Recession Mama

{May 17, 2009}   GUEST POST: Saving Greens

Katy sez: My friend Jennifer is a comedian/writer in Los Angeles. This is how she describes herself:

Jennifer Eolin started being creative at the tender age of 6 months. A victim of nepotism, her Dad cast her in a local grocery store commercial. Her part was easy. Just ride in the shopping cart and look ordinary. Jennifer instead made the choice to fall out of her seat and hit her head, thus halting production and pulling focus from the lead actress (who happened to be her mother). A diva was born.

Speaking of grocery stores…Jennifer wrote about a product that would help all of us save some green on her blog, The New Old Biddy.

I asked her to re-purpose it for us here.

This would make Grandma very proud…by Jennifer Eolin:

My grandmother was a whiz-bang at memorizing produce prices. She’d read the newspaper and then you could quiz her about the price of any given vegetable or fruit at the different grocery stores in the area and she would answer with 99.9% accuracy. And to compound this, if lettuce was 5 cents cheaper a head in the next town over, she’d make Grandpa drive their Cadillac over there so she could buy it there. Even if it was the only thing she had to get there, “Broccoli is 2 cents cheaper at Wegman’s!” (We dared not tell them that they probably lost their savings in gas… It was quieter that way.) So while my grandmother would plan her whole day around her produce purchases, I avoided it like Fox News avoids the truth (HEY-OO!). Not because of taste (except for cauliflower – blech!), but because I live alone and the stuff goes bad within 2 days of purchase. And I constantly fall into the trap of, “Wow, tomatoes look great in the store!” So I buy them. Then the next day I’m all, “Wow, I don’t feel like tomatoes today.” So they stay in the fridge instead of coming to work with me for lunch. Then a few days later I’ll say, “I could go for tomatoes—EWWWW! GA-ROSSS! WHY DOES IT HAVE TWO HEADS?!” And into the trash they go. Along with the money they cost me. Phooey. While I avoid buying produce, I DO buy every As Seen on TV product I can get my hands on. So imagine my happy fists when I saw this little item beckoning me at my local CVS:

Green bagsOH HAPPY DAY!

However, I was wary and kept my happy fists to only two shakes instead of their usual fit. After all, I’d been duped before. I’ve renamed the Sham-Wow the Sham-Bullshit. It doesn’t soak up anything other than my dignity and remaining self esteem. And $19.99. (Stupid hooker beater dude is also a liar. Go figure.) But in a quest to not throw my blueberries away constantly (why does that sound dirty?!), I bought Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags (and why does that sound even dirtier??). And low and behold…. THEY WORK. Honestly, they do. I have tomatoes that are over a week old from Trader Joe’s (you know, the kind that you buy and they are already half rotten by the time you get them home). I have week old blueberries that haven’t shriveled up like Papa Smurf’s man-junk yet. I have bell peppers and grapes that are still edible and don’t look like biology experiments! IT’S A MODERN MIRACLE!!! These bags WORK! So in honor of my grandma, I’m passing along my good find in hopes that Debbie Meyer’s Green bags will help keep your produce happy and non-mulchy. But if you drive to the next town to save five cents, I’m sorry, but you’re on your own as I don’t know an As Seen on TV product that will help you there. I’ll just send you the five cents, how ’bout that?


By Sarah (Read yesterday’s post where Katy introduced the lovely Sarah.)

After I accumulate a pile of coupons, I sort them out in product categories so that I can file them. Everyone’s organization system is different and my roommate says that mine is like an alien language (which says a lot because she can read four different languages). For example: Coupons for baked goods and ingredients for baking are filed under “B,” whether it’s bread, brownie mix or flour. However, sugar coupons are filed under “S,” because who would look for a sugar coupon under “B?” And coupons for butter and margarine are under “D” for dairy, since that’s where the cheese and milk coupons are and those items are usually near each other in the store’s refrigerated section. In my mind it makes perfect sense… You just create a system of organization that works for you and stick with it!


Whenever I can, before I go shopping, I look through the shopping list and pull out the coupons that I think we may use on that trip. I put them in the front of my organizer and make a mark next to the item on the list, to remind myself that I have a coupon. It makes a big difference, instead of standing in the aisle, trying to find that frozen vegetable coupon that you thought might be in there. When I have plenty of time, I’ll even rewrite the list so that the items are organized according to the layout of the store – it makes a shopping trip quicker and easier. As you shop, pull out a coupon as you put the corresponding product into your cart. The last thing you want is to be that woman who gets up to the check out and pulls out her fistful of coupons to figure out which coupons she’s using. That’s frustrating to everyone involved, from the staff to the other shoppers.


I usually shop at the same Ralph’s store location, because it’s close to home, they have pretty aggressive pricing, a relatively diverse selection and they double the value of my coupons! They no longer double any coupons over a dollar, but every little bit counts. Since I’m a regular shopper and have a Ralphs Rewards card, I also receive coupons at checkout, for products that I’ve bought previously or for related and/or competitor’s products. Those go into my purse, to be either filed away or tossed, depending on whether they’re useful. Bringing my own reusable bags to the store helps to get more coupons as well, since I receive Rewards points for each one. Those points are later returned to me via mailed coupons for dollars off my next grocery purchases. As they say, it’s not just good for the earth; it’s good for your pocketbook.


