“Cheap eats” can mean so many things.
Eating out inexpensively, eating home for cost-savings and better nutrition,
as well as utilizing every tool available to achieve both.
With restaurant.com, Groupon and countless other websites, as well as weekly circulars that now include chain offers, we can certainly bring down the often-inflated prices of chain food. Chances are you will end up with an over-sized mediocre meal loaded with calories and not offering much in the way of nutritional value.
If you wish to eat out (and who doesn’t from time to time?), why not go to your locally-owned neighborhood restaurant where you can talk to the people cooking and serving your food? You can share your dietary restrictions and rest assured that they will want to please you and your family because in addition to being in business, they are our neighbors.
Another way to achieve the goal of "cheap eats" is to use coupons when shopping and do your own cooking. Shopping for food is now a science with very accomplished practitioners referred to as "extreme couponers". My research included reading a new book by Joni Meyers-Crothers (extreme couponing expert from TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” show) and Beth Adelman, as well as speaking with Terry Bylsma, a local coupon aficionado.
Extreme Couponing, the how-to guide, encourages you to cut your grocery bill and offers wonderful tips for where and how to find coupons utilizing many websites, newspapers, magazines and even eBay. The goal of the extreme couponers is not just to cut their grocery bills, but to get items free of charge by clipping and finding where the coupons will be doubled and tripled and then parlaying them with sale products to achieve totally free products. In some cases, they even get money back from the stores!
There are coupon trading groups, clipping services, a new language created to understand the couponing lingo and very driven people studying supermarket circulars a week before they come out by utilizing blogs that publish them a week ahead. They clip every coupon, even those they will not use because they can trade them or get the free item and donate it to charity. If offers expire, there is still a purpose for them – they clip and send to military families because the expiration dates are extended by six months on military bases. Log onto www.coupsfortroops.com or contact your local American Legions for more information.
The advice given is sound and you really can save an astonishing amount of money, but make no mistake about the time it takes: it is time-consuming and tedious, but efficiency can be mastered with good organizational skills and a willingness to learn this new “science”.
Local coupon aficionado
Q&A with Terry Bylsma
How does a novice begin doing couponing on a larger-than-normal scale?
There are many resources available for anyone who wants to start saving money with coupons. I tell my friends to start with their grocery list – companies will often have coupons posted on their websites and facebook pages that can be printed. There are also several websites that offer couponing tutorials and have a lot of the "match-up" leg work done for you. They tell you what coupons go with which items that are currently on sale at stores in your area. Most even direct you to the websites where you can print coupons for the products on sale.
What tools do you recommend to stay organized?
I prefer to use standard coupon organizers. I have a file box with the weekly newspaper coupon inserts, and then the ones I have clipped will go into the smaller organizers that I bring into the store with me. I know many people like to use the binders, but I don’t like them. Once you get the hang of couponing, you will find an organizing method that will work best for you.
Where is the best place (in your opinion) to get coupons?
I get a lot of my coupons from the Sunday paper. I have two copies delivered to me, and if there are a lot of good coupons I can use, I might go out and purchase more papers. The value of the savings has to justify the cost of buying more papers though. I also use the coupons.com app on my phone, and the various coupon websites.
How much of your couponing is done on the computer? How many sites do you visit?
I rely on the computer to check prices on certain items that I might come across a coupon for. The websites for the stores that offer home deliveries are a great way to check prices and plan out your grocery lists. I like to use the couponmom.com, coupondivas.com and livingrichwithcoupons.com site to check out the weekly coupon "match-ups". It’s amazing how many sites out there already do most of the work for you. I just need to come up with the coupons, but they even direct you to where to find the printable coupons.
Is this something that can be done on a weekly, monthly basis or bi-monthly basis?
Yes! Anytime that you can set aside to coupon will help save you money. I have two young children at home and I run my own business, so the time I have to use for couponing is very limited, but I make it work.
What if you shop primarily in the produce section – there never seems to be coupons for that section of the store.
