Thursday, April 15, 2010

To use Coupons or Not - That is the Question - With lots of stories about Home Economics

Home from Shopping

There is a tremendous focus on coupons right now. If we are not careful, we can end up with a focus on shopping, rather than home-life. A few months ago, I subscribed to emails from "deals" / "couponing" blogs. They certainly know what they are doing, but it made my mind spin. I do not want to think about what I can buy all the time. It was overwhelming for me and I unsubscribed.  What I'd like to do today, is offer some kind of balance. Should we use coupons or not? This depends on your circumstances, the kind of life you are living, and your area. I am going to share 4 situations with you. 1. What my Mother did. 2. How I managed to live frugally with 4 children and no coupons. 3. My shopping with a heavy coupon focus when I had five small children. 4. What I am doing now - in a rural area with little resources, and three teenagers still at home.

1. What My Mother did:

We lived in a lovely, old home in Massachusetts. My mother was an excellent cook. She also had four children who wanted to eat all the time. I often went to the grocery store with her. If I wanted a special treat - such as poptarts or some sugary cereal - Mom would have me use my own money. She rarely bought those items. I remember coming home from school and looking around. I always thought there was nothing to eat. Why? Because there were no frozen pizzas or canned chef boyardee! Yet, when meal-time came, Mom made delicious food that would fill us up - it was always homemade. We would have things like chicken with potatoes, assorted vegetables and bread.  Mom rarely ever bought convenience food and I never saw her use coupons. Do you know why Mom didn't want convenience food? Because if she bought a couple of frozen pizzas, they were gone in a matter of minutes and we children were still hungry. Those were the days when we were not allowed to "spoil our dinner!" . . The good old days!

One time, I spent the night at a friend's house. I was offered ice cream. We looked in the freezer and saw 3 different kinds. I could not even imagine what that was like! If Mom bought ice cream - she only bought one kind and it was only for a special occasion. Desserts were reserved for weekends, holidays or other special occasions. This was also the way my mother was raised. Grandma made homemade foods, with little meat.  They had a special cake or other treat on Sundays. If you wanted a drink or snack - well, there was always water, carrots or apples. You know what? We always had food. We never went hungry. And we had a lovely, happy home.

My Mother's way is what I call traditional home economics. It is the ideal, in my opinion.

2. How I managed to live frugally with 4 children and no coupons.

When my fourth baby was born, my husband and I lived in a large house with a beautiful kitchen. It was a temporary, winter rental near the ocean. I fell in love with the kitchen the moment we walked in the door. I had plenty of counter space, a dishwasher and a wonderful stove. We were living frugally and saving up to buy a house. During this time, I bought an amazing book. It was called The Tightwad Gazette II,  by Amy Dacyczyn (I later bought her complete book containing all three volumes.)  In this book, she talked about why she never used coupons,  and how to economically stock your pantry with the basics. She also described why menu plans don't always work. In her experience, as long as you had a full pantry of everything you needed, you could make just about anything without having to run to the market for extra ingredients. Her ideas were wonderful. I started buying cheaper versions of flour and other foods to make my homemade meals more economical. I learned to make simpler meals. For example - you can use a plain tomato sauce for homemade pizza. It tastes fine even if it is a bulk- can of a generic version. I was making tortellini, pizza, bread, muffins, Italian bread and more - all from scratch and only spending a very small amount of money.  I was thrilled. Amy also explained how name brand cereal and other convenience foods that we normally use coupons to buy, don't fill us up! If a child had a homemade banana muffin for breakfast, he is less likely to be hungry again 20 minutes later. In other words - homemade foods are more economical because the children need less food to fill them up.  When they are eating those coupon-purchased meals or snacks, they need more and more to finally be hungry. During this time of my life, with the four small children, I successfully used her ideas and we lived well on a small income, without the use of coupons. We were happy. My heart and mind were home-centered, rather than shopping-centered. I didn't have to waste time cutting coupons or feeling obessed by sales or savings. It was a lovely time of life.

3. My shopping with a heavy coupon focus when I had five small children.

Shortly after my fifth child was born, I came across a new book. It was  Shop, Save, and Share by Ellie Kay. This was amazing! Not only did I learn her tricks for shopping with coupons, I also learned how to buy things for those in need using unwanted coupons. I was thrilled. This was fun! Every Sunday, I bought one or two newspapers and planned my attack. I spent 30 - 40 minutes with one of my daughters, poring over the sales ads and matching up the coupons. We made a budget, menu plan and shopping list. The children and I would then head out to three supermarkets and buy all the "deals" and also use our coupons. We had plenty of food and enjoyed this "game." However, in hindsight. I realize that we spent more money during that time period (a few years) than any other time in my marriage. I do not regret this, because at that time, I was very ill with cancer and I really couldn't do a lot, myself, to manage our kitchen. My oldest daughter (from the age of 9 to 15) learned to run a home and bake and cook and became very skilled. Another serious problem that came up during this time, was that I had a major shopping focus. We spent far too much money in other areas as well- including toys, clothes, recreational items, etc. I was always interested in going somewhere, or finding the next sale. I did not feel settled or home-centered. I share this only to show a different perspective, not to say that coupons are wrong. But to share what I experienced in order to help you make your own decision.

