Sunday, June 23, 2013

6/23 Deals and Savings

Before I get into my philosophical discussion of "natural" and my thoughts on healthy food,  I thought I would share which deals and coupons I am loving this week!

I just got the SmartSource and Plum coupon inserts in today's Sunday paper.  I recommend holding onto the inserts, even if you don't normally buy the items with coupons that week.  I check Krazy Coupon Lady and Pocket Your Dollars a few times a week to see if there are any free items or moneymakers (Walmart will give you cash back if your coupon is worth more than the product).  Now, in a past post I said I am not particularly interested in items I wouldn't normally buy.  The exception is when I am already making a trip OR the items would be enjoyed by someone else, as a gift to a friend or donation to the needy.

Save money & help others on this wonderful site!
Also, although organic is my goal,  I do not buy 100% organic products or clip coupons exclusively for organic products.  This blog is dedicated to shining more light on organic products, not excluding all non-organic items.  Sometimes the organic option is too expensive.  Sometimes, it is because my husband likes products that are not organic.  Sometimes, it is to donate.  Sometime, it is because I think the product is still healthy or tasty.  On that note, they should really make more organic ice cream! NOTE: I will underline all organic options.  I will also use it to denote products, such as Tom's, that are the closest thing to organic, in my opinion.  I have never seen organic toothpaste, although I am sure it exists.

As you become more aware of pricing either through spreadsheets or experience, you can remember normal prices of products and be aware when coupons are especially worth it! 

Coupons I clipped from the inserts:
$1.50/1 Hellman's Real Whipped Tangy Dressing Expires 7/21/13
$1/1 Tom's of Maine Toothpaste or Mouthwash Expires 8/10/13 (On sale for $2.99 at Copp's, double coupon for $0.99 per tube!)
$2/1 Schick Quattro for Women Razor, Bikini Trimmer, or Refill Expires 8/04/13
$1/1 Reynolds Baking Cups Expires 9/30/13 (I just doubled a $0.55/1 of these coupons at Copp's yesterday for free baking cups, now you can get the fancy aluminum foil kind for free!)
$0.50/1 Wonderful Pistachios 5oz+ Expires 8/23/13

Coupons I printed:
$1/1 6+ rolls of Scott Bath Tissue expires 7/21/13 (Join their site and share the membership with 3+ email contacts to increase your coupon from $0.70 to $1.00, you can print out both!  Sadly, they do not double.)
$1/1 Fantastic World Foods product Expires 6/30/2013 (From Common Kindness. Also does not double)
$0.75/1 Cascadian Farm product expires 7/23/13 (From
$0.85/1 Cascadian Farm product expires 7/23/13 (From Box Tops 4 Education, cereal and bars currently on sale for 2/$6 at Copp's, double 2 coupons for a total of $1.30 each! I prefer their frozen fruit/veggies at Woodman's)

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Spreadsheets: Not Just For Accountants

If you are like me, the very word "spreadsheet" brings visions of number crunching and Using 'sheets for couponing seemed like a waste of time as I foolishly presumed that it MIGHT save me a few pennies each trip.
complicated formulas.  I always thought of them as reserved for the type A personality that is more than a little anal retentive about organization. 

WRONG!  Spreadsheeting is something that you can spend as little as 5 minutes on per week and see immediate savings.  This is not exclusive to couponing.  You could save a lot of money without coupons just by seeing exactly where your money is going.  I am new to the idea of premeditated grocery shopping and I know I am not alone!  I used to go in the store with an idea in my head of what I needed, end up buying doubles, forget half of what I needed, and pick whatever brand caught my eye.  Taking some time out of the overstimulating visual environment of the grocery store to make calculations and observations can you save you not only money, but that flustered questioning ("Do I have this?" "Which is the best deal?" etc.) that often makes a grocery trip stressful. 

The first step is to save your receipts.  Whether you plan to start your spreadsheet today, next week, or whenever you find the time, you will need something to work off of!  I often save up several receipts before I sit down and enter all the information in.  There will be many duplicate items and eventually, you will only need to enter a few new items per receipt.

Next, find a good spreadsheet application.  There are many free ones that work great.  I love Open Office for my PC and Kingsoft Office for my tablet.  Any basic program will work.  If you are not technologically-inclined and prefer not to use a spreadsheet at all, you can use a table on a word processor.  If you are more technologically inclined, I recommend using a database such as Microsoft Access or Open Office's version.  This will give you more customization options.

