I used to coupon with the best of them, even once hauling in over $40 in free yoghurt over the course of a Shopper's Food Warehouse double/triple couponing event (yes, we were eating free yoghurt for weeks). It was routine for me to pay pennies on the dollar for my breakfast cereal, yoghurts, condiments, snack foods, and so on.
But now, I'm discovering that almost all of the foods that I'm eating - fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, full-fat organic dairy products, seafood, animal protein like poultry, pork, and beef, and nuts (excluding peanuts) - have little-to-no coupon offerings. That's not to say no couponing exists for these categories; it's just that manufacturer coupons for such things are rarely offered, and I think that this is because whole roasting chickens are not exactly something that a manufacturer yearns to incentivize. Why? What is more profitable for a manufacturer: getting me initially hooked and then paying retail on nonperishable toastable breakfast pastries, or a perishable, minimally processed hunk'o'poultry?
*Sigh* So our food budget has been going through a few spasms. By no means am I planning on giving up my current eating lifestyle; I've gained too much energy and lost too much baby weight to go back to processed carbs, which just seem to wreak havoc on my system. We have also saved a significant amount of money in that we are no longer buying a lot of snack food and soda. But I am definitely going to have to get a lot more creative if this lifestyle will become a sustainable line item in our budget.
So here is my game plan for the future as I try to get our food budget lean:
- Buy and freeze animal protein at a discount, when possible. This is a tactic that I've been using for years, anyway. For me, the cheapest that animal protein gets gets is omega-3 organic eggs (I buy these in bulk at Sam's Club) and Nature's Promise whole chickens (~$1.89/lb. retail at Giant).
- Find the few coupons out there that enable whole foods eating: Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen coupons, produce coupons (though rare they still exist), organic dairy coupons via Mambo Sprouts. If I can apply $1 coupons during doubling, I could get a deep discount on bags of Cascadian Farms frozen fruits or veggies, or free or near-free Muir Glen canned tomato products. Other items that I could still coupon would be coconut milk, nuts (excluding peanuts), dried (no-sugar-added) fruits, and Eggland's Best eggs.
- Research price points at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's on organic dairy and other items. Though I don't live all that near to either one of these, my parents and inlaws do, and we see each other every weekend or so. Though WF and TJ's are often maligned for their expense, the fact is that their organic dairy prices are competitive or even well below those of organic dairy as sold at mainstream chains like Giant. Also, if you buy a case of anything at Whole Foods, you get a 10% discount. So, I could probably save up to about 20% or more by buying my organic dairy products from Whole Foods. My new favorite grassfed butter - Kerrygold - is $2.69/pack at TJ's, but $3.99/pack at Giant! That's a huge difference, especially for something that keeps as well as butter does. (Also, on a related note, Bloom has some of the cheapest half-gallons of organic milk out there, at $2.99/ea.)
Whole Foods' produce is often competitive as well. This past Friday, for example, they were doing BOGO on $5.99 watermelons, making them about $3/ea., cheaper than Giant has ever offered this summer!
- Think seafood. I'm slowly gaining an appreciation of price points for fish, scallops, shrimp, and so on. The more I monitor prices on these, the more I become aware of when a truly great sale price comes up in a weekly ad, so I can take advantage. Bummer, though, that most of Giant's seafood is thawed; you're not supposed to refreeze seafood or animal protein that has been already frozen! So while it's often true that I can't stock up for the freezer, I can plan to make a couple of meals in a week from a thawed well-priced seafood product that is on sale.
- Buy produce on sale. Again, a tactic that I've been using for years. I think that, more than ever, we will be eating seasonally in conjunction with what's fresh and on sale.
- Eye toward next year's produce. I'm mulling options to make produce even more affordable for us - maybe a CSA, maybe some square-food gardening (as many frugal bloggers do), or maybe a bit of both. Of course, the plants by my kitchen sink are about 2% alive right now, so a venture in home gardening may take a few seasons before I've got a workable harvest. ;-)
- Source specialty items from Amazon via monthly deals and Subscribe and Save. This way, I can usually save 25, 30, even 40 percent if I watch the deals carefully. (And by specialty items, I mean things such as coconut oil, which is much cheaper from Amazon than from Giant.)