thoughts on groceries: using coupons

I still haven’t totally worked out my opinion about using coupons at the grocery store, but I am greatly inclined to agree with Trent at The Simple Dollar: using coupons often ends up costing you more money. If you base your grocery shopping around your coupons, you end up buying name-brand stuff that you didn’t really want that’s not on sale just to get $1 off, when really you could have bought the generic brand, a brand on sale, or something healthier for the same price.

I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this, but thus far I have not been able to see a huge value in using a lot of grocery coupons. I followed one blog for about a year in which the author chronicled her weekly grocery shopping trips and how much she saved at the store. The reason I have not been inspired to follow suit is that the foods she ended up with were things like soda, chips, hot dogs, and lots of other stuff that really lacks in nutrition. She saves a ton of money every month, probably spending less than $50 total on groceries, and yet I can’t bring myself to feed my family that way. Like I’ve said before, we try to eat primarily organic foods, and our meals are usually based around fruits and vegetables. I find it more useful to buy cheap organic produce from Fred Meyer, cheap healthy chicken from Costco, cheap organic beef from independent farmers, and cheap organic grain foods (pasta, bread, rice) from Costco than to hunt down coupons for the less-healthy, higher-priced equivalents of these items at other stores.

That said, I do use coupons whenever they are applicable to me. Costco doesn’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, but they do have coupon books that come out every few months and I make it a point to use those. Parents magazine has coupons now and then for 20% off diaper orders on Amazon, so I am able to stack the subscribe-and-save with the 20% off to get Seventh Generation diapers for cheap. Fred Meyer often has in-store coupons as well as stackable brand coupons for things like organic cereals and pasta sauce, so I use those when available. Usually though, I just buy according to the sales, and I think that is working out pretty well for the kinds of foods we want to eat.

The one area in which I need to start seeking out printable online grocery coupons is dairy. I would really like to begin getting raw milk, but I have been meaning to do that for a while and for now we are still just buying expensive organic grocery store milk. I know there are $1 off coupons for that if only I could remember to find them. I get cheap healthy-ish yogurt and cheese from Costco, and pasture butter from Pilgrim’s or Azure Standard, but we haven’t been eating other dairy because I haven’t been able to find good prices for it yet. Maybe I should get going on that.

To differentiate grocery coupons from all other coupons, though, I should add that I absolutely love to use coupons in other areas. We use an Entertainment book or Restaurant.com coupons whenever we go out. I have begun using Groupon – carefully, though, to make sure that I don’t buy something I wasn’t already planning to buy. I click on eBates before buying things at most online sites; so far that has given us $49.90 in cash back rewards. I click on His Place Church before buying on Amazon, as a small fraction of what I spend then goes back to the church.

But back to the subject. That’s where I am at with grocery coupons. What about you? Have you found that using grocery coupons has saved you money without compromising your nutrition?

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Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (4)  

thoughts on groceries: buying organic

I first began buying organic food about four years ago. I had read enough about pesticides at that point to be convinced that there were a few produce items we really should be purchasing sans pesticides. At that time, Keith and I were college students who spent about $125 a month on groceries, and it was only with Keith’s encouragement that it was okay to go ahead and spend a little more to buy organic apples that I was able to begin making the switch.

As I have continued to do more research, it has become more and more worth it to us to buy more items organic. Today, I’d say about 70-80% of our food is certified organic. For the most part, each item has been a specific choice, and many are now a matter of conscience. The hormones injected into commercially produced livestock, not to mention the many tumors that must be cut from beef in order to make it fit for consumption, are something we feel are hazardous to our health and to that of our developing children, so we buy beef that has been raised without hormones and preferably pasture-fed. The hormones given to dairy cows are similarly frightening, so we opt for organic yogurt, cheese, and milk whenever possible. Free-range eggs have been shown to be far more nutritious than those laid by constantly-caged chickens who are fed only grain, so we feel the additional nutritional value more than makes up for the extra cost.

Genetically modified foods are not good for the human body, so we buy organic corn and soy products. Commercially-grown fruits and vegetables have been doused in varying amounts of chemical-laden pesticides, so we buy most of these organic. The list goes on. Some products, like bananas and avocados, have very low amounts of pesticides and thus we buy the standard varieties unless the organic ones are on sale.

I mentioned that our standard grocery bill during college, before we began to buy organic food, was about $125 per month. We had shot an elk, been given half a cow, and received bread products for free, so those factors contributed a lot to keeping our costs low. Today, we spend about $270 per month on groceries, not including vitamins. Obviously, our costs have gone up a bit, but we are ingesting a much better quality of food.

Although our food bill has increased, there aren’t a lot of items that we spend more money on than we would if we bought the regular version. It’s taken a while to work out a good system, but I have found that our local Fred Meyer has a great organic section, and unlike the organic section in many other stores or even the local organic foods store, there are truly cost-saving bargains to be found in the organic section. Organic cereal is normally $4.50/box, and organic soup is normally $4.00/box, but because of sales, I always get the cereal for $2.50/box and the soup for $2.00/box, sometimes less. I spend the same price – or less! – on organic oranges, apples, carrots, and so on as a person would spend buying the standard variety. I buy sprouted grain bread for $2.25/loaf, and although I can’t get it on sale, I feel that the quality of the bread and the additional nutrition it provides more than makes up for the extra price.

