Can Healthy Food Be Frugal? Part 2

“What am I putting in my grocery bag?

This is the question that I left you with in Part 1 (sorry for leaving you hanging…), the question that started dancing around my head a few months ago when I came out of the fog of “coupon world” mania.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love coupons and deals- they can save a ton of money (just today I bought $30+ worth of items at Rite Aid for $4 after coupons and rebates, a savings of 87%!). I can’t imagine not using them now that I know how to maximize the savings. Sometimes I can’t believe I use to think $1.50 was a good price for toothpaste. :-)

And I think I was fooling myself a bit, because even when I started couponing last year, I would never buy canned frostings or rice side dishes or even glucose meters, no matter how enticing they sounded: “hey- you can make money! What? You don’t need them- donate them!”

And speaking of the donating issue, I don’t know about you, but if I were in a tough place and needed food from a pantry, I would be pretty disappointed to get muffin mixes, fruit snacks, and canned frostings. To me, this ranks right up there with sending used tea bags to missionaries- if I wouldn’t eat or use them, why would I want others to eat/use them? What does that say about me? Am I holding others up before myself? Better to donate items these people NEED (just like me!) like beans, dairy, and vegetables.

OK, down from the soapbox…

It took awhile for me to realize the things I was letting into our house that I had never bought before (or not for many years) because I was looking at the whole deal and the end product: how much I could save. So, no matter how embarrassing, here’s a list of the things that I’ve purchased that I wish I hadn’t (what I can remember anyway…):

  1. Fruit snacks. OK, just one box, one time, but hello? we’re trying to stay away from corn syrup and dyes and this is about their only ingredients! But I just needed one more $1.50 item that had a good coupon to finish the “buy $25, get $10 catalina” deal…
  2. Nutrigrain bars. Boy they sound healthy, don’t they? I’m sorry to say I didn’t even look at the ingredients in the store (another catalina deal fogging the brain) and bought two boxes of these. I did look when I got home- the FIRST ingredient is high fructose corn syrup…
  3. Fiber One toaster pastries. I know, I know, I succumbed…what can I say? That I thought the fiber would outweigh the pastry part? Again, it was to round out one of those catalina deals. Seems to be a little pattern here…
  4. All Bran Crackers (there was another brand, but I’ve forgotten now). These had some incredible $1.50/1 Internet coupons a couple months ago, making for some cheap crackers. However, they are laden with preservatives and a long list of ingredients, so never again. (Thank goodness for Triscuits, just wheat, oil and salt, although the oil is soy…)
  5. Cereals with BHT added to the packaging. I hadn’t bought these for a long time (why do some do this when others use vitamin E?), but they are always part of deals and I was able to get cereals for pennies. My kids really appreciated this. :-)

What was I thinking? Well, I did get my food bill down lower than I ever thought. :-) But I’m out of the “fog” now and don’t want to do the deals anymore that rely on buying these items I don’t want.

So if that’s the answer to what I’ve been putting in my bag, I have to ask myself a new question, Can I put the things I want in my grocery bag and STILL keep my food bill lower than I ever thought?

That’s my challenge to myself for the new year. I’m going to look into bulk buying, raising more ourselves, and finding some consistent places I can go to for good-quality, reasonably priced food. We’ll also be making choices (or rather I will be making the choices- my family would be happy to eat Doritos regularly), on the variety of things we eat. I’ll look for more things I can make easily. I think it can be done.

What do you think?






  1. says

    Great follow up! I’m in Las Vegas, and after living here 5 years I have not been able to successfully garden. I know it can be done, but for some reason my green thumb, which was cultivated and prosperous in the SF Bay Area, has died in Las Vegas. Oregon (Grants Pass area) is where we hope to end up in the next 5 years or so. I can’t wait to be able to garden and I’m so jealous hearing of your amazing garden while I pay for tomatoes in the summer. I love your goals and minus the garden, they sound like our goals too!

  2. Anonymous says

    I hate to burst your bubble, but most of the people that shop at the food shelves DO want that junk food. Many grew up in bad situations and they don’t know how to cook.

    I have volunteered at the Food Shelf in Rochester, MN for many years … I know.

    We have a very hard time getting people to take things that are not ready to serve items. Dry beans are impossible to give away! Canned beans … occassionally. Chili in a can … GONE!

    Sorry, but it is reality.

  3. Anonymous says

    I coupon what I can . . . but I try to use my $$ wisely.
    This last year we went for 11 months with out my husband working.
    I still managed to be fairly consistent with shopping wisely while drastically cutting our month food budget. I really had to priortize what was most important and then stick to spending my $$ on that food category . . . dairy, eggs, meat.

  4. Jenelle says

    Yes I think it can be done! This is actually one of my goals for the new year as well. As we speek I am pssing up the Ablertsons catalina promotion this week.

    I also think it is about finding balance. I keep a few things in the house now that I never would have before. Like Frozen pizza. We always make our own. But with 3 kids and two parents working full time sometimes something has to give, and I was starting to hit the drive through more then i normally would because I did not want to cook or clean the kitchen. I’ve decided the frozen pizza is a lesser evil to the drive through. I still don’t like it, but I have accepted it. In 2010 hubby and I are working to start setting aside days to cook freezer meals (including freezing out own pizzas)And I hope that in the future that will help eliminate any pre-prepared food from my house.

  5. Anonymous says

    I have started to cook twice as much as we need and putting meals into the freezer for nights when I don’t want to cook. It keeps us from running to Burger King for a hamburger and fries.

    I don’t know why I never did it before as it makes so much sense. I admire the gals who do a cooking day and freeze several meals at a time. I have not done that yet but maybe in the future..

  6. Donna says

    Amen! I totally agree! I am using convenience foods only when absolutely necessary. And I too have the problem with food pantry donations on stuff I wouldn’t feed my own family. Thanks for sharing

  7. Jami @An Oregon Cottage says

    Katie- sorry about your gardening problem there, it seems a huge change from SF. Have you visited The Prudent Homemaker? She’s in LV and has an amazing garden. I love the Grants pass area and hope your dream becomes reality!

    Anon-Well, that’s too bad, but understandable in some ways. I was mainly talking about “food” items with zero nutrition like canned frostings and fruit snacks, though, not chili which has nutritional value and would be a fine item in those circumstances.

    Thanks Jennifer and Donna for your comments!

    Anon #2-I’m so sorry for your trial, but congratulations on remaining consistent with your shopping. That’s certainly the time to take advantage of all the deals you can.

    Jenelle- Good goal, too. We gotta do what we can with what we have, too!

    Anon#3- Good for you- I sometimes will do that,too, but not enough. I’ve done a whole day freezer cooking and it just wasn’t for me for a variety of reasons, but I do like making double occasionally to have in the freezer. Guess that’s another goal! :-)

  8. says

    I know my epiphany for this very thing has come much later than yours (since here I am now in Sept ’10 posting a comment on something you wrote in January ’10… only found your blog recently). I agree with you and am weeding out all my ‘deals’, realizing that I need to be making more from scratch. Just a few days ago, did I look up on line what BHT was…needless to say, I was shocked that some of our cereals, oatmeal, etc actually had the stuff in it. Thank you again (albeit late) for this post.

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