Saturday, April 15, 2006

2382 Dance with the one who brought you

is a charming idiom meaning you may have to do some payback from time to time to keep a job, a friend, an appointment to a board, an account, or your reputation. It's about a type of loyalty with your fingers crossed behind your back (or his back).

I have a hobby blog called In the Beginning which is about premier[e] or first issues of magazines, journals and serials. Today I was looking through my newest purchase which is Lily; beautiful living through faith, Spring 2006 (I can't find a link to this title). It is published by Meredith Inc., the publishing giant whose best known title is Better Homes and Gardens. I haven't finished looking through it, but the first issue is lovely. Knowing Meredith, we can look forward to a huge increase in advertising content, which for BHG must be about 70%.

My gripe is simple: Ellie Kay writes a column on finances, and the question she is responding to is about how to save money on food. According to the question, this family of four spends $700 a month on food. So how does Ellie Kay respond? She claims her family saved more than $8,000 last year on food and household goods by using, 1) manufacturers' coupons, 2) double coupons, 3) store coupons, 4) loss leaders, 5) price comps, 6) sales and clearances, and 7) comparison shopping.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. She's dancing with the guy who brung her. The advertisers. Food companies are not in business to give away their products, but she knows that most American shoppers believe they are. She knows that food companies are heavy advertisers in Meredith's publications. I'll give her #4 and #6, but #5 and #7 just take too much time. Either she's misplaced a digit, or she has a huge family of 24 children, because $8,000 is more than I spend on food in a year. All coupons are just advertising and they either introduce a new product or cover up a price increase. The time it takes to organize and combine them could be more effectively used by just popping that potato (twenty cents a pound) into the microwave, rather than "saving" twenty-five cents on a prepackaged or frozen item that figures out at about $5.00/lb.

She's wrong for these 10 reasons and maybe more. To reduce your food bill without coupons:

    1) contribute your own labor where ever possible. It's probably faster to prepare fresh broccoli and carrots than to use the frozen. If you used prepackaged greens for salads (wash very carefully) you can mix with those that are fresh.

    2) Shop the walls (or where ever the produce and dairy and meat are displayed). I often buy marked down meat if it isn't past the due date. You have to be really careful about reduced fruits and vegetables, but for applesauce or pie, there's no problem with a soft apple.

    3) Don't buy in huge quantity sizes, especially if you are overweight. Large sizes often are not cheaper per ounce, they'll go stale or past the due date, and you'll be tempted to "just clean up this last bit." I've never seen a cupboard or pantry of an overweight woman that wasn't loaded with "giant economy" sizes.

    4) Prepared snacks are extremely expensive per ounce and are loaded with all the calories, salt and fat your family doesn't need--switch to homemade or popcorn, or sliced fresh fruits and vegetables. But if you must have them, try the dollar brands or some of Trader Joe's which cost about half and actually taste better. If you want to cut the coupon habit and calories, just stop buying high salt, high sugar snacks. Roust your kids from the computer and teach them to spread some peanut butter on a cracker. It's cheaper. Don't take the kids shopping if you can help it, and definitely don't keep them quiet or entertained in the store or car by handing them a snack.

    5) Learn which house brands are good at about half the price and don't require any coupons for "savings." Do you really care if a peach is a bit ragged or the beans aren't uniform size?

    6) Loss leaders are just that--they are sold at a loss to bring you into the store. But don't waste gas at $2.80/gal driving from store to store to find them. Where I shop, milk and orange juice are almost always loss leaders, but I shop there because they don't have a loyalty card program, which also raises prices.

    7) Look carefully at what you buy in the name of "food." If you also buy a lot of Health and Beauty and cleaning products (in Ohio we call them taxables since food isn't taxed), at least recognize that you don't eat them. Perhaps a trip to a different type of store would be worthwhile. Because I shop at Meijer's I also buy most household taxables there.

    8) Read the labels. Refuse to buy water and fake, plastic food. If you look at anything "low fat" or "low calorie," water may be the first or second ingredient, and you'll pay more. Buy the regular, and add water at home. I add a little milk to creamy salad dressing when the bottle is low, and never notice a taste change. Don't buy fake cheese (cheese food?--yuk) or low calorie cheese. Such a waste of flavor and money. This fake food is heavily promoted with coupons.

    9) Don't be suckered with brand differentiation or repackaging coupons. Have you ever tried to buy a plain old Ritz cracker? Ridiculous. Sort through 12 kinds of Ritz to find what you want.

    10) I do buy prepared and frozen food, and I've found Trader Joe's to have the best and most reasonably priced in these categories. I can buy things that would be too expensive or wasteful to buy for just 2 people, or would lose nutritional value before we could use it up. But I never use a coupon unless the manufacturer has attached it to the package, and I already had intended to buy it.


Just D said...

I have long struggled with a grocery budget. We have a kid with special dietary needs and I think there is a huge problem when it costs more to eat healthy whole foods than it does to eat nasty artificial or substandard quality. I also work with low income families and in order to survive on $300 a month food budget, they eat pure crap. I'd love to discuss this more, but first I have to go lower my blood pressure with deep breaths...

Joan said...

Absolutely fantastic post, Norma! Many (dare I say "most") people are so absorbed in their "busyness" that they don't take care of their business. They have bought the fiction that they don't have time to cook and that families can eat nutritiously right out of packages. The truth is that grilling a chicken breast and a few slices of fresh potato and microwaving a handful of fresh broccoli is just as quick, tastes better, and has more nutrition than a fast-food meal or some frozen "time-saver" concoction.

Irish Church Lady :) said...

Good post! I agree about the coupons. Came from your Oct 19 TT.

PJ said...

I've never done couponing ...and IF we eat at home and not out, I do cook from Scratch. But I need to rethink some things. Thanks for the tips.