Extreme couponing?

Grains of wisdom: Dried, bulk goods can reduce the grocery bill — they just take a little extra time to make.

When the word “extreme” gets coupled with something as patently uncool as coupons, saving cash may finally achieve fad status (financial planners and doting parents, rejoice).

Extreme Couponing, a new show on TLC, highlights the unlikely phenomenon. In the show, shoppers roll through the grocery line with hundreds of dollars worth of food in their carts, stacks of coupons worth about as much and all the swagger of a Vegas high-roller. In the pilot, when one of the extreme couponer’s peers says she doesn’t have time to clip coupons, she responds with a sassy, "Baby, you just ain't been broke enough." She then proceeds to buy $300 worth of groceries for $6.37, to much eye-rolling from the checkout clerk.

If the phenomenon of extreme couponing brings to mind jumping out of a plane with a pair of scissors and newspaper, you're not alone. Given the choice between more free time and tediously clipping coupons, most of the demographic outside the early-bird dinner crowd would tend to choose immediate gratification.

That may be all about to change because baby, you may soon be broke enough. As we said in last week's Xpress, fuel and food prices are predicted to rise in the coming year. Focusing on simple ways to fill up the cart cheaply may be in everyone's cards — which is why we’re calling in the experts to see how they save.

If searching for savings at the grocery store makes you yawn, local coupon diva and "Super Market Currency" blogger Shana McDowell says to suck it up.

McDowell is a mother of four, a wife and a dog-owner — and she feeds the whole lot for about $60 a week. Allowing the dog $5 a week, that's about $9 for each member of the family, which further breaks down to about $1.30 a day. That’s enough to make anyone want to take her seriously.

McDowell has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, which she shares on her blog (supermarketcurrency.com). Here are a few of her favorites:

• Buy only what you need. "The bulk aisle is great for that. You don't end up with a 5-pound bag of gluten-free flour that you might not like. If your recipe calls for 2 cups, you're able to get that. Plus, it's a great place to try things."

• If you find barley is cheap but don't know what the heck to do with it? "We use our phones for everything else. Stand there and Google it for a second. If you'll stand there and tweet that you're in Earth Fare, you can stand there and look up what barley is."

• Shop the perimeter. This is a standard dietitian tip that refers to the fact that most healthy items (like produce and juice) can be found around the walls of the store, rather than the middle. "Then you can build your base with your non-perishables and any canned good and condiments that you do prefer to use — things you do see an abundance of coupons for."

• "Stacking equals stocking," says McDowell. What she means is that combining (or stacking) coupons with store sales gets the best savings. That's how you get to the level of "extreme couponer."

• Can't find what you want? Assuming you aren't looking for foie gras and escargot, it's likely that you can call the manufacturer directly for savings. Just ask, says McDowell, and they'll likely send you coupons. "Why? Because they want you to buy their product."

• Kids don't like the meat you bought on special? Assuming it's fresh, that’s just too bad. "The best way to save money is to make a meal plan according to what's on sale that week. If chicken's on sale that week, you're not eating pork chops, you're not eating ham." Learn to make different recipes with one type of food, she says.

• If you aren't the clipping type, McDowell says, coupons can be found at plenty of local grocery retailers on the shelves and by the entrances. And it may surprise you to learn that, if you look hard enough, you can often find savings on local goods through some natural foods markets or co-ops.

• While many of us don't imagine ourselves to have time for perusing the paper with a pair of kitchen shears, we do seem to have plenty of time to piddle away on the computer. Visit the websites of products that you frequently buy and grocery stores where you often shop to search for coupons. While it may take time, it could mean money in your wallet.

"A lot of people tell me that time is their biggest restraint as far as couponing, saving money, doing anything with their family that will cause them to live a better life,” says McDowell. "You just have to manage your time, is really what it is."

— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at food@mountainx.com.

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2 thoughts on “Extreme couponing?

  1. Extreme Couponing looks like it might be interesting for at least a couple episodes. Since I’m on the road a lot, I don’t have cable tv. I get it all online from a service. Does anyone know if this show is going to be on the TVDevo website?

  2. Leah McGrath

    This dietitian does NOT recommend the “starnd dietitian tip” of shopping the perimeter for value…in fact beans are in the center of the store and frozen fruits and vegetables add nutrients in expensively and can be stored easily….also don’t forget canned vegetables especially tomatoes (higher lycopene when cooked) and whole grains like rice, popcorn, barley and whole wheat pasta are all in center of the store.

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