Decide what product information is most important to you.  I have a column for brand, product name, product type, price, servings, price per serving, and comments.  The most important columns are a product description (as long as you know what you mean when you refer to the chart is all that matters), price, servings, and price per serving.  The rest are optional but useful for sorting and quickly finding an item.

For servings, I estimate how much use I normally get out of the product.  Sometimes it is a very rough estimate, sometimes I can be exact.  The process of evaluating the product is more important than precision.  For example, a pound of ground beef I estimate at 2 servings for my family of 3. This breaks down to $2.99 a serving (I normally pay $5.99/pound). 

Fill out the spreadsheet.  Compare like products you have purchased.  There is a common misconception that a lower priced product is a better deal.  You need to consider the weight or size and price per serving. Price per serving is my bottom line.  If you are running really short on funds, it sometimes makes sense to buy a smaller sized product, despite higher cost per serving.  Figure out what makes sense for you.  If you can afford to stock up (consider your cupboard, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry space before you go crazy!) to save overall, it is worth it.

 Hopefully, like me, your time will be well spent.  I had many revelations on products I buy.  Many were minor realizations on buying choices, such as that a smaller size was a better value or that one brand was cheaper than the other.   Others were more significant and represented use.  I realized that I was very wasteful with meat.  I often used an entire pound of ground beef for spaghetti and meatballs.  I accomplished the same with half or less of what I normally use, just less leftovers.

If you are feeling ambitious, make a spreadsheet for each store you frequent.  Make one just for sale prices and track sales cycles.  Figure out how to use the information at your hands to save some money and time!

Thanks for reading.  Coming up next, I will discuss the concept of "healthy" and my views on healthy eating.  As always, I'd love your feedback.  Feel free to link to your blog and I will be sure to take a peek!

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

End of the Introductory Saga: Couponing in Wisconsin

Wisconsin.  Us city folk often forget that there is an entire state of people outside of Madison and Milwaukee.  I apologize in advance for my blanketing use of "Wisconsin" when I really mean my Madison-centric experience.  Still, we do not have most of the stores that coupon bloggers provide savings guides for.  This unites us! Forward!

I shop exclusively at three grocery stores: Woodman's, Copp's, and Willy Street Co-Op.  I do 80% of my shopping at Woodman's.  I shop at Copp's when I need to pick up a few items near by and price is no object (I would love to find out the price difference - I'd estimate it is about 30% higher).  Willy Street Co-Op is my go to for specific bulk products and a marvelous selection of meat and seafood.  I go there about once a month to stock up on those items.

For non-grocery items, I often pick them up at the grocery store.  However, I go to Target, Walmart, and Walgreen's from time to time to pick up other items or take advantage of a particular great deal.  Walgreen's/CVS is the go to place if you are looking for extreme couponing type savings in your neighborhood.  They are the number one place to find freebies or extremely good deals.  They often base sales around circulating coupons and even offer their own coupons which allow you to stack both.  I highly recommend finding a good couponing blog (I am partial to Krazy Coupon Lady because of her awesome printables list).  They do the work for you - no need to pour over coupons and circulars in an attempt to find the best deals.  A few minutes once a week, scan for products you need, save some money.

For example, I just found these awesome $2/1 Organix Shampoo or Conditioner coupons.  I was about to pick them up at Woodman's when something told me to wait as I am not completely out.  I checked out KCL's blog and voila! Walgreen's has a BOGO sale on Organix through today, dropping the total price to a mere $2.25/bottle! That is $6.24 off of the regular price.  If only we had a Rite Aid, as you'd end up paying only $1.99 after their register reward!

Couponing.  Copp's is one of the only stores in the area (Sentry's and Pick N Save do, too) that doubles coupons.  It is only once a week and 5 coupons.  Once a month, you can double up to 10 coupons on their Double Double Daze.  The trick you will see on "Extreme Couponing" is multiple transactions.  In each transaction, you can use 5 or 10 coupons.  Therefore, you can make multiple transactions to use more coupons.  This takes some chutzpah because you are officially trekking into crazy couponer territory.  Your cashier may say it's not allowed or give you grief.  People may look at you crazy.  Depending on your personality, you will either feel empowered or embarrassed.  A way around this is getting a few friends or family members to come with you and go to separate cashiers. Be assured that Copp's allows multiple transactions but be sure to check other stores' policies. 

