Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dear Cassie...

Generally speaking, I am the last person you want to come to for advice. I don't usually give it; mostly I just sit there and go, "Oh, man, that sucks. I don't know what to tell you." There are, as with everything in life, exceptions to this. I've had a few people ask me what works for me based on my own issues and experience and I decided to start a new feature called Dear Cassie in order to post my responses to some of the most frequently asked questions posed by my friends as they relate to saving money and green living.

Dear Cassie,
I thought it wasn't an option to save money eating organic food. I never see coupons in my paper for healthy stuff. How is it possible to cut my grocery bill without sacrificing the health of my family? Thanks. -Mindy

Dear Mindy,
It is possible to save money on healthy, nutrient-rich foods. It just takes careful planning and some creativity. Here are my top tips for eating well and living green on a budget.

1. Decide what your priorities are with respect to foods you eat and products you buy. Like, I don't care if my pasta or bananas are organic, but my milk needs to be. You might not care if your meat is grass-fed, just as long as your shampoo is paraben-free. Determine what your non-negotiables are, and then allow yourself some flexibility with everything else.

2. More mainstream companies are getting into the 'greenstream', which means there are increasingly more coupons available for earth-friendly products. The newspaper regularly contains coupons for organic or cage-free eggs, soy milk, breads and baked goods free of HFCS and trans-fat, natural peanut butters, jams and pasta sauces, whole grain pasta, organic canned tomatoes, and organic or hormone-free milk just to name a few. There are also coupons for "any variety" of certain products, which means you would be free to use that coupon for Cascadian Farms Organics on any product within that line. I have also had quite a bit of success in emailing companies to tell them how much I enjoy their products, and asking them to send coupons (I include my mailing address in the email). Also look for coupons in unlikely places. Whole Foods and Plum Market put out Mambo Sprouts coupon booklets every quarter. A lot of natural food companies put coupons on the products themselves (always check inside the packaging too). The wine section of your local grocery store will often have coupon tearpads, or coupons right on the bottles. I've found 1.00/1 coupons for cheese, produce, meat, seafood and bakery items with no wine purchase necessary. You can use these on any type of product listed, so that can mean free organic produce or cheese, or a discount on your grass-fed meat.

3. Use store coupons and promotions. In the Ann Arbor area for example, Whole Foods has been putting out monthly coupons for $X off of a $X purchase. Plan your trip and try to get as close as you can to the required pre-tax transaction amount. Give that coupon first, and then hand over your other coupons. You will lower your total significantly. Also, many stores have Catalina Deals. Catalinas, or Cats, are the coupons that the cash register spits out with your receipt. Sometimes the Cats are for specific items and other times they work like a gift card ($1.50 off your next purchase, etc.) so you can apply them towards anything in the store. Check places like Hot Coupon World to find the current Catalina deals at your local store.

3. When a coupon comes out in the paper for something you use a lot of, order more from a clipping service like The Coupon Clippers or The Coupon Master. For example, we buy a dozen cage-free eggs every week. Eggland's Best coupons come out regularly in the paper. On those weeks I order coupons so I can get a dollar off of my eggs every week until the coupon expires. Doing this every 3 months costs me about 60 cents and saves me more than $12.

4. Learn to play CVS (or the other drugstores). They all have rebate programs that you can use to get things for free. CVS carries all kinds of clean, green products and you can use your earned Extra Care Bucks on those and pay nothing or close to nothing out of pocket (pre-tax). You can also use those ECBs to buy the things we all need (TP, feminine products, toiletries, diapers) so you have more money in your grocery budget for organics.

5. When products you use a lot of go on sale, clearance or close-out, buy as much as your budget allows (and use coupons if you have them). It may seem ridiculous to buy 4 bottles of shampoo or 6 jars of jam when you don't need them right then, but you will be saving money in the long run because you won't be forced to buy at a premium when you do need it.

6. Do a Google search for organic produce delivery in your area. This is a great way to incorporate organic fruits and veggies for a fixed weekly, bi-weekly or monthly cost. I spend $23 every week on a large box of produce. It's enough to feed a vegetarian family of four and I never have to guess how much of my budget will go towards organic produce each week. It's already allotted and I don't have to think about it. Also consider growing your own veggies, and check out co-ops and your local farmers markets for awesome savings. (Charlotteans, your farmers market is the best I've ever been to!)

7. Make your own cleaning products. White vinegar and baking soda are cheap, cheap, cheap. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and baking soda is a great abrasive and stink-remover. (Just don't mix them together or you'll have a volcanoesque science project situation.) You can find instructions for making your own cleaners online.

I hope some of this information will help you begin to save on your grocery bill. For more information on the basics of couponing, check out this post.


KellBell said...

Dear Cassie...

Can you show or explain to us how you organize your coupons? I find that no matter how I do it, I can't find what I need, things expire, etc.



Jessica said...

Dear Cassie: you are awesome for sharing these tips! btw--I think it's crazy to buy 6 jams at once. ;)

Cassie said...

Kelly... stay tuned!

Jessica... you lie like a rug. Show me your pantry and I will show you at least a half dozen jars of Cascadian Farms jam. =)

Phil said...

Dear Cassie: Can you provide ways to get the Dear Husbands involved?