Sunday, September 21, 2014

How I Save Money on Produce - September 21, 2014

The first thing most people say when I tell them I like to use coupons is that "coupons are only for processed food." Which implies that I only buy processed food for my family, and that's not very nice - and most definitely not true. I'm a broken record but this is the fact: many coupons are for processed food but not all. You just have to dig a bit.

So someone asked me how I save money on produce and I figured I'd just blog about it really quick so I'd have a reference source to send people instead of just answering over and over.

But I have to say first, I am lucky enough to live near YDFM, so I have easy access to inexpensive fresh produce (organic and conventional). To be honest, that is the short answer of it - when I shop at YDFM, I spend less than I spend at regular grocery stores and my cart is full of ingredients, not finished products. If you can find a place like this near you, that's what I'll say to do - don't fuss with coupons or sales, just buy the cheapest you can find.

Around here (in the greater Atlanta area), there are also so-called "ethnic" grocery stores and they almost always have super cheap produce (and produce I can't find anywhere else) - Super H-Mart, Cherian's International Groceries, Patel Brothers, the Buford Highway Farmers Market, etc. (Plus, if you have a Super H-Mart near you and if you sign up for a shopper card, they also send you coupon books every few months with produce deals galore in them.)

Also, I haven't bought the paper in months and I almost never use the coupons from those circulars. I rely on printables, apps, and other deals instead.

Other ways to save money on produce with coupons:

Look for the marked-down stuff in the back of the store! Here, my local Kroger stores do this regularly. I've bought barely browning bananas for pennies and frozen them to make smoothies and "ice cream." I always see bruised fruit or veggies that are on their way to mush but still edible. If my budget was even tighter than it is now, I'd buy from there constantly.

Buy in season! Out-of-season fresh produce = more expensive. Find out what's in season in your area and buy that to get the best prices.

Frozen frozen frozen! Many studies have shown that frozen veggies are as good as - sometimes better than - fresh. Plus it lasts longer (how many times have you bought fresh stuff and had it go bad? Just me? I doubt it...). I can get a big bag of frozen spinach for 99 cents and I put that in everything. Frozen peas are awesome. Frozen broccoli rules. I buy a lot of frozen produce. Store brand, mostly. But there are almost always coupons for the national brands and this is particularly awesome when you can combine it with a sale.

Apps! Ibotta (referral link!), Savingstar, Checkout 51, Snap from Groupon (also a referral link!). All almost always have rebate deals on fresh produce - Savingstar has a weekly 20% deal, Checkout 51 has given me money off of bananas, oranges, and salad mix, to name a few. Ibotta has deals all the time. There are downsides to this strategy - you have to save your receipt (hi, husband who never remembers to do this), take a picture of it within the app (and scan the bar codes of things you bought - that takes 1 second though), upload it, and wait to be credited. It's an extra step to save money but for me it's worth it. Then all of these apps have a minimum threshold for cashing out, so this is not fast. But it's money back for produce, and I'll take it. Also check out Shopmium (referral code - please use it! - GMMKKUWC, and you'll get a free Lindt chocolate bar when you do, which is LIKE a vegetable...), which kicks back your savings to you without a minimum, and BerryCart, which is all organic/healthy products, including produce.

Target! Target will text you coupons if you sign up for them, and I have seen fresh (and frozen) produce deals almost every week.

Digital coupons! Kroger has digital coupons for fresh stuff often (usually its house-brand organics).

Printables! Especially the printables from Mambo Sprouts (all organic/healthy stuff), but poke around on,,, and also (some are Target store coupons - and some stores consider Target a competitor and take 'em too - and some are manufacturer).

Overage! Sometimes you have to buy something you don't want/need (DONATE IT) because it's not only free but your coupons/savings give you more back than the item costs - and then you can apply that extra to your produce. Rare these days, but it does happen. How do you find out about these deals? Well...

Bloggers! Find the bloggers covering your area/your local stores and follow them! They do all the legwork for you. I don't know what I'd do without Michelle from iheartpublix and iheartkroger. (I also like Southern Savers.) MoneySavingMom and CouponMom also cover grocery stores across the country. Let them tell you what's on sale and how to maximize that sale! They often highlight produce deals so watch for those in particular - and scroll by what you won't buy/use/eat.

Go to the brands themselves! Find Facebook or webpages for produce "brands" and sign up for whatever you can. Check packages too - some brands of strawberries, for example, or packaged lettuce blends, definitely offer printables and bonuses and deals. Basically, look for any spot where you might be able to get a discount and sign up for it.

And finally, yes, there are circular coupons for produce. Usually it's for frozen/name brands (Birds Eye, Green Giant, etc.), but sometimes it's for fresh (I've seen coupons for oranges, pomegranates, lettuce....). Also sometimes they come in the form of "Buy this one thing, get this produce thing for a discount/free." If you're buying the first thing anyway ( cereal, get strawberries), this can work out well for you.

Then stretch what you get. Buy in bulk if you find a great deal and freeze (I did this with fresh organic strawberries when they were at their peak - cheapest and sweetest - a few months ago, and I plan to use them in January when it's dark and cold). Make a soup (and freeze it). Sneak everything into pasta sauce. Etc etc etc. I also adore BudgetBytes for recipes that are inexpensive and full of veggies.