Walmart offers cash back on overage but beware, many employees are not versed on this and you may need to speak with a manager.  Be sure to bring a copy of the coupon policy to back you up.  Their low prices mean many freebies and moneymakers.  The hassle with the workers deters me from going there unless necessary, but maybe your local location is better.

I generally find Target to have the highest price point of the three but they do have great deals (sometimes) and offer Target specific coupons.   They often have deals on their store brand, Up and Up.  Check out "coupon match ups" for any of the stores and you can find out where to get the best deal!  I usually check Pocket Your Dollars or Krazy Coupon Lady.

My ambition is to offer Woodman's price match ups based on what I find on my trips.  They do not post their sales or a comprehensive circular so it must all be figured out on location.  Still, they have the lowest prices on just about everything with the best selection.  Their organic selection is quite superb and offers much better prices.  Definitely check their website as the do have a "circular" with a few coupons you can obtain in stores.  Once I found Woodman's specific printable coupons on there, too.  I recently printed out two Stonyfield Organic Yogurt $0.50/1 coupons and stacked (using a manufacturer coupon and store coupon on the same product) them with a $1/2 Stonyfield Organic Yogurts (32 oz.).  Great deal on a healthy snack!

Stay tuned for my next entry on how to use a spreadsheet to figure out any potential money draining buys! 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Part II: Organic Couponing - Oxymoron?

Now that I have given a little background on the concept of organic and my thoughts on the subject, let us discuss the unicorn in the room: organic couponing.  Time and time again I hear and read that it is impossible to save on fresh produce, the bulk of many healthy diets.  To that I say I hear you loud and clear but you are wrong.  It is just quite difficult to save on organic, or any, produce.

Without knowing the resources and putting in the effort, it is impossible.  Pick up your local circular or look at the coupons in the newspaper, and you will find not-a-one.  Turn on that wonderful information machine (computer, non-dorks) and you will find a wealth of blogs, coupon sites, and more.

So your first investment, newbies, is a printer, some change for printing at your local library, bribing a friend to use theirs once a week, or finding some other way to print for free/cheap.  Your printer will become your friend even if you are one of the few receiving your Sunday paper.  As I mentioned, you will not find the organic deals (give or take a few) there.  The hum of that printer will become your whistle while you work rhythm.  It has become equivalent to the cha-ching of a cash register in my mind.

Next, subscribe to every newsletter known to man.  You may want to create a side email account for this.  All of your local stores, all of the brands you buy or that you would consider buying, coupon blogs, coupon sites, you name it.  After a while, you will figure out if any are not useful to you or that you never find yourself reading.  Unsubscribe.  With the rest, you will find coupons that are exclusively for subscribers.  Earthbound Farms is famous for this and they offer a new coupon weekly.  Others will offer a one time coupon upon sign up, but it is better than nothing!

Another tip is to contact the manufacturers.  Let them know how big of a fan you are and that you would just LOVE some coupons.  They generally oblige as a happy customer is money in their pocket.  I have seen and received some amazing coupons obtained this way.  They are generally significantly higher savings than their normal coupons so don't be shy!!!

I also frequently check my local stores websites and actual store.  They often have special coupons only available through that outlet.  For example, Woodman's had $1 off produce, $1 off meat, and $1 off organic foods exclusively on their website a few months back.

Enough yammering, onto the juicy stuff.  Below you will find my revered list of links.

Krazy Coupon Lady's Printable Coupon List - This is the most comprehensive list of printable coupons I have found.  It is only partially organic but it is a great resource for coupons that I have not found elsewhere.

THE Organic Coupon Blog: Organic Deals - Although not as easy to search as KCL, it is devoted to organic items and in addition to coupon lists, it gives great tips on store specific deals.

Common Kindness - Print coupons and they donate to charities of your choice.  Does it get better than that?  Why, yes, it does.  Most of their coupons are organic and exclusive to their site.

Mambo Sprouts - Okay, I am undecided on this one, to be honest.  I had to include it, though, because soooo many bloggers/couponers rave about it.  Most of the brands are not carried in Woodman's or Copp's, so they are not of use to me.  However, I don't frequent Willy Street, Whole Foods, or other stores so perhaps they are carried there.  Maybe there are not carried locally.  Let me know if you know!

Faithful Provisions' Printable Sites List - This is a fairly comprehensive list of coupon sites and manufacturers although I have not checked out most of them.