I toss these numbers out there not because I want to bore you to death, but because I am trying to get across the point that it really is possible to buy organic food without doubling your food bill. Sales, coupons, hitting the right stores, and knowing which items are most important to buy organic are all part of this. Organic dairy will probably always cost a bit more, but hitting it on sale can bring it a lot closer to the range of normal dairy products. Organic meat is priced astronomically if you buy it from a grocery store, but arranging a deal through a source like eatwild.com can bring the prices as low or lower than grocery store costs.

One of the best resources I have found in my quest to lower my family’s exposure to harmful pesticides is the pocket guide provided by the Environmental Working Group: www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php. This group has done a tremendous amount of testing on fruits and vegetables, and it gives me great peace of mind to know which produce is imperative to buy organic and which foods I can get away with buying in the regular produce section.

Another reference, one that I believe is crucial for anyone interested in buying safer seafood, is the pocket guide provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium:¬†www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx. I’ve read a good bit of solid research about why our seafood is so contaminated with mercury, and as a pregnant and nursing mother, it’s a matter of conscience for me to avoid contaminating my children with mercury as much as I can. This guide also shows which waters are overfished, and thus it is a small but important way for me to vote with my dollars and support ethical fishing practices only.

Although the information in this blog post certainly doesn’t fall under the “save as much money as possible” category, I share it because there are things that are far more important than money. I feel that it is foolish to pursue any sort of material goods if we aren’t first taking care of the most important material good that has been entrusted to each one of us – our bodies! I believe that it is worth the time and effort to consider the ways in which we care for ourselves, and that in turn has led Keith and me to the conclusion that it is also worthwhile to avoid genetically modified foods and pesticide chemicals whenever possible.

Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 11:25 am  Comments (3)  

saving on healthcare costs

When I became pregnant last year with our now-eight-month-old daughter, we had no healthcare of any kind. In face, we barely had an income. We were trying to make it as UFirst agents, but we were too discouraged from personal tragedies and several moves to keep up our initial momentum. It was halfway through our pregnancy before we were even able to break even on monthly expenses. We had no idea how we would pay the prenatal and birth costs, so we did all we knew to do: we prayed. And the Lord answered! With the help of our supportive church family and other friends, we were able to pay all of the prenatal and birth costs by the time Rilla was born, including the extra ones incurred as a result of close monitoring of her hydronephrosis while still in utero.

We truly saw God work in great ways to pay Rilla’s birth costs, as well as heal her extra-large kidneys. It has continued to be a testimony to us of God’s faithfulness. After our daughter’s birth, though, we began seeking diligently how we might better prepare ourselves for our next child. Standard methods of healthcare were quickly crossed off the list. The premiums were far too high. In addition to that, we felt strongly against paying into any healthcare system which condoned and supported medical practices such as abortion, with which we strongly disagree. It simply did not seem ethical.

So we began looking into Christian healthcare options. What we found were several cost-sharing programs. These are different from standard healthcare in that they are comprised of Christians adhering to a biblical worldview and lifestyle who together share one another’s burdens by pooling their money for that month’s medical needs. After analyzing the options, we chose to go with Christian Healthcare Ministries. Although there are several other good Christian healthshare options, this is the one that most suits our needs for the lowest price.

For $85 per month, I am covered for each medical situation which totals more than $1000. This means that if we have another child within the next two years, it will have been financially worth it to join the program. And unlike many healthcare programs, this organization is supportive of my alternative birthing preferences (delivering with a certified midwife in a birthing center).

Christian Healthcare Ministries is not your typical healthcare program. For one thing, it’s not healthcare. It’s healthshare, meaning that the money is distributed each month among that month’s needs (as documented by medical forms and all that). So a person is not guaranteed to have all of their needs met if that month were particularly high in costs.¬†Additionally, needs under $1000 are not covered. I am totally responsible for things like chiropractor visits and minor needs which would require a trip to the doctor. That’s fine by me.

I really love being a part of an alternative healthcare program that is designed to help members of the body of Christ. Every month I receive the name and address of a family who is struggling, and I am asked to pray for them and send them words of encouragement. It’s a privilege to be able to do that! And it surely softens any reluctance I have to write a check for $85 when I know that it will go to pay the medical bills of another Christian family. I also receive a newsletter with general information and prayer requests for program members who have various needs which are not eligible for healthshare (such as some pre-existing conditions). Members are given the opportunity to give extra toward these needs.

An added bonus for me was two months free upon sign-up, and I will also receive a month free every time I refer a new member.

As someone who grew up without health insurance, is extremely skeptical of the current healthcare system, and earnestly desires to honor the Lord in every area, this program is the perfect solution for me. It is a way to be protected for medical costs without paying out the nose for more coverage than I ever anticipate using, and at the same time supporting other families in need who are adhering to a biblical worldview. I’m neither paying for extra coverage nor supporting medical practices with which I disagree.

We are completely satisfied with our decision for me to join this program and with every correspondence I’ve had with them to date. It is a huge relief for us to know that we will only need to contribute $1000 toward maternity expenses when we become pregnant again.

For Christians looking to cut their healthcare costs,¬†Christian Healthcare Ministries and other Christian programs like it are an excellent alternative to standard medical insurance. I highly recommend taking time to research the options and see if one of these programs may suit your family’s needs.

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 9:48 am  Comments (3)