Guest Post: The Cons of Extreme Couponing

9 Apr

The great thing about blogging is meeting other bloggers that not only share your interests but complement them as well. We happen to think K at The $35 a Week Project is one of those bloggers. If you thought it was crazy that Ariella’s food budget is $60 a week, you’ll love K. She is a master at preparing awesome dinners on a $35 a week budget. What we haven’t personally tested, we’ve bookmarked for future consumption. 

K swung by Flying the Nest to give her take on extreme couponing, which as of late, as been a major craze. Please read on as K explains why she thinks there are better ways to save than spending three hours clipping coupons. 

Couponing. We’ve all seen it, we’ve all probably done it once or twice. But is it actually worth it, especially for someone just starting out on his or her own?

Like many tired working folks with cable, I’ve caught a couple episodes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing since it came out a couple years ago. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but like most people (I presume), I was filled with a mix of awe and dismay upon seeing these people’s basements packed to the rafters with pallets of Powerade and overpriced razor cartridges.

Photo: exousia.etsy, Flikr Creative Commons

What are they going to do with all this stuff? I thought.

Of course, as the viewer soon learns, it’s not about the stuff itself, but rather the acquisition of the stuff, a sort of latent hunter-gatherer instinct gone awry.

I recognized this because, dear reader, I used to be a couponer. Not the wild-eyed, up-at-6 am, 50-packages-of-toilet-paper type depicted on the show, but I had a little canvas coupon organizer I (proudly) bought at a garage sale for 25 cents, and I anxiously awaited the arrival of the Sunday paper circulars each week.

Photo: Flying the Nest

I waxed rhapsodic on the latest brands of flavored water and prepackaged sugar cereals. I actually felt high when I was able to buy a bottle of processed salad dressing for less than 50 cents (my neighborhood supermarket still doubled coupons back then).

Photo: Flying The Nest

Looking back, it was probably more an to attempt exert control over an increasingly messy and unmanageable personal life than it was about getting useful groceries on the cheap, a fact that became all the more evident when I eventually found myself, at the ripe old age of 28, divorced, poor, and alone in a strange city.

Not all people who coupon are compensating, of course, but not all people who coupon are actually saving money, a fact I didn’t realize until I was, by necessity, confined to a $20-a-week budget, limiting me to something like a few boxes of cereal, 10 boxes of Pasta Roni, and two pounds of ground beef—even after coupons.

No produce, no whole grains.

It suddenly became crystal clear that coupons weren’t actually feeding me: I needed real food, nutritious sustenance—not prepackaged, processed artificial colors and flavors.

Most important, I needed to develop basic life skills I hadn’t yet learned, like cooking and keeping a garden. (Even though I lived in an apartment, I asked for an Aerogarden that Christmas and was able to grow 7 kinds of hydroponic herbs. Even a sunny windowsill can be home to a few different herbs that are expensive to buy at the store.)

From Aerogarden to backyard garden. Photo: Flikr Creative Commons

I was nearly 30 years old and didn’t even know how to cook a pot of beans. It was a wake-up call.

I started out slowly, planning to cook all my meals from scratch and refrigerate or freeze them in individual portions, and as I went on, I realized even more benefits: A lot of the food I bought could be reused in different ways, and my money stretched even further—beet tops for salads, carrot and onion peelings for stock, egg whites or yolks reserved for ice cream or cookies…I could eat for weeks on $20 worth of produce and some dried pasta and whole grains.

All the couponing I had been doing for all those years was simply a crutch—I wasn’t saving money in the long run, I wasn’t learning any useful skills, and I certainly wasn’t feeding my body in the way it needed to function at its best.

If you’re a slave to the coupon game, try quitting for a week: Buy foods with no brands or labels and see how, with a little advanced planning and preparation, you can turn a few bucks’ worth of staples into a week’s worth of nourishing, delicious, filling meals.

Below is a recipe for an entire restaurant-quality meal for 4 that can be made with nothing but a whole chicken (see if you can find one for 99 cents a pound), a handful of spices, and about $3 worth of vegetables.

No-Coupons Required Braised & Roasted Chicken with Vegetables

Photo: K, The $35 a Week Project

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs is best)
  • 2 leeks, washed well and chopped
  • 5 carrots—1 roughly chopped, 4 peeled and chopped
  • 7 celery stalks—1 roughly chopped, 6 finely chopped, leafy tops reserved
  • 1/2 an onion, quartered (no need to even peel it, since it’s for stock)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 oz. cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • Salt and pepper

Remove the giblets from the chicken, reserving all but the liver. Cut the thigh-drumstick sections, breasts, and wings off the chicken.

Set the thigh-drumsticks and breasts aside, cover, and place in the fridge. Peel the skin off the chicken back and the thigh-drumsticks. (It really should peel right off like an article of clothing.) Leave the skin on the breast. Cut open the wings and try to remove as much meat as possible; dice and set aside in a small bowl.

