Day 4 — only one more batch of lentils to go!

November 30th

Michelle's coupon haul

Michelle, a girlfriend from my knitting guild, emailed me yesterday with this photo. This is what she was able to purchase yesterday for $16.50 by watching the food ads and using coupons.
All that food for $3 less than what I spent for my weekly diet. Can you believe that? I was so impressed. Here is what she had to say when I asked her for the details:
“It took two different stores, but that is all I spent. You definitely have to use coupons to make this worthwhile and watch the ads for specials, but I saved about $40 today and only spent $16.

2 gallons of milk
Raisin Bran
3 Ragu
3 Country Crock
2 Wishbone dressings
2 Best Food mayo
5 green apples
big bunch of bananas
3 Hamburger/Tuna helpers
1 4 pk of Charmin
6 pk of Ramen
I’m donating the Ragu and Wishbone, nobody in my family likes either brand, but they were free so I couldn’t pass up giving to a good cause.”

She uses CouponSense and a few other coupon web sites to make this work. Again, another reminder of how you can save money on food if you want to. And no, I’m not suggesting most people on food stamps have the time for this sort of thing, but I think it is another interesting side to the food/budget topic. Again, it is putting my $4 morning bagel habit into perspective.


Posted in
Journal, Public Health
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43 Responses

  1. i love that you are doing this project! reminds me of that show “30 Days” with Morgan Spurlock – trying out different lifestyles for 30 days at a time. in the past few years i have become more interested in eating less-processed foods so I make my own bread, pasta, yogurt, etc. and i have found that it saves me quite a bit of $$ and tastes better too. true, a lot of people don’t have the time but if starvation is an actual possibility, finding the time probably wouldn’t seem so hard. in any case, i am enjoying your posts about this and ideas on stretching a food budget – thanks~

  2. Hmmmm, it’s the cost vs. nutrition conundrum again! While ramen noodles and margarine are quite cheap, they aren’t very healthy or nutritious. Both are super processed and full of sodium or trans-fats. (And I truly mean no offense to your friend! I think it’s great that she uses coupons – I am a big fan.)

    I just hate how the “cheapest” foods are the worst for you. A bag of white rice is usually going to be cheaper than a bag of brown rice, but you always get more nutritional bang for your buck, so to speak, with the brown.

    (I put “cheapest” in quotes because if there is the option of going to a health food store where they sell in bulk you can get cereal, rice, beans, etc for way cheaper per pound than any on-sale pre-packaged items. But I realize that not everyone has that choice.)

    Anyway, I just wish there were better coupons out there for the good stuff!

  3. CouponSense is not a free program and it requires that you subscribe to AZ Republic. Just a tid bit that may not make it affordable to someone who could really use it. You also need internet access in order to be able to use it.

  4. I always admire people when they can buy a lot of stuff and use coupons to get a huge discount. But I have a problem with some of the shows I’ve seen regarding this. You know, I’m not trying to be skeptical or anything but some of the “good deals” aren’t good deals if you can’t make a meal out of them. If I’m on a budget (and with 6 kids I usually am), 3 containers of Country Crock or 2 jars of mayonaise (for example) aren’t going to feed my family. Even if they are a good price.

    On TV I see these people buying and storing (in a separate room) all of their purchases. How on earth can they really use 45 boxes of one thing? (And, from what I’ve seen on TV, they aren’t always food items, like aluminum foil.) Some of it seems like a waste of money, unless it is being stored via food storage (a year’s supply) and rotated regularly.

  5. Saving $ using coupons and specials definitely takes patience and discipline. The closest I come to that is choosing the discounted brand, or the one “on special” as my mom would say, when I’m at the store and using my store (Safeway) card to get the discount. I also make sure that I get my $.03 discount for each of my hated cloth bags (hated by them, not me.) It may only be $.03, but I think if other people see me getting a discount, albeit a small one, they might be encouraged to do the same.

    BTW, I came across this episode of Unwrapped on the Food network the other night and was horrified. Entitled, “Cheap Eats”, it was all about cheap foods in America, how they’re made, what they’re made of (ew, ew, ew) and where you can go to find cheap food. Let me just say I was ashamed, grossed out, discouraged and mad the whole time I watched it.

  6. I am completely uninformed about the hunger situation here in Italy, but after reading several comments about how stores in the States give you refunds when you have cloth bags, I keep thinking about Italy, where you have to pay 5 euro cents per plastic bag and there aren’t any baggers, you have to haul a** to get the stuff in your bags as the cashier basically throws it all down at you. Groceries in Rome are insanely expensive but in the supermarkets we have far less choice than in the States, which probably cuts down on the junk food purchases. Plus culturally people don’t tend to buy a lot of junk or snack. I don’t know if there’s a food stamp program but probably…now I am curious. Here everyone says that if you shop at the outdoor markets you can save money, but that involves skill and dedication as well because if the merchants don’t know you, they won’t give you the “good stuff” that they save only for their best customers.

  7. I get so jealous when I see all these photos of big bunches of inexpensive bananas. In Australia at the moment, bananas cost around $10 USD per kilo, thanks to a cyclone that wiped out the crops last year.

  8. Oh, wow, Kelli! This is a fascinating report. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  9. that is amazing. but, you have to be so on top of things to catch all the sales, all the coupons. imagine trying to concentrate on all that (really, a part or full time job) on few calories.