4. What I am doing now - in a rural area with little resources, and three teenagers still at home.

Our family moved to Vermont several years ago. In this area, there are no malls. There is no Wal-Mart. There are very few places to shop. It was major culture shock for me and took me a long time to stop wanting to go shopping.  I remember, after living here for a year, finally taking a "road trip" to the nearest Wal-Mart in New Hampshire. All I wanted to do was go back home, to my small, rural community and get away from the crowds and the shopping-mindset.  I was settled. I was home-centered, and I loved it.

Currently, I rarely ever use coupons. For the past four weeks, our local supermarket gave out $10 off coupons if we spent $100. I used it for three of those weeks but found it difficult. I never spend $100 in just one store. I didn't like it. I didn't want to buy things just to get that discount.

As for my current shopping plan, It has evolved into something quite interesting. When we first moved here, we bought a country store. We had to stock inventory and always have merchandise available for the customers. We had a list of everything we sold and I checked the distributor order forms and local sales flyers to see what we wanted to buy. I was often able to buy things at a drastically reduced price, by going to a local store and bringing that merchandise to our own customers. For example - the Pepsi company charged us $1.69 for a 2-liter of soda. They expected us to sell this for $1.99. Outrageous, right? So when Pepsi went on sale for 89 cents a bottle, I would buy 40 or 50 bottles (as long as the store had no limit) and bring them into our business to sell to our customers at a much more reasonable price. The clerks and managers at the supermarket knew I was doing this and were so helpful. Because of this, I was able to buy all kinds of food items our customers wanted and charge a fair price. They saved money because it saved them the trip of driving all the way into town. Everyone was happy.

How does this relate to my own home? We sold that store 3 years ago. But I am still using the inventory principle for my own pantry. I combined Amy's ideas (from the Tightwad Gazette) with our store idea to make sure we always have food.

First let me say this- we have experienced times of wealth and times of poverty in our marriage. During the poverty phases, we learned to enjoy simpler foods and let go of many name-brand items. My husband used to want Miracle Whip and Maxwell house. Nothing else would ever be good enough. But after some bouts with poverty, he learned to enjoy generic versions. This is important. Most people are not willing to do this. But take whatever, of the following ideas, that will work for you.

1. I buy 2 or 3 bottles of generic mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.

2. I keep 2 bags of granulated sugar at home at all times. (We go through this very quickly.) I use the store brand version.

3. I buy a large can of generic coffee. If the name brand is on sale and costs less than generic, I buy that instead.

-(This is serious... If I have a well-stocked pantry, then I have a home-mindset, rather than a shopping mind-set. I will not need to run to the store every couple of days because I run out of the basics. I keep more than one on my shelves at all times.)

4. For meat - I will buy 10 packages or more of ground turkey, chicken or burger when they are marked down. For example- yesterday, Purdue ground turkey was on sale for $2.99 a pound. It was marked down by $2 because it needed to be sold quickly. I got it for 99 cents. (Now I realize people can buy meat more frugally than this, but I am not the kind of girl who likes to work with whole chickens, turkey or other such animals. I want the butcher to grind it up so I don't have to see any of what it looked like before!) Personally, I don't eat meat at all. But the rest of my family does. We combine one of these packages with pasta, potatoes, etc. to make a large, filling meal. So If I paid 99 cents for the meat, $1 for the pasta, another $1 for a little cheese and corn, this kind of meal only costs $2.99 and feeds a hungry family.

5. I can buy a 12- box package of store brand macaroni and cheese on sale for $5 or... I can buy 5 boxes of Prince pasta for $5 and make them go much further.

6. We can make homemade pizza with flour, oil, salt, and seasonings - without expensive yeast and feed a hungry family for very little money.

7. Recently, store brand mozzarella cheese was on sale. But they were out- of- stock! I looked around and realized I could buy a much larger bag for less than the sale prize. I came home with a large, bulk- bag of cheese, so the children had plenty of pizzas that week!

8. We have a dollar store here. That's where I buy trash bags, paper towels and dish liquid. (We don't have a dishwasher.)

9. There is a small, charming village market nearby. It is probably 800 square feet but it is packed with wonderful, economical merchandise. Every week, I buy my milk, butter, eggs, bread, cheese, etc. from them. Their regular prices are cheaper than my supermarket sale prices. (Some people might visit outlet stores for cheap bread, or discount stores. It all depends on what is in your own area.)