Place the back, giblets, what’s left of the wings, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and a pinch of whole peppercorns in a large soup pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a slow simmer and simmer for about 2 hours (or longer, if you have the time.)

Occasionally skim any fat that rises to the surface.

Close to the time when the stock is done, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. To render the fat used for cooking, flatten the skin and put it on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Roast for about 10 minutes, then turn over and roast for another 5-10 minutes until all fat has rendered. The resulting cracklins are great crumbled over a salad, but around here they never last more than a few minutes after emerging from the oven. Pour 2 T of the fat (reserve the rest in the fridge as a tasty substitute for cooking oil) into a roasting pan that fits on the stovetop or a Dutch oven.

When the stock is done, strain it, pressing hard on the solids. You’ll only need about 3 cups (roughly, depending on the size of your pan); pour the rest into containers to freeze or refrigerate for soup or other recipes that call for high-quality stock.

Discard the solids. (A co-worker says he will sometimes put chicken-stock solids in a blender and give them to his dog. I have yet to find the guts to try this.)

Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees. Remove the chicken pieces from the fridge and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Heat the chicken fat over medium heat. Brown the thigh-drumstick pieces (about 5 minutes per side) and put back on the plate. Brown the breasts, skin side down, for about 5 minutes, then the flesh side for about 1 minute. Set the breasts aside on a separate plate, re-cover, and put back in the fridge. Add the reserved wing meat from the fridge, remaining vegetables, thyme, and a big pinch of salt to the pot.

Cook over medium for about 15 minutes, until significantly reduced. Nestle the thigh-drumstick pieces in the vegetables and add enough stock to come halfway up the thighs (again, this should be around 3 cups, depending on the size of your pot.) Bake, uncovered, at 350 for an hour. Remove the pot, add the breasts skin-side up on top of the vegetables, and bake for another 30 minutes. (Stir the vegetables a few times if they look like they’re getting too browned.)

Meanwhile, chop the reserved celery leaves for a garnish. Remove the drumstick-thighs and shred the meat from the bones. (It should fall off easily.) Remove the breasts and slice them. To serve, mound some vegetables on a plate, top with some shredded dark meat and light white meat, and garnish with chopped celery leaves.

Thanks for swinging by, K! If you liked K’s chicken recipe, you should definitely check out her blog

Are you a self proclaimed extreme couponer? We’d love to hear your side of the story. Please contact us at flyingthenestblog at gmail dot com if you’d like to guest post. 

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7 Responses to “Guest Post: The Cons of Extreme Couponing”

  1. veggiegrettie April 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    I agree that couponing isn’t always the best idea if you are trying to save money. When I used to do it I would find myself buying things I didn’t really want or need. I also found that most of the coupons were for heavily processed foods.
    Now I only use coupons for items I was already going to buy.

  2. Jamie B April 11, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    Oh yes, THIS. I got curious about the coupon thing when TLC made it a Popular Thing, but I just never find any coupons I want. I buy off-brands, for one thing. I also like bulk and fresh ingredients. No coupons for any of those. The stuff that they make coupons for is mostly bad for you!
    It’s not been all bad though – it brought “alternative methods of saving” to my attention, and my shopping procedures have gone through some changes. I’m even happier now with how I spend my grocery money. Also, I learned that it’s pretty easy to find coupons for the few branded items I do buy – online, not in the paper (yay for not buying a paper!) (International Delight coffee creamer is my very best friend). I’ve also become increasingly committed to store rewards programs. I now buy allllll my pet supplies at Petco. I buy better pet food now, and actually pay less for cat litter and dog treats – and that 5% back is nice. Also they’ve hooked me up with some awesome Purina coupons. 🙂

    I’ve got so much to say about this, lol. I’ll be quiet now.

    • Ariella April 12, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Re: Buying the newspaper

      I asked my husband if we could consider our Sunday newspaper subscription as a charitable contribution to a desperate and dying industry. I like to think it helps my fellow reporters who still work on a traditional paper : )

      • Jamie B April 12, 2012 at 11:43 am #

        Haha. 😀

  3. Lauren @ Life With Desmond April 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    i have always been of the stance that store brand/no-name brand items still cost less than regular items with a coupon.

    also, that recipe looks good. too bad i am pretty sure i will literally never have that kind of time on my hands. lol

  4. Lauren @ Life With Desmond April 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    i’ve always said that store brand stuff is cheaper than regular stuff even if you have a coupon. glad to see i’m not the only person who swears this!

    • Ariella April 12, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      I always check to see if it is. Sometimes between a coupon and a sale, the brand name could be cheaper. For example, I had a coupon for Colgate toothpaste, which was on sale for $1. I paid 25 cents for it, which was cheaper than the store brand. Quite often though, the store brand is cheaper.

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