(Not So) Extreme vegan couponing!

Always one to fall in love with shows years after they were popular, I finally became addicted to TLC’s Extreme Couponing. Perhaps it appeals to my hoarder tendencies, but something about building a stockpile makes me just a little bit giddy. I’ve resisted writing about my adventures because (as you all can guess by now) I have a tendency to fall off the band wagon with things that excite me initially 🙁 BUT I have now been couponing (in a not-so extreme) capacity for about 3 months now so I thought it MIGHT be safe to start writing about it. So here we go!

The first thing I decided to do was to pretty much ignore everything on the show that got me hooked in the first place. As a vegan I can’t buy 98% of the things that are shown on that show, and as someone who actually cares about her health and the health of her family, I choose not to buy at least another 1% of the things I actually can buy. We’re dealing with very limited space here on the range so that takes out the possibility of a stockpile of 900+ tubes of toothpaste, and as a working mom I don’t have the luxury of dedicating a bajillion hours to this enterprise, so forget spending 30 hours clipping and 4 hours checking out! So here’s what I did:

1. I decided to start by making a list of all the things I already buy: almond milk, toilet paper, tofu, etc. etc. I chose, for the start of this experiment, to go with the brands I love and take it from there. I have since let brand loyalty slip a bit, but there’s no need if you really really love Tom’s toothpaste!

2. I set up a “dummy” email account that would be used for any site where I had to enter my email address to get a coupon. It keeps my personal email pristine and also allows me to get coupon emails (like for sites I follow such as couponmom.com or krazycouponlady.com) to all be filtered there.

3. I started Googling. I specifically focused on coupons.com (you can search by brand) and visited websites to see if they listed coupons. Then, if they didn’t, I would visit their Facebook pages and see if I “liked” them, if they would give me a coupon (which they usually did). Within about 30 minutes of searching I had a coupon for Nasoya tofu (you can get one each week sent to you if you do their Tofu-U Pledge!), Blue Diamond almond milk, Silk soy milk (my mother-in-law loves this stuff), and Driscoll’s berries(.50 coupon for signing up and more coupons for every survey)!

4. I went to my two go-to grocery store’s websites and looked at their coupon policies. I was specifically looking for stores that doubled coupons as I knew that was how I would get the best deals. So for me, I chose Stop & Shop (they double up to $1 coupons) and King Kullen (they double up to AND including $1 coupons) as the two stores I would frequent.

5. Now every week I only look for deals at those two grocery stores. Type in something like “x store coupon matchup” into Google and let the games begin! It only takes me about 20-30 minutes each week to go to a matchup post and see what’s on sale, organize my coupons, and take off for my weekly shopping trip and the savings have been awesome! If I told you that each month you would need to work for approximately 6 hours (including shopping time) and I would give you a check for $300 or more, would you do it? Of course you would!! That’s how much I am averaging on savings each month.

So start small, but start. If you’d like to see more in-depth posts about what I’m buying or how I’m saving, just ask! Some weeks I’m a little more gung-ho than others but I am always couponing now. What can I say? I love to save money 😉

Meet my good friend ANDI

Well we’ve made it to week 2 of our attempt to cut our grocery budget and I’ve learned some important things! One of the big lessons this week was that I had to rethink the way I choose food when I shop. As you know from my ridiculously large collection of cookbooks, I love recipes and I love creating meal plans based around recipes. Sure I’ve gotten rather good at keeping within my (previously larger) budget because I learned tricks and tips like combining ingredients or cooking styles for one week, checking the circulars, etc., but I really let my mood dictate my shopping choices.

This is going to have to change.

I thought long and hard about my blown budget at Whole Foods last week (I still maintain that I didn’t do badly considering it was all organic!) and I wanted to share one tip that I learned from that fateful day: when you have a limited budget you need to make every calorie count. That’s not to say that you need to focus on calorie-rich foods like Doritos and white bread, but rather that we should be focusing on nutrient-rich foods like greens, lentils, and berries (if they are organic and deeply discounted). Lots of grocery stores have devised ways of helping consumers to know which choices might be best nutritionally but one I particularly like is the ANDI system, featured at Whole Foods. The ANDI system shows the nutrient density of a food on a scale of 1-1000 and, thanks to Whole Foods, you need look no further than the tag hanging in front of each vegetable, or cradled lovingly on the bulk bins.

So how does that translate into shopping choices? Well, for me, it meant that I chose to buy collard greens instead of swiss chard and lentils instead of chickpeas. That’s not to say that I won’t ever buy chickpeas again! I love my chickpeas…Instead, it just means that when you are really limiting your budget you need to try and get as many nutrients as you can for your buck. Make collard wraps instead of wheat wraps, lentil burgers instead of falafel, and if you have to choose between sunflower seeds and almonds choose the lovely little seeds of death (they always get caught in my throat!). Don’t get stuck on any system, including the ANDI system, to make all of your choices (I still disagree with them on quinoa’s rating, for example) but using it as a guide definitely changed my way of thinking about food.

To see someone really utilizing this system well I highly recommend http://daily.sightline.org/2011/02/10/productive-produce/. They look at the ANDI scores of food and then break each choice down by price-per-cup. This is a super easy way to try and make more healthful choices while counting your pennies. Check it out!

There’s no denying it. This is going to be tough.

