Parenting

How I saved $125 on groceries — without coupons

Jennifer discovers an easy, coupon-free way to cut down her family’s food expenses.

Photo: ParkerDeen/iStockphoto

I have the highest respect for couponers. My friends Alice and Melanie are the two of the most dedicated couponing moms I know. With a family of five, Melanie has her shopping down to a science, with grocery store checklists and a binder of organized coupons. Alice, a mom of two who works part-time, belongs to a large group of couponers who regularly meet to swap deals and always knows the best deals on cheese and loyalty points off the top of her head. Alice’s massive stash of dried and frozen goods has been accumulated almost completely for free, based on all of the coupons and mail-in rebate deals she’s found.

Then there’s me with a glove box full of diaper coupons that expired three years ago. I really want to coupon, but I’m not organized or disciplined enough. So, when it came to trying to reduce our family’s food expenses in light of my husband’s recent layoff, I knew couponing wasn’t going to save me. I had to shop smarter and buy less.

Here’s how I cut $120 last month from our grocery bill.

Whole wheat pasta, $4
Before you read me the Riot Act on how unhealthy processed white flour is compared to whole wheat, overall my kids eat an enormous amount of fresh fruit and vegetables and very little processed food. If faced with a box of 99-cent pasta versus $4 for whole wheat pasta, I’ll choose the 99-cent box.

Bread, $12
Without exaggerating, our family could go through a loaf of bread in two days due largely to the convenient
PB&J sandwich. I stopped buying bread to save money and when the kids beg for PB&J, we eat it on apples instead.

Pull-Ups, $25
We didn’t plan to night train our kids, but shelling out for nighttime diapers seemed to be an easy expense to cut — and it was. I’ll write next week about my experience with night training.

Cold cereal, $15
Cold cereal is a staple in our house, but to save money we have oatmeal or homemade pancakes a few times a week and, when cereal is purchased, it’s always the store brand (which we prefer, anyway).

Pasta sauce, $12
Pasta is on our menu once a week, but the sauces that are most nutritious tend to be at least $4 a jar. Instead we use a can of $1 crushed or diced tomatoes plus lots of vegetables to make our own at a fraction of the cost.

Ethnic food sauces, $12
Indian or Thai curry and stir fry meals appear on our table several times a week. Just like pasta sauces, flavourful sauces can be at least $4 per jar. Cheap cans of tomato paste or coconut milk, a generous amount of spices and our favourite cookbooks have replaced the pre-packaged sauces. I’ve been making my own naan bread for years, and it’s downright amazing when you knead roasted garlic into the dough.

Alcohol, $12
A glass of wine or beer on the weekend is an adult treat and I’ll admit it’s a tough treat to give up, but you can’t beat the savings.

Cheese, $15
My pal Alice and I joke about the enormous amount of cheese that our families eat and how we refuse to spend more than $5 on a brick of cheese. I’ve been buying less cheese for our family, opting for one brick every two weeks — and we make up the calcium and fat in full-fat milk and broccoli.

Butter, $6
Butter, sadly, was one of the first items to get cut in our house (I love the taste of butter in baking!). But it’s less expensive replacement — heart-healthy margarine — happens to make a mean ginger cookie.

Crackers, $12
Like all other processed snack foods, crackers are a convenient lunch item, but void of any true nutrition. The box of crackers we consume each week was not missed — and a few friends have successfully made their own from scratch and have shared their recipes with me.

Bonus: Less-than perfect produce
I was shocked to learn that a pal who is a local chef regularly buys the 50%-off pink stickered produce from grocery stores. I had always assumed that discount produce was like buying compost filler. But the 50%-off produce is often just as fresh as some of the produce on the shelves, just moved off the racks to make room for a new truckload of vegetables or fruits.

Looking at the list of foods that we no longer buy, you may be asking what our family eats if crackers, cereal, bread and cheese have been eliminated. I’m proud to say that I think our family eats just as well, if not better, because it is the processed foods that have been cut out. Vegetables, beans, eggs, meat and rice make up our meals now, plus our well-stocked spice cupboard and cookbook shelf means that flavour isn’t sacrificed.

What grocery expenses do you think your family could cut?