Finally, a quick Google search can lead to other printables you may have missed.  Happy searching!  Check out my article on Wisconsin Woes, coming up next!

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Part I: Organic Issues

Many people claim to eat only "organic or natural foods."  Fantastic.  However, when it comes to labeling, natural means nothing.  Just look to the FDA for their answer on the question:

"What is the meaning of 'natural' on the label of food?

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances." 


Deena Shanker (Is the ‘natural’ label 100 percent misleading? ) delves deeper into the subject, gleaning that "all natural" in regards to meats means nothing "unnatural" has happened after slaughter.  While that is better than nothing, it is the feed, use of antibiotics, and living conditions that are perhaps the most important factors in determining meat quality. For everything else, it is a little hazier.

I cannot discern whether or not the FDA's answer means that added color, artificial flavors, and/or synthetic substances bar the use of a "natural" descriptor.  The key thing to remember is that using the phrase "all natural" does not require certification like the use of "organic." Some of the most laughably processed foods are labelled "natural."  The rigor of the organic certification separates it from the other options.  I am just trying to educate, not put down natural options.  Many people think they are getting something equivalent when they are actually not.

That said, organic is the goal for my family and many others.  It is extremely expensive, generally, and not widely available.  You can often end up paying double but it is the fastest growing sector of the grocery industry.  With this growth, it is only natural (no pun intended) that people want to eat healthily and safely while saving.  I do recommend reviewing the list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen of produce.  If you cannot afford to go all organic, these are great guidelines for getting the most safety with the least spending.  

If you are interested in eating more organic foods, I recommend that you start with the dirty dozen and more importantly, animal products.  This means all meats and dairy products.  It is expensive so doing meatless meals and using meat sparingly will help you stretch your dollar.  Look for my recipes using minimal meat in the future! Look below for reasons why organic foods are preferable.

Why Buy Organic Animal Products? - While this is not the most reputable, scientific site, it does give a good, easy to read list of reasons. 

A More Scientifically Based List of Reasons  - The Organic Consumer Association, while biased, offers scientific backed reasons why everyone should eat more organic foods.

Scientific Findings About Organic Agriculture - The most unbiased source I could find, linking to numerous studies and their findings.  I will note that they did recently find that organic food has a higher nutrition content, despite contrary claims.

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Forged Out of Necessity: A Frustrated Wisconsinite, Organic Couponer

Extreme Couponing.  We have all heard of it - some watch in awe, others in horror.  For many, the horror was not the obsession or consumerism but the unhealthiness of the items the couponers were hoarding.  After adopting a primarily organic diet several years ago, I wrote off the option of extreme couponing and submitted to the insane prices of organic foods.  Recently, I became interested in saving more.  More on that later...

Browsing the coupon blogs, one glaring fact remained: the Madison, Wisconsin area is home to nearly NO national grocery chains.  Copp's is a member of the Roundy's family but anyone who is savings minded (and organically inclined) knows that Copp's is significantly more expensive with a smaller selection of items.  Pick N Save does have some blog coverage but it is not near me.

One of the turn offs of extreme couponing is the commitment.  Most people, myself included, do not want to drive to 4 stores a week to get the best deals.  Considering how few couponed items I use, it is simply not worth it, even if that electric toothbrush will end up costing me a measly $0.24, I don't need it. This is a lot of what extreme couponing means to most people: effort aside, savings are all that matter.  What about saving some energy?!

Then, there is the rationale that store credits a la Walgreen's make your item free.  It is free if you plan to spend more money at the store soon.  I am not knocking these because they do offer, in my opinion, the best deals in the Madison area on non-grocery items.  Still, when funds are tight, a sista wants cold, hard cash, am I right?!  Digressing, I cannot get in on the extreme couponing to the level these other superstars do.  Despite my moaning, I give them major props.  They are saving their families so much money and if they are donating goods,  I am even more impressed.

Looking for a way to incorporate the savings into my lifestyle has been a challenge.  I am not looking to score anything that's free just because it is free (although I do not mind sitting in the comfort of my chair and requesting free samples).  I want to save money on things my family eats and uses.  The catch is that our diet is primarily organic.

Instead of extending this monologue any further, I will delve further into other topics in separate posts.  I welcome any feedback and feel free to share your blog links in your comments.  Looking forward to connecting to you!

Image Credits: USDA Organic Logo -
Wisconsin Silhouette -