  10. OK, so I’m looking at that food wondering what all that mayo and margerine is for… eeeeeeeeeeew. That’s still an amazing haul.

  11. OK, out of your friends haul, we would only eat the apples and bananas and drink the milk. We might use the Ragu and of course, who can so no to cheap toilet paper. But the rest? Not stuff we’d consider buying.

    I’ve posted a photo today on my blog of the vegetables we get in our organic veg bag every week. If you’re interested take a look 🙂

  12. Michelle December 1, 2006

    I’m Michelle, the one using CouponSense, you’re right, this is definitely not a free service. My neighbor and I split the cost of the service. I do get extra Sunday newspapers to get extra coupon packets, but I was going to cancel the services, but the newspaper was actually more for the regular 7day service. Everyone is right, this is not healthy eating and it is certainly not what I eat most of the time. Each week it is different things that I stock up on. I haven’t paid for toothpaste, deodarant, shampoo or tampons/pads since I started this. this report also didn’t include what I spent at Sunflower market ($20) to get the veggies that we eat all day long.

    BTW, I have a small pantry so there is no way I could store 45 boxes of cereal like some people do. I know my neighbor has about 20 boxes in her pantry right now, but her kids will snack on it after school and their friends will also. Also, when some of the cereal is on sale and there are coupons that you can use you can get it for less than $.75 a box.

    Great comments everyone and I’m going to look into getting the organic veggies each week. I know one of the farms in Queen Creek offers it but didn’t have any openings until after February.


  13. Holy cow! That’s amazing that she got so much for so little! Very very impressive.

  14. A bargain is only a bargain if you use it. I do like the idea of donating food that your family might not eat that you are able to get for free.

    I think it is hard to make meals that are nutritious and balanced and don’t cost a ton. I don’t have a huge budget for food but it is by no means as hard as it would be to do on food stamps.

    Thanks for getting us thinking Kelli!

  15. Sarah HB December 1, 2006

    Michelle is a bargain shopper!

    We always eat what is on sale and buy based on what is one sale.

  16. i think that michelle got a great amount of stuff for the lil amount of money she spent.

    way to go michelle.

    as someone who has paid attention to coupons and will continue to do so, i have to admit that it is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. but i try to tell myself that i am saving a lil bit of money.

    i read in a magazine one time that a couple made a game outta it and all the money they saved from coupons, they put in their savings acct. and at the end of the year, they used the money for a vacation or something. i would like to try the same thing. not for a vacation but to just stash it in savings and then see what i have at the end of the year.

    can’t wait to see what you come up with next week. and again, i am appalled at the amount of money you have to make to qualify for food stamps. less than 16k????? that is obsurd.

    i really should start looking at what my state’s guidelines are. i know that my household makes too much money and i def. don’t think that i need food stamps when there are others out there that need it more than me, but i would still like to be a lil more educated.

    thanks for pushing me in that direction kelli!

    oh, and i forgot to tell ya earlier in the email that i got my issue of real simple and everytime i pick it up to continue where i left off, i read your “greatest gift” and think, i “know” this fab-boo girl 🙂 your dad sounds like the greatest.

  17. LitliGirL December 8, 2006

    I’m Batsy,
    from Arabia,
    and I’m 19 y.o

    Hi, Girl and Boy
    I’ve studied English sinse this Spring .
    It’s Really difficult
    I want like to meet boys and practisice My English with them.

    Thank You

  18. anne marie December 8, 2006

    not every grocery store does the double coupon thing and not every one can afford to buy newspapers just for the coupons.

    i used to live in a low income neighborhood outside of boston, and most of my neighbors almost always shopped at tiny groceries they could walk to- i don’t even know if these places took coupons.

    time out for happy memories- i loved the grocer across the street from my apartment- it was a dominican store, and they would always go in the back and get the guy who spoke english to come out and help me whenever i went in. they taught me how to cook plantains, which i never would have bought if they hadn’t talked me into it. now fried plantains are one of my absolute favorite foods.

    anyway, i know not everyone on food stamps is in an urban environment, but i imagine the transportation problem would affect just about anyone whose income is low. when you don’t have a car or have one you can’t keep in repairs, full of gas, or registered and insured you might not venture too far from home, and there might not be a big fancy grocery store close to home. i’ve been there, and it wasn’t too long ago.

    for a short time when i was out of work i clipped coupons, but i don’t have the time for it- either to clip and organize the coupons or to spend the extra time in the store doing the math of which option is cheaper- w/ coupon, sale brand and no coupon, generic or store brand, etc.

    about the lentils- i’ve been a vegetarian since childhood, and a surprisingly tasty lentil meal is to take a taco kit and substitute lentils for the beef. just cook the lentils (about a cup and a half dry is the right amount) in water, drain them and then sautee a chopped onion in some oil, add back the lentils, taco seasoning and water (the box will tell you how much water.) and let it cook down.

    over the years i’ve made this for probably dozens of people (very few of them vegetarians) and everyone loves it.

    i’ve also tried making it w/ pinto beans and black beans but it’s no good- you have to use lentils if you’re using the taco seasoning packet.

    first time here- love the site- i came here via the link from andrew sullivan’s the daily dish site. i’ll definitely be back.


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