Monday, April 16, 2012

On Extreme Couponing, and the One-Dimensionality of My Stewardship

A few years ago, from 2008 to 2010, I was an avid couponer. In some cases, when I was really on fire, you could have called me an extreme couponer. My basement shelves were full of cereal I had bought for pennies on the dollar, not to mention cake and cookie mixes and frostings. I also had huge stockpiles of various and sundry granola bars, candy (usually from CVS couponing), cereals, and Pop Tarts.

One of my old 2009 hauls from a double/triple coupon run.

Due to some double and triple coupon specials at a few local grocery stores, I was regularly scoring certain food items (especially BBQ sauces and salad dressings) for free, and I even had a few grocery runs where I bought in excess of $100 worth of merchandise for around $30.

Yes, I thought to myself, rather smugly at times, I am being a good steward! There was something that creeping up on me, though, rather uneasily. I was feeling bloated, definitely in the worst shape of my life. I was always hungry. I was perpetually cranky and had uneven moods.

As it turns out, I was only being an OK steward on exactly one axis - money-saving. But as I've found in some very humbling ways, being a good steward of what I've been granted does not mean being as shrewd as possible in only one dimension - of money. Squandering away my health and my body for the sake of us making a cheap or free breakfast out of processed carbs was not working out. I had to see my body and my health as other resources I'd been granted, and once that realization snapped into place, I've come to see stewardship as a multidimensional phenomenon, one that I am always trying to bring a little more into balance across its various axes. I definitely don't believe that I've nailed down this stewardship thing, not by a very long shot!

I do think it is still possible to save well with coupons on natural and organic items, including whole foods. But it takes a different kind of strategy, and a different knowledge set of the sellers - farms, markets, grocery stores, online vendors and other whole foods purveyors. And sometimes, the best deal just won't be found, and in those times I've often had to chalk up the higher expense to an investment in one of my other stewarded resources of health and a strong body.

What nonmonetary resources have you come to better value and steward over the years?


  1. I struggle with this balance a lot. Sometimes it's hard to put myself (and my family) first by buying what I know I should because of the bottom line--but like you said, ultimately we are investing in ourselves.

  2. I cringe when I see people in the grocery stores with the huge binder because I know that most likely they are stocking up on processed foods. I would love to hear your tips and tricks for saving on whole foods though. I feel like I do an OK job at the farmer's market and I grow my own, but I struggle with the protein end of things.

  3. Hey, Katherine and Genevieve! Thanks for your comments.

    For me, one of the biggest unexplored areas of money saving is figuring out more crafty ways to include offal (organ meats) in our diet. Offal (at least from my farmer) is sooooo much cheaper per pound than other cuts. I'm a total novice at offal, though! I've only just learned how to smuggle a bit of grassfed beef liver in with the rest of the ground meat in our chili. :)

  4. Isn't it funny how much things change? I also used to do a lot of couponing, which meant I came home with SO MUCH processed food. I entered the highest weight of my life before realizing that maybe all of this non-food wasn't so good for me. I became psuedo-Paleo before I even knew what it was (though I ate grains and rice). And now that I avoid all of the food in that picture? I feel a million times better.

    I have to work on spending less now, though. Maybe including some offal (if I can FIND IT!) would be a good place to start!

  5. I'm a recovering couponer myself! I still have my binder and I still clip. However, being primal for the last 3 months has definitely changed my habits. I no longer clip every coupon. I do clip coupons for deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, toilet paper and paper towels and many other non-food items. If I can get these things cheap then I have more to spend in the produce section and at US Wellness meats. Couponing is not necessarily bad, its what you do with your couponing that counts. I also keep coupons for clothes and toys. I have a 2 year old and an 11 year old. Saving money on clothes is another big helper.

  6. Our area has an organic produce delivery service. While the food isn't always local (we live in Iowa with frozen winters), we love that we can budget the same amount each week for groceries and know that we are getting organic food cheaper than at a grocery store. And I can't wait for our farmer's markets to get going again! That is a great way for us to get local, organic produce pretty cheap too.

    Does anybody have any experience grinding their own meat? I've wondered if getting different cuts of grass-fed beef and grinding my own meat would be cheaper.

    1. Katie, I just ground up some venison from last hunting season a couple days ago. My BIL has a grinder attachment for the KitchenAid mixer. I borrowed it and had it all done in no time! It's very easy!

  7. Love this! I've had several friends really go crazy with the couponing, but I could never do it because so much of it was processed foods. This is a great perspective.

  8. Just found your blog through Paleo parents!
    Love this post, it is precisely what I have been through. Recently my son commented "remember when we had like 30 boxes of cereal in the pantry?".
    We do still use coupons, mostly for household goods, but there are still some out there for a few food items we buy.
    Now I tend to scour Amazon for deals on the pricier staples like coconut oil.

  9. I had wanted to try couponing, but I can't ever seem to find coupons for things that we actually eat (I try to stay away from processed). I've gotten a few off specific brand websites, but once you use them, they're gone. We're joining a CSA this year to get organic/naturally raised produce for summer. I priced it out compared to how much I would spend at the grocery store every week for veggies and the like (which are usually not organic) and it's a great deal! Especially since we'll be supporting local farmers!

  10. I'm so glad to see someone else saying this! Couponing is also hard on the Earth since it so often requires you to buy a smaller package to save money. The stockpiling mentality has also cost us money as we have had to change our household diet based on medical issues, leaving me stuck with quantities of food we can no longer eat. But it is a hard habit to get out of!

  11. Thanks for this post... this was me, same situation. I was an avid couponer, stocked to the ceiling with junk that was not good for any of us. In march I made the goal to change lifestyles and start eating healthy and exercise to lose weight. I was at a whopping 160lbs!!! I have since then dropped 20 lbs (currently at 140 and size 8) and I recently discovered Paleo through a friend. Today I finally went into my pantry and stockpile and got rid of all that crap. I filled 3 large plastic storage containers with stuff that I cannot believe we used to eat. I'm so excited for this change in our lives and I'm so glad I found your blog, in particular this post :)


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