentation on this, but just that it is a logical conclusion. We are subsidizing the couponers.

    Another good reason to shop at the farmers’ markets. And to encourage others to do the same.

      • Leonore says

        I didn’t think so either, but I feel like a dinosaur when I talk to younger adults who don’t know what a vegetable peeler is (really).

        • Matt Jabs says

          I agree with your opinion of this younger generation, of which Betsy and I are members. That is why our life mission is to help ourselves and others rediscover the simple and healthy home practices of the past… we love doing this!

    • Bethany says

      You are so right about the convenience food. It really is a shame that so few people really know how to cook from the beginning, really from scratch. It really does save quite a bit of money, too. My mom has a how-to website where she wrote a series of posts on how to use a whole chicken and it gets the most hits of the entire website – people aren’t taught these things anymore, unfortunately. Growing your own food as you are able, shopping farmer’s markets, doing as much of the “processing” yourself and especially – shopping with a PLAN helps save a lot of money while giving you the means to feed your family healthy, home-cooked food.

      I had an interaction similar to yours – I had found a person who sold local eggs for a price I knew was too low. I remarked to a couponing friend that if I did buy from her I’d probably force her to take extra money, because I knew she couldn’t even pay for feed at her asked price. The friend looked at me like I had two heads! Truth is, in my book, saving money is important but that doesn’t mean we can take advantage of other people or businesses.

      The other hidden benefit and savings with learning to cook without using boxed and frozen foods is less health care costs! I was forced away from convenience foods in my early twenties because of a soy allergy and since then I hardly ever get sick. It’s interesting what a difference it makes. We gotta always look at the whole picture, not just a “Wow I just got 5 boxes of fruit snacks for $.24!”

    • Lilian says

      Leonore, I completely agree with you on that. I am 36 and I cook most meals at home using whole foods. I am trying very hard to make sure my family is eating well. We have a one year old and my husband travels for work some time so it is even more important to be the gate keeper for the family. I also want to role model to my kid that you should appreicate foods and develope a good eating habit as early on. I love foods and cooking as I was the eldest one in the family of 4 kids. I helped my mom cooking and cleaning so they don’t bother me at all. I also work full time so it may not be always easy but I am doing my best to take care people I love and care.

  11. Nina Nelson says

    Some family members have excitedly told me about extreme couponing, saying that I should give it a try. I’ve explained the same things you have, though. We rarely buy anything processed and as much as I would love to come home with 8 boxes of free Poptarts to hide in my closet, I just can’t justify getting that stuff even if it is so cheap. I jump at coupons I do find for bulk items or “natural” household products that I don’t make myself. We save the most money buy restocking set items in our pantry in bulk. Thanks for writing this article – I’ll be sharing it on facebook.

  12. Lindsey says

    I have recently started doing the super coupon thing.
    I have to say that watching TLC’s show exactly once, I was interested in these people not from a coupon point of view, but from a professional counselor point of view. These people looked less like frugal and more like hoarders.
    A toothpaste room? Come on. Who goes through 1000 tubes? Sheesh.
    That being said, I only clip coupons for toiletries, household goods and personal care items. We don’t eat processed food so most of the “industrial food” is out. And there is a TON of processed food that you can get cheap.
    But, pay nothing for it now, pay a ton later in health problems….
    I find that I look through ads online, clip coupons every week from papers left over from family and friends and do one shopping trip. Saves gas, time and sanity. I don’t get stuff for free, but I do get screamin’ deals on deodorant, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.
    Most stuff we grow, make or make do without. For what we can’t, super couponing is worth the time and effort to save some cash.

    • Matt Jabs says

      Yeah, everything in moderation and only as it’s useful – otherwise you end up w/a toothpaste room! 🙂 Keep up the good work Lindsey, comments like this inspire me to keep pushing forward to change the world.

    • hippiemom says

      I have also started “extreme couponing” but same as everyone else we rarely eat processed food so they do not help much on food costs. I do love love love them though for everyday household items. I make alot of stuff myself but my husband is in the Army and so I give some to them and also my local food bank and some other charities will take toothpaste, deoderant and things like that. So if you see a really good deal on things but do not need 10 of something those are just some great ideas of what to do with the extra.