I will update this post if I think of more tips, and I welcome your comments on how you save money on fruits and vegetables because nom nom nom!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Current Favorite Recipes and Getting Out of a Rut

The only way to get out of a writing rut is to crawl my way to the edge and up and out, I suppose.

In an effort to save money and to stop going to the amazing, beautiful, fabulous restaurants that surround me where I live, I've started actively cooking again. Before this "I'm cooking, look at me go!" moment, my husband mostly was the family cook. He is amazing for doing this, first of all. Second, his skill is opening a pantry of ingredients and throwing things together - often within a short period of time - to produce a dinner that the entire family will eat. That way of cooking impacts how we grocery shop to a large degree - we buy ingredients without thinking exactly of how they'll fit together. They just will.

Plus I am a Lifetime Weight Watchers member. I don't track anymore (oh I have the best of intentions some mornings - and by midday I've given up again) but I have maintained my weight for well over two years and don't want to screw that up. I am very mindful of ingredients, portions, calories, and so on. I don't skimp, necessarily, but I am careful. And I like to eat as little processed foods as possible and there are some ingredients that I avoid as much as I possibly can.

What we usually have for dinner when he cooks: A grain (whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice), a protein (we keep a vegetarian house even though now my husband is not vegetarian and my daughter is not when she's out and about - he's not a fan of tofu but I am, we also use seitan, beans/chickpeas, and the occasional faux meat - usually Gardein, sometimes other brands depending on what's on sale). Vegetables of all kinds - usually fresh but sometimes frozen, almost always organic but sometimes not. A sauce - he's a big fan of all kinds of sauces and spices and will make/mix/create with them. And we almost always have a "salad," whether that's a bag of greens rinsed and put into bowls or something fancier. (I used to eat my salad first but now he's taught me to have it after my main course. It's just what we do.)

But sometimes I am just tired of that combination of things. Of course all I want to do is say "let's go out to eat!" but our financial situation is, as a household of two freelancers at the moment, precarious on a good day. Our local restaurants are just amazing. Just....amazing. But we cut back to maybe once or twice a month, and we order carefully.

Cut to me realizing I need to cook more. I've always loved to cook, I even did cook every so often, but it's easier to just let my husband take over. My way of cooking is more often than not to find a recipe I like (blogs, friends' recommendations, cookbooks...) and follow it as closely as I possibly can. When I realized "Hey, I need to cook more because that produces the more complex kinds of dinners I like - the ones I'm craving in restaurants," I started seeking out recipes that could become part of a routine.

I am lucky to be friends with a woman who plans her meals very, very carefully and who already had this sort of stable of recipes established for her family. They eat very little meat, so most of her favorites are either already vegetarian or easily adapted. She recommended a few blogs to me, and I added them to my repertoire.

So here is a list of recipes that I make on the regular for my family. Most are from Budget Bytes and Skinny Taste. My daughter eats the things on this list sometimes. I will make notes as to how I modify them for her. This list, this entire post, is just to climb out of the rut. Sorrynotsorry if it's not complete or exciting or helpful. It just is what it is. - When I make this, I make 8-10 at once and freeze most of them, each individually wrapped in foil and placed into a large plastic bag. They cook from frozen beautifully and I love that I have many lunches already made ahead of time. But I save a plain tortilla for my kid and I make her a quesadilla with cheese, black beans, and spinach instead. - Fast and easy and the kid eats it with no modifications except that I give her Parmesan instead of feta. - I make these for my lunch all. the. time. I make a batch of polenta ahead of time and just scoop some out every day and cook up some fast mushrooms/spinach and throw on the feta and sauce. Divine. - I have learned how to make tortillas, but I haven't learned how to make them round. Suggestions on this problem are welcome. I halve this recipe and use a blend of 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup of regular flour. (I also like to use Trader Joe's whole wheat tortillas because they don't have any crazy ingredients and are inexpensive. I have yet to find a regular grocery store brand of tortillas that has such a short ingredient list.) (Next up: Try to make corn tortillas.) - These feel like they take forever to make/cook but they are delicious and are excellent hot or cold the next day too. The kid eats these though she whines while doing so. - The kid eats this and really that's the end of that. It's so easy.

Two pickle recipes that I've made: - I love staring at Smitten Kitchen's recipes a lot but have yet to make anything beyond this. - I ate this daily for all of June and much of July. - Super easy and absolutely gorgeous. -  It's fall! It's time to make these apple cider donuts over and over and over... - More donuts!

Also I have been making pizza once a week using premade dough from either YDFM (usually) or Trader Joe's. I'm learning new ways to make that better but have yet to leap to a pizza stone and peel. I know, I know. I use a Dollar Tree pan. It works. I have my eye on this simple dough recipe but haven't done it yet - premade dough is only $1.20 or so: Last night I actually made pizza using TJs dough and I tried making it on the *back* of the Dollar Tree pan and...that worked very well.

So there are some of my latest tricks. I have a clipboard hanging on the wall onto which I clip any recipes that I've printed out, so I have sort of a makeshift and ever-growing cookbook there. I probably should use my actual cookbooks more often. Maybe that's a post for another day.