10. If I can find beef and potatoes on sale, I will make a large pot of beef stew. I also share this with my parents (who live with us- in an in-law apartment on the first floor of our house.)  Beef stew is expensive, but I can make it with only 3 ingredients - potatoes, beef and carrots. I also add seasoning. This might cost me $6 and will feed my parents, my husband, and three of my children. I also make buttermilk biscuits to help fill everyone up. It is important to have some bread, crackers, or side dish to round out an expensive main dish.

Frankly, you can starve to death on processed, junk foods. It is so important to learn how to prepare hearty, inexpensive, homemade foods for your family.  I realize we love our name brands. Personally, I won't eat generic pasta. I can't stand the taste of it. We don't have to be food martyrs. But we should try to find some balance. It is a wonderful treat to have a little Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, or Ellios Pizza. We should still enjoy these goods, but not necessarily on a regular basis because they are very expensive in the long run. I am more likely to buy name-brand processed foods when I am very ill and can't manage my kitchen. But the ideal, the rule, for me, is to make it myself.

To use coupons or not. . That is a great question. It is a personal decision. Do whatever you find best in your own situation.

My final thoughts- do I use coupons? Certainly! But not every week. I am not seeking them out. I am not printing them off the internet and I am not buying the weekly newspaper to find coupons. But I do use them on occasion as needed.

What about you? Do you have a shopping mind-set or a home-mind-set? Is it possible to find a balance between using coupons and not using them?

Mrs. White

Find Home-keeping Inspiration, in Mrs.White's book - For The Love of Christian Homemaking.  Paperback, 274 pages.

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kristy said...

This is so neat. I was just talking to a friend about if we really save that much money with coupons or not. Plus my family and I just moved and change our life style. So this is very informative for me. I am saving this to show my hubby when he gets home

Laura O in AK said...

I'm adjusting from a sales and coupon mindset to more things from scratch after our recent move. It isn't that I didn't do well feeding our growing family on that method. Instead, it is moving to an area with LESS of those options. There are some stores with sales here and there, but the coupons in the paper here are few and not that great. No sense using coupons for things you would not normally buy, either.

Breadmaking is going to get more attention in our house as growing boys can feel more full on homemade bread with butter or jam than all the 'snack' foods marketed to them.

Karen said...

I fall in the middle ground - I absolutely use coupons. But I make them work for me by saving them until I can use them on something that is already on sale - and then I buy as many as I have coupons for. That has allowed me to get some really good price on the things I like to keep on hand, like flour for about $5/bag (excellent price in my area), canned Chunky soup for under a dollar a can, whole wheat pasta for $0.50 a box, pasta sauce for $0.50 a bottle, rice and pasta side dishes for $0.25 to $0.50... and has brought me to a place where I refuse to pay more than $2.00 for a box of cereal. Most often I get it for about $1.50.

I also use them religiously for cleaning products, etc... I have probably six months' worth of a good-quality laundry detergent in the basement which was on sale for $5.00 when I had $3.00 coupons for it!! :o)

I do use coupons sometimes as an excuse to try a new product, but that is the exception rather than the rule. There is a danger in getting drawn into that... especially as the end of the month approaches and I see how many coupons I have that are due to expire, and I am tempted to shop just for the sake of using them. They are all for products we would normally buy, but not for things we need right now - so I try to keep it balanced. I do want a well-stocked pantry, but I don't want to become a hoarder!! LOL

The Crazy Mom said...

I do most of my shopping at Aldi. I can't use coupons there, and their prices are so much lower, I think I do pretty well.

To be honest, I'm just not organized enough for coupons! I used to cut them out, then forget to use them, or spend endless hours in stores trying to find the right product. It just isn't worth it to me at this point in my life.

Lots of love to ya!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Loved your post. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention having a "home" mindset or a "shopping" mindset. That is exactly how I was feeling, and having health issues, I could not justify all the running around for things that weren't that healthy for me or my family anyway.

I only try to buy foods that are as natural as possible without additives (I cook from scratch), and use just a few coupons for things like paper goods when warranted. Makes my life simpler and I'm at home a lot more. I'm also not wasting my precious time and energy running around for deals. L...

Krissy said...

This article is so much like me!! I use coupons every once and a while but had tried to get all organized with it and use them all the time but felt like for the most part I wasn't saving as much as when I was just shopping like I always did- frugally, no processed foods, items for home cooked meals only. (Except for the occasional splurge of course). I also have four children...for now...2 girls followed by 1 boy and then a little girl. (I'm praying for a 5th...boy...only the Lord knows!) I'm part of the TOS Crew!! GREAT blog! I'm a follower for sure!!