Sometimes, when clipping, I set coupons aside for friends that I know would use them, such as diaper coupons for my newly frugal twin-bearing friends. I don’t offer coupons to people who don’t already use them, because I don’t want to intimate that they need to save money or to blatantly announce my spendthrift ways. (I suppose that these posts are tantamount to that – oh well!)

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I get a tremendous satisfaction when I look at my receipt and see how much money I saved with the coupons I brought to the store. There are plenty of people who save MORE money with coupons than I do, to a nigh professional level. Actually, there is an Association of Professional Couponers, of which I am not a member. (Yet…) This woman saved 97% on a recent trip to the grocery store! My coupons save me between $5 and $50 at the grocery store, a bit less at Target or a location that doesn’t double coupons. I definitely feel that the time I invest in clipping and organizing coupons is well spent, beyond just the dollars that remain in my pocket. It keeps me aware of new products, marketing, food trends and helps me keep track of exactly what kind of food and household products I’m eating / using. It may take me a little longer to shop than some people, but that’s OK with me. I’ll even stop and offer them a spare coupon so they can save on that box of pasta they just picked up!

Katy Sez: My friend, Sarah, doesn’t look like someone who clips coupons, right?


I mean she’s cute, blonde, and outgoing! She’s also really great at cooking, crafts, and throwing wicked awesome parties. So, why does clipping coupons have such a stereotype attached? Well, let me have her explain how she got started doing something that normally you think cheap old ladies do.

By Sarah

I’ll come right out and admit it: I am a coupon clipper. I carefully cut them out of newspapers and magazines, I print them out from the Internet, sometimes I get them in the mail. Go ahead and chuckle, roll your eyes at me, have your vision of a shuffling old woman in a housecoat and let me know when you’re finished… Now think of the money that I have in my wallet that you don’t! I don’t claim to be an expert clipper, but I’m happy to share a little bit about what works for me.

My coupon use didn’t start with the recession; I’ve been doing it for years. I didn’t inherit the habit from my parents either, although I come from a family of bargain hunters. My mother was only an occasional coupon user during my childhood. However she is/was frugal and fastidious about knowing which grocery store had the best produce prices and which one had lower prices on dairy, etc. Once a week we would zip from store to store for the different bargains to stock the fridge and pantry. My father wasn’t a devoted coupon clipper either, although he was quite the deal hound. He loved a store called “Canned Goods Plus,” which sold – canned good, plus some other stuff. It was a dimly lit building next to an Ames department store and most of the goods were dented or on the verge of expiration (Christmas candy in July, anyone?). For him it was not about stocking the pantry, it was finding odd items for cheap. He ended up cluttering the house with things that we didn’t need – which didn’t actually save money at all, but what I learned from his spending habits is a whole different ball of wax.

During college I wasn’t much of a clipper either, you don’t find that many coupons for ramen or macaroni and cheese in the USC student newspaper. It was post-graduation, when I found myself jobless and completely confused that I started clipping coupons. I needed a task that made me feel like I was contributing to the household beyond cooking and cleaning as my roommate kept us afloat financially. Buying the Sunday Los Angeles Times and poring over the deals offered by manufacturers and local stores was like a research project, figuring out how to stack weekly specials with coupons that were good for months in order to get the most bang for our buck.


Now that I’m employed and more secure, I still savor the weekly clipping ritual. About once a week, usually on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I will settle in at the kitchen table with the newspaper, my scissors and beaten-up purple plastic coupon organizer (gotta get a new one) and go to work. Flipping through the circulars, I’ll cut out coupons for products that we use regularly, both familiar and unfamiliar brands. Sometimes I’ll clip a coupon for a new product, if it sounds really interesting or useful to me. I try to avoid clipping a coupon just because it seems like such a good deal! I learned that lesson when I found myself tempted to buy things just because I would save money on them – not because we needed or really wanted them. It’s easy to fall prey to that temptation, whether it’s for a high tech cleaning gadget or fancy gourmet chocolate. I’m not against splurges, but doing that regularly cancels out any concept of frugality. Saving $2 is great, but if you weren’t going to buy the product originally aren’t you still spending more money than you need to?

I learned to be open to different brands as well. Just because your mother always used Best Foods mayonnaise, that doesn’t mean you might like something else for which you have a coupon. You’ll never know unless you try and since you’re trying to save money, it’s the perfect time! However, if you find a brand that you love, don’t force yourself to buy an alternative just because you have a coupon. We always buy Cottonelle because that’s what my roommate prefers and I’m not about to argue about it. I just check around to see which store sells it for the best price and stock up when we’re there. Similarly, I prefer Fair Trade coffee, for which there are rarely coupons, so I’m sure to get it when I’m at Trader Joe’s because it’s consistently cheapest there.

Tomorrow: Now that you’ve got all these coupons, what do you do with them?

et cetera