Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do smart shoppers have to use coupons?

Grocery Coupons - Tearpad shelf display of cou...Image by via Flickr

I keep on reading newspaper stories about all the money I could save if I just clipped coupons and took them to the supermarket with me. Morning TV shows report on Web sites where I can print out coupons for even greater savings.

Sure, I've looked over the coupons delivered with my newspaper, but I usually can't find any for the food my family eats. 

Hey, there's Chef Guy Fieri selling his soul for Ritz Crackers. To save $1, all I have to do is buy two boxes of a cracker that isn't part of my diet.

Here are coupons for Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls (Pizza) or Savorings (whatever they are), Chex Mix, Snickers Ice Cream Cake, Pagoda Express Egg Rolls and Wontons, Tyson mystery Crispy Chicken Strips and Tostito Chips and Dip.

I have never tried any of this highly processed food, and I'm not about to start now, just to save money. 

I also found coupons for two fast-food places I don't patronize: Blimpie, which offers sandwiches stuffed with preservative-laden cold cuts, and Boston Market, which serves mystery chicken dinners and side dishes.

Vintage Grocery Coupon BookImage by HA! Designs - Artbyheather via Flickr

Now, here are two coupons I'll take to the store: $2 off Method, a 50-load, plant-based, ultra-concentrated detergent that promises to deliver the same beautifully clean clothes as the petroleum-based stuff in those big plastic jugs; and 40 cents off any size package of Wacky Mac pasta, which is made from beets, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables.

But where are the coupons for such high quality food as smoked wild-caught salmon, 100% whole grain bread, organic or antibiotic-free chicken, organic ground beef, fresh fish, organic spring mix, herbicide-free tomatoes and on and on (all of which I buy at Costco).

Do I have to settle for processed or conventionally raised food to save money with coupons? 

Or do the low prices and high quality at Costco -- and the cash rebate that more than covers the membership fee -- make more sense? Costco doesn't accept store coupons, but issues its own coupons about five times a year.

ShopRite has its Can Can Sale for stocking up on canned and other goods, and offers drug-free chicken, beef and lamb, too. Often, you can buy free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia for $5.99 a pound or less, and all you need is a store card, not a coupon.

At Whole Foods, I try to buy items when they are on sale, including organic pasta from Italy and vegetarian meat loafs made from whole grain. I've also found bottles of red wine there for about $5. This week, extra-virgin olive oil sold under the Fairway Market label in Paramus is on sale for $4.99 a liter, an excellent price, and you don't need a coupon. 

And there are plenty of deals at H Mart, the chain of Korean supermarkets in Bergen County that doesn't accept store coupons. The fresh fish selection is tremendous.

We eat a lot of sardines -- in salads, mixed with other canned fish, and with rice and pasta -- and I have never found a lower price -- with or without a coupon -- than the 99-cent beauties from Morocco at Fattal's Bakery in Paterson, where I buy two dozen cans at a time (not skinless and boneless). Sahara Fine Foods, a Middle Eastern grocery in Hackensack, also stocks them.

I've also found coupons on the Web sites of the products I buy, including Organic Valley. Earthbound Farm and other companies will send you a cash card or coupons if you write them an e-mail about their product.

For example, when the organic spring mix I bought at Costco rotted before its use-by date, Earthbound Farm sent me a $10 Costco gift card. The product costs under $5.

But when I e-mailed Finlandia cheese about inconsistent slices in thin-sliced Swiss I bought at Costco, I received store coupons that essentially didn't make economic sense to use, because ShopRite and other supermarkets charge about twice as much per pound of sliced cheese than the warehouse store.

Since I stopped eating meat nearly a year ago, I have been spending more and more of my food dollars at Costco, where I can find such gourmet items as lobster ravioli and smoked wild salmon; lobster bisque and king crab soup; a wide array of fresh and frozen seafood; cheeses from around the world; and organic or herbicide-free produce. 

Plus, the two credit cards I use provide me with hundreds of dollars in rebates every year on food, gasoline and other purchases. 

Google Search Coupon: 1 FREE Google SearchImage by Bramus! via Flickr

I'm going to take a look at some of the coupon Web sites and see if they have anything to offer.

One thing I will not do is compromise my standards for the ingredients that go into our home-cooked meals or start eating a lot of processed foods just to save money.

We live to eat -- and we eat well. That won't change.

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  1. Guy Fieri has become beyond annoying. Somebody needs to slap the fool and bring him back to reality, his culinary knowledge is a fraction of what he thinks it is.

  2. My cholesterol shoots up just watching him eat all that meat on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," or whatever the program is called.

    I've also stopped watching "Man v. Food." It's just disgusting.


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