Thursday, February 3, 2011

saving money - without coupons

Let me just start by getting something out of the way here: I don't clip coupons. Not anymore: not at all. I used to, but like so many other things in my life, I'm reformed. So there you have it - I'm a reformed coupon clipper.

It's not that I don't enjoy the saving money. I "get" the thrill of a bargain. I love discovering something on sale, personally. So really, I understand.

My issue with coupons isn't the savings thing, of course. It's the items themselves. After our real food "conversion," I began discovering that there weren't really coupons offered for the kinds of foods I sought. They were almost exclusively for processed foods. Crackers, canned goods, sauce mixes, cereal bars. Sure there was the occasional $.30 off a box of clementines, or something...but that kind of thing was pretty rare. And between our commitment to eat real, whole foods and our goal to avoid processed sugar...well, it became clear that coupons weren't really going to work for us anymore.

So did what I could to save money. I shopped the farmers' market when it was in session. I learned the usual prices of things I bought regularly now. I figured out where it paid to buy bulk, and where it didn't. I was keeping my budget, and doing fine.

But today I've turned yet another corner. Recently, I took the plunge and joined a food co-op I've been hearing about for years now: Azure Standard*. Now I have my very first order, and I am so pleased - and amazed at the money I saved.

Here are just a few examples: I normally spend $4.99 for a 5 lb bag of organic whole wheat flour. But in the order that was delivered today, I purchased a 10 lb bag for $5.70. Another great example is raw cheese. It has been difficult for me to find raw cheese locally; I have to drive a little farther to get it, and usually paid $9 per pound. But through the food co-op, I was able to purchase a block of raw cheese weighing 5.36 lbs, and paid $26.59 for it. Amazing!

Azure offers nearly everything I usually buy at the grocery store, including things I never thought to look into when I was putting together my first order. Thus, I have a second order nearly completed, and it won't go out for another two weeks!

One thing that gave me anxiety for a while was how this would all fit into the budget. I have a certain amount to work with each month, and as I said, I've been staying within my limits. But it made me nervous to have such a large chunk of my grocery money tied up in a once- or twice-a-month purchase. But last night, it hit me: instead of my usual task of planning for the week, I should do it for the month. Such a simple solution probably would have occurred to many people much sooner, but it had escaped me until just that moment. This way, I can lay things out in advance, know what I need, make sure the meals are "balanced" within the week, etc. Just the thing!

And today I had another idea. In fact, I called it an epiphany. I am going to begin a monthly food budget within our household budget. It'll be a smaller model of the design we've been using since first attending Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Every dollar will be accounted for at the outset of the month, even if it means just putting leftover money in a "savings" fund. That way, I will learn better how much I spend on particular things, and what I might be able to do with all this money I'm saving through Azure.

Believe me, I have a few ideas. And I'm definitely starting a Berry Fund for this summer.

Perhaps I'm a bit premature in posting about all my big plans. But this is all so exciting to me - healthful, organic whole food at significant savings. The only question is, why did it take me so long to decide to go for it?

*I am not being reimbursed by Azure Standard, or any such thing. I'm just amazed at the money I'm saving, and very excited about the possibilities. To learn more, or see if there are delivery options near you, check out their website!

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