There’s a seamy underside to almost every Coupon Queen story you read or see on television. First of all, to be successful at extreme couponing, the consumer has to shop on the brand name playing board. Almost without exception, that means buying highly processed foods that promise time savings by enhancing basic foodstuffs with unneeded vitamins, processing, stabilizers, and chemical preservatives. What’s more, along with those unpronounceable ingredients, the coupon-driven shopper pays for radio, online, television, and print advertising, not to mention package art and design. A simple homemade dish of brown rice, shredded carrots, onions, parsley, and seasonings that costs pennies per serving almost quadruples in price once the food industry works its magic on the basic recipe.
Still another downside to the extreme couponing is the potential for waste. While some might envy Bargain Gal’s filled-to-the-brim pantry closets, discerning household managers will question how much money this super shopper can possibly be saving when so much of her money is tied up in toilet paper and canned soup. Sure, having discount paper products on hand can be comforting, but after a point, how many shaver refills, bars of soap, cans of tomato sauce, and boxes of packaged cereal does one family really need? And don’t forget that those mega-pantries have to be carefully managed. Expiration dates are no joke, nor are the myriad of bugs and other vermin that creep their way into stored baked goods, cereals, and grains. In short, buying ahead and having things on hand is no insurance whatsoever that so-called bargain foodstuffs will get used before they’re past their prime − if ever.
If fact, when it comes to getting the most for your food dollar, the most single most important thing you can do is use what you buy. The savings from extreme couponing and stockpiling staples that never see the light of day evaporates when these items languish forgotten on some shelf. To eliminate waste, there’s no substitute for meal planning and then shopping the plan. Here are six tips that will put you back in charge of your food dollar.
Tip 1: Plan your meals. One of the best strategies for reducing waste is to build your weekly meal (or cook ahead) plan around shared ingredients and then buy only what those recipes require.
Tip 2: Exercise portion control. No, that doesn’t mean putting yourself or your family on a diet. By portioning servings of dishes everyone enjoys will eat, you reduce the likelihood that there will be leftovers. And that’s a good thing. Side dishes of fresh or cooked vegetables, fruits, or starches (including breads and rolls) can be used to round out any meal so no one need go hungry. Leftovers of those simple sides can be quick-frozen or added to a weekly soup or casserole.
Tip 3: Master catch-all cooking techniques. Soup, stir fry dishes, and casseroles all fall into the “catch-all” category and are among the frugal cook’s very best friends. Making any of these dishes at week’s end can be quick and easy with frozen or store-bought soup bases; leftover veggies, meats, and starches; and anything fresh that’s left in the refrigerator crisper.
Tip 4: Buy basic foods. When you plan meals (and use recipes), you’re no longer at the mercy of costly pre-made or brand-name products. Getting back to basics also protects you from unwanted chemical additives or other things that can compromise you or your family’s health. Buying basic foods will also save you money. Switching from prepared anything to home-cooked everything will completely transform your shopping strategy: You’ll quickly become a “destination shopper” who’s not going to be led astray by in-store specials or other marketing ploys that can derail your meal management plan.
Tip 5: Follow the seasons. Produce has its season, as does poultry, meat, and fish. Depending on where you live, your access to fresh foods is likely to change during the course of the year. Leafy green lettuces and sun-ripened tomatoes are always priced at a premium when icy winds blow and snow crunches under your feet. So plan your meals around the season’s very best offerings, bumper crops, and prices and then get creative by switching out those salad tomatoes and cukes with fall’s best apples, pears, and oven-roasted root vegetables.
Tip 6: Shop local. Pick-your-own pricing lets savvy shoppers leverage their food budgets to the max. Although locally grown produce usually shadows supermarket pricing pretty closely, being able to bring fresh-from-the-garden fruits, vegetables, and berries to your family’s table makes supporting local farmers well worth it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: