27 May, 2011
Clippy, clippy!Comments : 1 Posted in : Food Finance, Tools & Resources on by : Lauri Tags: cheap food, extreme couponing, food finance, food shopping, groceries, kitchen supplies, take stock
I watched my first episodes on TLC’s Extreme Couponing last night. (I love On Demand!) These women (all the stars are female, so far) are amazing: we saw grocery bills of $1200 go down to almost nothing, stockpiles of food that take over the house, and mountains of newspaper inserts become organized stacks of ‘money’ that are strategically doubled, tripled and leveraged to save families a fortune. I was equally impressed by the amount of time spent on this endeavor: it’s close to a full-time job, but according to their figures, it also “saves” as much as a full-time salary each year.
I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the concept: I’ve done my share of coupon-clipping in my day, and put coupons to good use now. An acquaintance of mine (a fellow singer) founded and runs the first coupon database, Teri’s List, which, although there are now several competitors, is still one of the most successful ventures of its kind, and has thousands of followers all over the US. I recently learned that my own brother-in-law is one of her biggest fans, and saves his family of six a small fortune by planning ahead, making smart use of deals and buying non-perishables in bulk. It’s really quite amazing, and I’m cheering them on.
For households of one or two, this sort of stockpiling may not be a good fit, and a more moderate view may work better. What I saw on the show, and what I’ve observed in my own coupon circulars, is that corporate America focuses coupon marketing on food and items that may only seem like necessities: they use coupons to promote lots of prepared meals, processed snacks, and household and personal items that aren’t eco-friendly. (Does anyone need 100 canisters of non-biodegradable cleaning wipes? Why is buying 62 bottles of mustard a good thing?) These couponers are so focused on the savings that they don’t seem so see the overall impact on their diets and community. The couple with a chip stash to feed 800 people was no less than shocking (and a little nauseating).
Don’t get me wrong: I think this approach to purchasing is smart, and for items like Cheerios, toothpaste and laundry detergent, the savings are enough that they can make a real difference in just about everyone’s lives. Furthermore, it’s possible to make a real impact on behalf of others by shopping this way: several stars coupon so they can make large donations to local food banks, overseas troops, or to support friends and family. But there may be a way to approach this process that will save a lot but provide higher nutritional content, reducing the dependence on mass-produced foods and items that supposedly offer convenience over environmental responsibility. It seems very telling that many of the couponers on the shows are considerably overweight, and probably need to change their lifestyles and food choices beyond what’s available through coupons. As a struggling fattie myself, I sympathize, and see the catch-22.
So, what if Big Agra started offering more promotions for fresh produce? What if neighbors and co-workers got together and supported local farmers through services like Farm Fresh to You? What if we could get deals on simple things like eggs and oatmeal, rather than fancy sugared cereals that have half the nutritional value and many times the preservatives? What would it take for grocery stores to refocus their marketing on healthy food, rather than junk cuisine? It would be harder, yes. But most worthwhile endeavors are more difficult than the status quo.
As you can see, I have strong opinions about this, and I’m sure others do, too. We’ll talk more about the real economics of food shopping in future posts. I encourage you to check out www.thegrocerygame.com and see what it can do for you. Watch Extreme Couponing and see how these clever shoppers are working their magic. But in the meantime, I’d love to see an episode about how to use coupons to maintain a fresh food kitchen, and how that affects the overall budget — lower medical bills, less absenteeism at work, a fuller life… How’s that for a challenge, TLC?
To be fair, I’m challenging myself, as well: For the month of June, I’ll clip coupons and see what’s available. It will be only a small cross-section of the coupon year, of course, but it might offer us a snapshot.
So, who wants to join me? Are you ready to clip, plan and save on things you’ll need now and in the future? Please follow us on Facebook and share your ideas!