  13. Bethany says

    I would LOVE a vitamix! But not for grinding flour… I bought a Vitalmill which is very similar to a nutrimill. It does quite well for me, it can grind about 12 cups of flour at a time, doesn’t heat it up too much and it can grind all sorts of other things. I chose it above most of the other mills in my price range because I wanted something that could grind corn as well, many other mills can’t grind corn. I have heard a lot of people who have had a lot of luck with using a vitamix to grind wheat… those things are powerhouses. I just needed something with a larger capacity – not only do I use the flour for bread every week but I also make tortillas and pizza crust weekly… and then pancakes or cookies or anything else I might want to make. Oh, and get the hard WHITE wheat, not red… makes a huge difference in the texture and flavor but is nutritionally the same.

    When you grind your own wheat, a lot of people say to grind it as you use it but I say grind it a few weeks ahead – it allows the gluten to mature and will give you a better quality bread. I see a big difference in the bread I bake from fresh ground wheat vs. wheat that I ground a couple weeks before – aging it makes for a smoother and stretchier dough that’s easier to develop. I buy my wheat in 25lb bags and I generally just make one day a “wheat grinding day” and grind it all at once, then store the flour in ziplock bags inside a bucket in my pantry.

    • Matt Jabs says

      Interesting about the aging, I hadn’t heard of that before. I know some people say soaking the flour is a good idea, but that sounds like a big mess to me!

  14. Bethany says

    Thank you Alicia! I agree with you – healthy eating can be done on a strict budget. We are also a family of 4 (plus one more on the way) and we’re eating healthy on one income. You just have to be very careful and maybe make some time compromises. For instance, buying whole wheat berries and grinding them into flour yourself for bread is significantly cheaper, healthier and fresher than buying an equivalent quality loaf at the grocery store. Sure, it takes a little more time, but it’s worth it. I’m with Matt and Betsy also – buying bulk and buying local seriously helps cut back the costs.

    • Matt Jabs says

      How do you grind your wheat berries Bethany… a Vitamix or a grinder? Manual or electric? I ask because I’m in the process of buying a Vitamix and a hand powered flour mill.

  15. Alicia says

    I totally agree that most of the couponing is for “dead” food, nothing that we use in my household. We started eating organic from Whole Foods a couple years ago which totally changed my entire families lives, healthwise. There is no extreme couponing for eating healthy or to support Fair Trade or sustainable farming but there are great ways to save which I’ve learned from my own experiences over the last couple years. People are constantly telling me how they can’t afford to eat healthy which really infuriates me because we are a household of 4 with one income and trust me I’m not rich by any means and we have learned how to pull this off. You just have to open your mind up (think outside the box if you will) and stretch that dollar bill. I do live in Dallas,TX so I have the convenience of having variety of grocery stores very near to me and I’ve learned over the years who sells what for the better price and that is how I shop. I shop at Whole Foods, Kroger and Walmart which all three carry organic foods. Our Walmart is really starting to pick up and carry more and more organic foods such as granola bars, cereals, our rice milk, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce and so on which helps our budget alot. Whole Foods has flyers inside the store that have in store coupons you can tear out and use. Kroger is carrying more and more organic produce lately which also helps in reducing our grocery costs.
    Recently my sister n law posted a photo on her Facebook profile of her extreme couponing experience. She paid $1.23 and bought 2 bottled waters, 8 packages of Ronzoni spaghetti noodles, 1 tube of Crest toothpaste and 1 package of Ivory soap. I’m sure these are items she will use but for our family not one of those items is ever on our shopping list. So I don’t see the value in it for us. I would rather take my $1.23 and buy a bag of apples. Thanks for posting your article..can’t wait for part 2.

    • Matt Jabs says

      Awesome Alicia… congrats on moving your family to a healthy diet – you should be commended and encouraged! Betsy and I had the same experience with our switch to healthy foods. We have actually found ways to buy all organic and natural foods, but actually spend less. A lot of the tricks involve buying direct from our local farmers and/or buying products in bulk from organic suppliers. Keep up the good work!

    • Tom says

      This show gets me so mad. These people spend like 40 hours a week finding this coupons — scouring the papers, the internet and everywhere else so that they can save like $300 per week. That’s a minimum wage job. It’s actually less valuable than a minimum wage job since a minimum wage job pays in cash — not low quality food products. The people who do this are seriously pathetic. If they put 1/2 the effort that they put into couponing into bettering themselves through education — their family would easily have 3 times the income. It’s just an excuse for lazy busy body housewives to stay home once now that the kids are in school.

      • Bethany says

        I agree, it really does take way more time than it’s worth. If I was going to really go full-on into couponing in the extreme way, I would not have time to garden and raise FREE food for my family, or cook decent healthy meals, and it would be back to the working mom hell we lived before. No thanks!