I must admit, I was a bit ambitious last week and I immediately went out and tried to buy everything on my Top 20 list. I wanted to see just how far away from the finish line I actually was. Though I’m not astronomically off my mark (my budget is $40 weekly since I’m feeding my husband and myself), I found the results a little grim. Now, mind you, this is shopping at Whole Foods and almost everything is organic so I definitely know I could do cheaper. I just don’t know how I will continue to do healthier in addition to cheaper. I suppose that’s part of the learning curve…Below is my bounty, in all its glory:

Organic yellow yam: $1.92
Gluten-free pasta: $2.99
Organic quinoa (over 1 lb): $2.34
Organic brown rice (over 1 lb): $3.08
Organic lentils (over 1 lb): $3.12
Garlic: $.33
Organic chard (2 bunches): $4
Organic red onions (3 lbs): $3.99
Spike seasoning: $2.69
Organic peanut butter: $3.99
Organic carrots (10): $1.60
Canned diced tomatoes: $1.69
Organic red potatoes (5lbs): $5.99
Gluten-free bread: $5.99
Olive oil: $5
Flax oil: $5
Sunflower seeds (1 lb): $2
Tofu: $1.69
Bananas (15): $2.80
Organic raisins: $3.49

Bag refund: $-.30

Grand total: $63.40

So how can I cut approximately $23 from my budget? Well, for starters, I think I will need to forgo any organic yams in the near future! How in the holy hell does one sweet potato cost almost $2?! Cross that baby off the list and we’ve only got to get it down $20 more! There will be carry-over from my red onions and potatoes so my grocery list will be cheaper next week but I was really hoping to stay within the budget each and every week, rather than focusing on carry-over. We’ll see how practical that is. I do know that I bought WAY too many dried goods for my own well-being! It seems I’m a bit ambitious, looking to eat 1 lb of lentils, brown rice AND quinoa in one week! We definitely made a dent but we could have bought half the amount of each and been fine. And I would have KILLED to put coffee and sugar on the budget!

Lots of learning to be done, my friend. Lots of learning.

Lorien’s Top 20 Grocery Staples

So…For those of you who have not been in on the conversation, Joe and I decided to each create a grocery list of 20 items we couldn’t live without (as of right now). Part of the reason for this is that we feel it’s important to represent those who don’t have the money to buy the 5 spices (I personally have over 50 spices right now) needed for a tofu scramble or who don’t have the room (or the money) to buy everything in 50 pound increments in order to ensure the best deal. The fact of the matter is, when we say we only have $20-40 a week that includes necessities like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc. I’m also hoping for a little simplicity in my life, cooking-wise. I love having the freedom to choose from by bajillion spices, but part of me wants to go back to the basics in an attempt to live, and cook, more simply. If we’re going to give this thing a real go I think we need to build from the ground up and start with a completely blank slate. Part of what that means is that my much-loved spice rack will have to be ignored as I re-learn what it means to cook with only salt and pepper in the kitchen (I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified).

So what would it take to get a kitchen up and running? Not including pots, pans, knives, etc., this is my list (in no particular order):

1. Tofu (did you read the title of this blog?!)
2. Kale
3. Canned Tomatoes
4. GF pasta (wheat gives me stomachaches)
5. GF bread (I hate you wheat!)
6. Quinoa
7. Bananas
8. Flax Oil (Omegas are delicious and nutritious!)
9. Olive Oil (I WISH I could use flax oil to cook! It would make things so much easier…)
10. Brown Rice
11. Miso
12. Potatoes (I’m including sweet, white, red, russet…I love potatoes!)
13. Spike Seasoning (I have to admit, at first I was trying to find a blend so I didn’t lose 2 slots to salt AND pepper, but then I remembered this beautiful staple! It’s not really cheating if I love it, right? Right?)
14. Garlic
15. Onions (red is my fave but I’ll do white or yellow if the price is right)
16. Peanut Butter
17. Fruit other than bananas (sorry to be generic but this is pretty flexible. I do whatever is in season or, in a pinch, dried or frozen fruit)
18. Nuts or Seeds (I usually just pick one at random, depending on sales and my mood. Almonds are definitely my favorite, though)
19. Carrots
20. Chickpeas (I rotate a different bean for each week but chickpeas are a winner, regardless!)

I being, who I am, had to re-write my list several times in an attempt to decide which is more important: salt or beans, coffee or brown rice, etc. I will say this- you learn a lot about yourself when you try and limit yourself to only 20 items. Now onto stage 2…pricing said list. I have a feeling a couple of those items are going to murder my budget! Wish me luck!

How a Blog Was Born

Once upon a time there was a boy named Joe and a girl named Lorien who met while working at an Italian restaurant which shall not be named. When first they met, Joe and Lorien both shared a love of all things meat, cheese, and wheat-related. As time passed, however, they both began on their own roads to culinary distinction. Lorien became a vegan and discovered a latent wheat allergy (which she has been ignoring until now) and Joe slowly began to dip his toes first into vegetarianism and finally into the vegan pool of bliss (this does not obligate him to remain there). Though their roads had been different, they found themselves facing similar problems. Mainly, how to eat healthy on a budget ($20-40 a week to be exact) while living in one of the most expensive areas in the United States (Joe lives in New York City and Lorien lives in the Hamptons). Thus, a blog was born. Encompassed in this blog are the musings of Lorien and Joe as they both look for the answers to this question and, hopefully, enjoy a hell of a lot of good food along the way.