January 19, 2010

the year of the coupon

I could spend a paragraph or two telling you how much I've missed posting here, but... I'll save you the drama. Suffice it to say... It's been a whirlwind since the holidays and I've been turning to a lot of my staples in the kitchen. Mac and cheese, namely.

I do, however, have some money-saving tips to share. If you live in the Austin area, where natural foods stores have begun running rampant, these tips are for you. But that's not to say you can't adapt them for your area; the basic tenants are to identify what you like to eat, where you can get it, and then begin the search for the best prices and deals. And don't be afraid of clipping coupons!

In the last year, we've shifted all of our food-buying to follow strict guidelines. We no longer put anything that doesn't meet at least one, if not all of these requirements into our shopping basket.

We shop for SOLE foods:

First of all, we ask if we can get the food locally. We get food from my mom's garden when possible, and shop at the farmers' market when we can. But most of our weekly shopping is done at the grocery store, so we follow these ground rules.

1. If local produce is available (local onions, mushrooms, and citrus are widely available at supermarkets), that takes precedence over organic. The environmental impact of getting local food (grown within 150 miles) trumps that of buying organic, ever so slightly.

2. If no local option is available, buy organic. This goes even for things you can peel (i.e., bananas) and especially for leafy greens, etc. Check out this "Dirty Dozen" list for absolute MUST organics if you can't afford to buy all your produce organically.

3. Every product must be sustainable. This means cutting out excessive packaging (individually wrapped things), forgetting all processed items, and generally avoiding buying things you can make at home (bread, tortillas, etc.).

4. Ethical means that the product has been produced in such a way that it considers the environment: we count this as everything from biodegradable shampoo to cage-free eggs.

You may think that our grocery bills would be astronomical by eating this way, but that's where frugality and reality meet, shake hands, and decide to get along.

First of all, determine which stores are most convenient for you. There are five places I like to shop: my neighborhood HEB, Central Market, Sun Harvest, Wheatsville, and Whole Foods. In the last week, a Sprouts has opened in our 'hood, too. We have myriad options for buying all-natural products and foods.

All of the stores now offer bulk selections, and most of them have weekly coupon deals. Here's what I have learned:

• HEB has the best prices on things we still buy in a package, like Kashi brand cereals or crackers. They also carry a selection (albeit small) of locally-grown mushrooms, tomatoes, and grapefruit, and Texas-grown rice. They also carry the Central Market Organics brand, which is by far the best-priced (and best-tasting) organic brand we like for pastas, sauces, beans, milk, butter, and cage-free eggs. The CMO brand ranks high on the World Society for the Protection of Animals' list of "better" food products. Look for coupons throughout the store, and also check the coupons you're handed with your receipt: they're tailored to fit what you bought. Recently, we've been saving about $10 with each trip from HEB coupons alone.

• Sun Harvest offers unbeatable weekly deals on a lot of things, including organic produce, but the selection can be quite limited. Go on Wednesdays for double-coupon days. And the wine! Oh my gosh, the wine. There is always something on a 3 for $10 sale. They also carry a selection of natural herbs, vitamins, and alternative medicines.

• Central Market carries the widest bulk bin selection, including organics. We head there for our bread-baking needs, as well as coffee and trail mixes. Sign up for their e-mail list to get special deals on seafood, fresh meats, and more (often a great deal where you can save up to 20%)!

Happy shopping!


Elizabeth said...

I like that, SOLE foods! Haven't heard that before.

A lot of vendors have coupons on their websites - I visit SeventhGeneration.com to get coupons for toliet paper and dish soap. Horizon dairy and Stonyfield's websites both have coupons there as well. Coupons.com and smartsource.com both have printable coupons - although most are for processed foods, every now and then you can get an organic one thrown in there. They had a Tom's of Maine coupon in there the other day!

Maya said...

Yay, I'm glad your back. I've missed your posts. I found your blog accidentally and I've been a frequent visitor since then. I was excited to see you had recently decided to try vegetarianism because I started too in November and I love your recipes, food ideas and was hoping to hear about your experience. Anyway, thanks for the info on SOLE foods!

Renai said...

I love this post, and put a link up on my blog. Hope that's okay!

Amber said...

Thanks, y'all! Glad this post was helpful. I'll try to get more tips up here soon--working on a black bean burger post (err, working on MAKING them) right now! :)