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Frugal living tip #39. September 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another Frugal Living Tip here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. This one’s about food.

Our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, runs a classic column every Sunday called “On the Cheap” by Spencer Soper. Spencer’s tongue-in-cheek commentary on the lengths people will go to in the name of cheapness—from saving the salt at the bottom of pretzel bags to holding on to used paper napkins in case the cat vomits and they need to clean it up—is priceless. Thanks, Spencer! You cheer us up. Somebody’s got to take a funny view of cheapness in these tough times.

Sometimes, however, these cheapsters go over our own personal moral line in the sand. As in this past Sunday, when a guy told Spencer how he has mastered reusing fast-food coupons. The article, which you can read in its entirety at www.themorningcall.com, shares quite a few nuances on how to finesse this, but in essence, the guy tells the drive-up clerk he has a coupon when he places his order. Then, when he picks up and pays for the food, if the person taking his money doesn’t ask for the coupon, he saves it to use another time. If they do remember to ask for it, he hands it over. In either case, he gets the discount.

Spencer went to the trouble to ask an ethics professor what he thought of this from a moral standpoint, and the professor placed the onus squarely on the clerks who fail to demand the coupons rather than on the jerk who’s ripping them off. But it’s our view that at the end of the day, it’s not about what you can get away with but how you can bear to live with yourself. Rather than double-dipping, how about thinking about the poor sod who’s making minimum wage or less behind that window and giving him or her the money your coupon saved you as a tip?!

But let’s get back to spending less on food. Another article in the paper’s finance section noted that people are changing their grocery shopping habits now that money is tight. Sales of canned goods and staples like dried pasta and rice are up; people have forsaken the outside aisles of grocery stores in favor of the center aisles where they can find cheap, durable staples.

This makes a lot of sense to us, even as we silently scream over people abandoning the fresh produce and dairy aisles. (NOOOOO!!!!) I depend on a certain number of canned or boxed goods—all sorts of canned beans, tomato sauce and paste, crushed tomatoes, veggie stock, pumpkin puree, black olives, coconut milk—and try to keep others (beets, artichokes, unsweetened condensed milk, roasted red peppers, and so on) on hand in case of need. And I would be dead on the ground without all my dried staples—rices, flours, cornmeal, pastas, lentils, popcorn, etc.—in plentiful and frequently renewed supply. Those center aisles are central to my own grocery shopping, but looking in my basket every week, it’s the fresh veggies and shredded cheeses and so on that predominate, unless there’s a great sale on canned beans.

But to bring this post full circle: You can save a lot more money by buying canned and dried food at the grocery store than by ripping off folks at the fast-food drive-through. And it will be a lot better for you. You can even use the money you save by not buying fast food to buy fresh salad mixes and other veggies to liven up your meals. Now that’s what we call a deal!

            ‘Til next time,




1. Lzyjo - September 28, 2009

OMG, the guy reusing fast food coupons is too much! I’m not surprised to hear the rice, beans, and canned goods are gaining popularity. This has been true in our pantry too. Good thing it’s the perfect season for chili, great soups, and red beans and rice too! Yum!

So true, Lzyjo! Thank God for cooler weather in that respect! We love pasta, refried beans, dal, lentil stew, chili, black bean soup, and etc., especially with rice (except for the pasta)! I just came upon a recipe for curried brown rice and lentil pilaf this morning, which sounded super-promising but (in my opinion) needed work. Once I give it the “Silence Treatment” I’ll post it and you can give it a try!

2. Daphne Gould - September 28, 2009

I have bought very few canned goods recently, but it will go up over the winter. Salsa and green chilies are my most bought canned goods. I do a lot of beans, but mostly it is bought dry. I keep a stock of canned just in case I don’t have any cooked when I need them, but usually I do. I make about a pound of one kind at a time and freeze them. I usually have about three kinds frozen in multiple one cup containers. I love cooking beans in the morning when the house is cold. It really warms the room up.

Very smart idea, Daphne! When I cook dried beans, I prefer to do it in the Crock Pot overnight and through the next day. I wish we had a real freezer and not an overstuffed fridge freezer—I’d definitely use your technique! For now, though, I like cooking dried lentils and canned beans for the convenience. But oh yes, i’m ecstatic that the weather’s cooled down enough to finally use the oven again (free heat!). Baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, grilled veggies, casseroles, homemade pizzas, veggie lasagna, cornbread… aaaahhh!!!

3. Jen - September 29, 2009

Spencer’s not a spender is he? I spent so much on school supplies this year that I didn’t feel at all guilty about redeeming the $10 off coupon, and then later, the one that I was supposed to give to a friend. Our grocery store regularly has these “can can” sales and let me tell you, I’m very tired of seeing those girls in the flouncy dresses with their legs up in the air that they have to use to advertize it in EVERY circular. They should get a new ad campaign already.

Shriek and shriek again, Jen! I was just reading a statistic about how much the average college student spends per semester on textbooks alone, and it seems to me to have been around $600. Their poor (probably literally, after all that) parents! Thank heavens there are no can-can girls advertising groceries around here. I just hope the local stores don’t catch sight of your circulars!

4. nancybond - September 29, 2009

I’ve suggested to my parents that if they want to make Christmas shopping very easy this year, that they could watch the sales and give us, as a couple, a small (7 cubic ft) freezer. They were delighted at the idea, so I hope it comes to fruition! I love buying in bulk and on sale. I’d hoped we’d be able to swing one this summer so I could freeze some fresh produce and berries, but 4 new tires won out. :-/

As for the guy with the coupon, it’s stealing, plain and simple.

Congrats on your award nominations! 🙂

A freezer—great gift idea, Nancy!!! Fingers crossed that your parents come through. I become so jealous of folks with freezers whenever I read about freezing produce individually on cookie sheets, then storing it in freezer containers so you can just shake the individual pieces out when you need them. I love the idea of this, but alas, we have no space for a freezer here. But I can dream, right?! And congratulations to you and Soliloquy as well!!!

5. Victoria - September 30, 2009

I think ripping off a fast food server will shorten your life (from the guilt) so maybe that is a good savings after all???? ha ha ha!


6. Spencer Soper (The "On The Cheap" guy) - October 1, 2009

Thanks again for the mention, Silence. Glad you like the column. Watch for a follow-up this Sunday. We had record-breaking feedback to the coupon re-use tip, and a lot of folks agree with you that this one crosses an ethical line. My big lesson is that you get a lot more feedback when you tick people off than when you make them laugh or help them save a buck.
Keep up the good work on the blog,

Thanks, Spencer! Can’t wait to see Sunday’s column, and keep up the good and entertaining work. Cheapness rules!!!

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