No coupons: Secrets to beat rising food costs

Published: Monday, March 26 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Aimie Buxton saves money on food buy making yogurt daily from kefir grains and milk and adding fruit to make smoothies for the family. She uses a strainer to remove the kefir grains (a starter culture of healthy bacteria and yeasts). Friday, March 23, 2012, in West Valley City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — It was exciting.

Aimie Buxton was saving money big time using coupons. Boxes and boxes of name-brand food filled up her long-term food storage.

"I used to be big into coupons," Buxton said. "But the food I was eating was not healthy. It was processed and not as good as homemade. On the back of packages the ingredients were not what I wanted to eat."

So one day she suddenly stopped doing the coupon thing.

And she is saving more money.

This would not surprise Jonni McCoy, the author of "Miserly Moms." When McCoy downsized from a two-income family to one income she found food was the area in the budget where she could save the most money. Her tips ended up in her book — which changed its subtitle in the latest edition from being about living on one income to "Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy."

Those tips cut her food bill in half.

Couponless and loving it

"I hate coupons," McCoy said. "I don't use coupons. And I don't encourage people to use coupons because coupons are for name brand items — which are more expensive than off-brands. They are for convenience foods, which you can make for half from scratch. You fare better without a coupon."

McCoy even had a showdown on Gayle King's television show once where she was pitted against a couponing expert. The coupon expert and McCoy were each assigned a family and asked to buy a week's worth of groceries. The coupon method cost $75. McCoy's method cost $50. "Coupons look flashy, but in the long run you do better shopping sales, making food from scratch, avoiding convenience food and buying off-brands."

McCoy thinks extreme couponing sends the wrong message of getting something for nothing. "It is very frustrating to watch that," she said.

By avoiding convenience foods, people will avoid preservatives and eat more healthily. McCoy follows the food pyramid more closely than the average family. "The average family's plate is lopsided," she said. "They have way too much protein — way too much refined carbs and very little vegetables. I flip that."

Stylishly frugal and healthy

Living more healthily is also part of what Sara Tetreault (pronounced Taytroh) of Portland, Oregon writes about on her blog, GoGingham.com. Tetreault said she and her husband decided to live frugally when they were married 22 years ago. "We decided to live this way as a way to save money and have choices when we were older — meaning now," she said.

She calls it "stylishly frugal living" — a way to live better for less money. And living better is about having together time, such as eating and cooking together with her two teenagers.

Tetreault is a fan of the bulk bin section of grocery stores. She likes how there is no packaging — so it is not only cheaper, it is more environmentally friendly. "We try to be aware of the amount of packaging," she said. "So we avoid things like the carryout roasted chicken you get at Costco with its huge plastic container."

When Tetreault's kids were younger, they would help her with scooping food out of the bulk bins at the store or using calculators to help figure out the price per unit of other items. "That was back when they thought it was fun," she said.

Now her children take turns cooking one meal a week. "To cook at home, you have to be at home," Tetreault said. "It's nice for families to eat dinner together."

But it takes planning. And planning is where much of the savings come.

Meal planning