You have to look a little harder sometimes! There are a bunch of big name produce companies that offer coupons, as well as organic produce companies. Check the brands your local market offers and then check the Internet for coupons or even call the companies to see if they can mail you coupons.
Do you have any recommendations for veggies and fruit?
It’s always great to plant your own garden in the spring if you can. I think that is always the best deal. I also believe in supporting local and shopping farmers markets and produce stands. We tend to shop the “in season” produce – the item the stores are offering really low prices on. There are also a lot of great “can sales” offered by local grocery stores where you can stock up on canned veggies and fruit, which is always a great way to get through the winter months. There are also lots of coupons you can get for frozen produce.
How do you know if the coupon is worth it or not?
If it’s for an item you normally use and purchase, then any savings would be worth it, right?
What does a meal look like in your home?
My husband and I like to make sure we make balanced, nutritious meals for our family and we do a lot of our meal planning together. We try to have a protein, a starch and a vegetable at every meal. I am also in the business of helping other families prepare healthy, budget-friendly recipes, so that always comes into play when making a meal. We gave up fast food for our 2012 New Year’s Resolution and it’s something we don’t plan on allowing back in. Planning meals ahead of time is also a good thing to incorporate with coupons. If chicken is on sale in the upcoming weeks, chances are we’re eating chicken.
How much of the normal meal is free?
Anywhere between 60-100%.
Are the local stores cooperative?
I definitely think the local stores are cooperative. As long as you respect the stores’ policies and are courteous to the other customers in the store, you will always be treated well.
Terry Bylsma is a stay-at-home mom and Independent Sales Director for The Pampered Chef. For more information visit www.pamperedchef.biz/terryt
15 ways to eat healthy on a budget
- Buy in bulk
- Plan your meals for the week and shop for the ingredients
- Use dried herbs instead of fresh, which are much more expensive. Or, grow your own during the summer.
- Stay clear of pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Buy them whole and cut them yourself.
- Make a double batch and freeze it for another time.
- Pack a lunch instead of buying.
- Use cash, not debit, which will keep you on a budget.
- Never shop when you’re hungry.
- Buy generic when possible.
- The best bargains are often on the lowest shelf.
- Go meatless once a week or more.
- Make your own stocks and broths and freeze them. This allows you to control the salt and they are less expensive then the cans and cartons.
- Get creative with your leftovers – one piece of meat can be a main meal, then a pot pie or added into a soup.
- If you don’t use your fresh vegetables fast enough, roast them or flash freeze them for stews and soups.
- Invest in a Cryovac to be able to add freezer life to your fruits, veggies, meats and fish.
Look for coupons in magazines as well as newspapers. Magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day usually have them, but there is also a magazine called All You that the author of Extreme Couponing highly recommends.
- If you ever buy coupons (like on eBay) and feel they are fraudulent, you can call the Coupon Information Center at 703.684.5307 to get validity information.
- Klip2Save.com is a highly-used and appreciated clipping service that is often recommended by the experts.
- Coupon databases are apparently plentiful, but the one recommended is being maintained by a website called Deal Seeking Mom.
- Most products go on sale every 8 to 12 weeks. You need to buy the products when they are on sale, then use the coupon to make the maximum impact….free. Clip those coupons frequently, but hold for sales!
- Visit manufacturer’s websites to see if the company is offering coupon/offers that you may not find any other place.
- You can often print right from blogs as with the authors’ blog www.freetastesgood.com.
- Always organize your “shop” before heading to the store and stick to your plan.
- Ask for rain checks and bring them with you along with your coupons so you never forget the items that the markets ran out of.
- Give away what you do not wish to stockpile. It helps the world and offers you an opportunity to give to charity or a family on a budget that may not be able to give otherwise.
OOP: out of pocket or the amount you have to pay
MIR: mail-in rebate
SCR: single check rebate
MC or MQ: manufacturer’s coupon
IP: Internet printable
NED: no expiration date
DND: do not double
DNT: do not triple
BOGO: buy one get one
FAR: free after rebate
TMF: try my offer
IVC: instant value coupons
and last but not least
TMI…I am exhausted!