the great food experiment, part 2

(part 1 can be found here)In addition to compiling my master food list and comparing prices, I also wanted to see how long it would take me to find coupons (and see if they would really save me any money given we buy most of our groceries at Costco). I also learned some interesting things about the theory behind couponing. I've always thought "couponers" were crazy...and some of them are.  I mean, why would you buy something just because you can get it for practically free, if you don't need it?  Well, there are non-crazy couponers out there who share their theories and methods. Here are some basic principles: Stockpile: The idea behind the stockpile is kind of like shopping at Costco.  If something you need and use regularly goes on sale (or you have a coupon), buy more than one.  Be wary of expiration dates, because if you aren't going to use it before it expires, it's a waste. Sales: Don't buy things that aren't on sale (or that you don't have a coupon for).  If you wait long enough, the things you need will eventually go on sale.  Now, I'm not one to sacrifice my food preferences, nor am I desperate to save that much money.  However, this idea is pretty simple and makes sense.  The only example of this that I do follow (or at least that I can think of at the moment) is in regards to asparagus.  Normally, asparagus costs upwards of $4/lb (especially in the winter).  I love asparagus, but I don't love it for that price.  If it goes on sale for less than $2/lb...I buy it and eat a lot of it.  The same idea can be applied to everything.  Especially if you have a good stockpile.  You can live on your stock of canned (or frozen) veggies, pasta, rice, etc. when the fresh produce you need is too expensive to buy. Seasonal sales: Things go on sale in seasons.  Sounds simple, but I never really thought about it that way.  During the holidays, baking supplies go on sale.  In the summer canned foods and barbecue sauce are items that are often on sale.  When "seasonal" items go on sale, stock up. Brands: You will save more money if you generally don't care what brand of something you buy.  If you use a lot of toothpaste, but you only use Crest, you will only save money when (and if) Crest goes on sale.  However, if you don't care what brand you use, chances are there is always some toothpaste on sale, so you can keep an eye on what is the best deal and stock up on whatever will save you the most money. Now, if you live in what I like to refer to as "the real world" (i.e. not Alaska), couponing is much easier.  The Sunday papers in "the real world" have at least twice as many coupons as our Sunday papers.  There are also more than two choices for grocery stores and you probably have a wider brand variety available to you.  We...live in a coupon wasteland. Apparently stores in "the real world" often offer double or triple coupon days (as in, they will double or triple the value of your coupons)...yeah, not here. After doing much reading, I wanted to see how long it would take me to find coupons or deals.  The answer was, not long.  Thanks to the internet (because I don't get the paper), I was able to look at the weekly ads for both Fred Meyer and Target online.  Fred Meyer won't let you print their store coupons, but you can pick up the actual ad with the coupons in it when you get to the store.  If you've already looked at the ad, you know what coupons are available and what's on sale.  Same with Target (although I think you might be able to print most of their coupons online...they had nothing useful this week so I didn't try very hard).  Fred Meyer also has manufacturer coupons online, which you can add to your Fred Meyer rewards card so you don't even need to remember to bring your coupon with you! So, in less than 45 minutes, I was able to determine what I would buy at Fred Meyer instead of at Costco. Why would I buy things from Fred Meyer that I could get in massive quantities at Costco?  Because sometimes with a sale and/or a coupon...it's cheaper (or I don't need 18 gallons of shredded cheese, but I like to have shredded cheese on hand).  For example, this week at Fred's, Fred Meyer brand cereal is 3 for $5 with a coupon.  The boxes range in size from 11.5oz to 14oz.  So I did a little calculating and determined that if you buy boxes that are 12oz or greater, it's cheaper than buying cereal at Costco. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but it wasn't because I had my trusty list (as discussed in part 1), so I already had the price per oz at Costco. Whew!  Are you lost or bored yet? So, my money saving food plan is to keep my food price list in my purse so I can determine if I'm getting the best deal possible.  I will also spend less than 30 minutes each week looking at ads online so I will know if I should buy something at Fred's or Target rather than Costco. Update: This blog post is about "minimalist couponing," which is pretty much what I've described here (only she does a way better job explaining things. Thanks Angela @ The Coupon Project