Today on the SARCRAFT blog, we’re going to talk about couponing. Betcha didn’t think you’d ever hear that coming from us, did ya? Groceries are expensive. I don’t think anyone will argue with me on that point. Food usually only comes second to the rent or mortgage payment as the greatest expense for most households. Why is this relevant?
Because prepping, that’s why.
Last time we talked about disaster prep, we set our parameters for what we should prepare for. Now that we’ve got the “why,” we’re going to start delving into some of the “how.” There are differing schools of thought in the preparedness community regarding whether you should evacuate or shelter in place in the event of a disaster. Like many discussions in our modern era, it’s a false dichotomy. I don’t think it should be an either/or, I think it should be a both/and, based on your unique needs and the situation you find yourself in. I think it’s wise to be mobile and have a 72-hour pack for each member of your family, and be able to get out of dodge as fast as possible should the need arise. That need could be a formal evacuation order, or just seeing the storm on the horizon and deciding it’s time to leave.
But there are also times when it’s best to stay put. Martial law may be in effect, and there may be an order to not leave your home. You may have family members who are elderly or have special needs, who cannot or should not be moved unless there is truly no other choice. And for less serious reasons, think of this: If the tornado hit your town and your power is off for a few days but your house is undamaged… why leave? If you’re not in danger and there’s no urgent need to leave, sheltering in place is the most practical course of action in a disaster.
The bottom line is, whether it’s out of choice or out of necessity, people end up sheltering in place. That’s why your Shelter In Place Kit (SIP Kit) is the first specific disaster prep kit we’re going to focus on.
But wait. Isn’t this post about couponing? Among other things, yes. And that’s because if I had rolled everything I’m going to say about sheltering in place all into one post, it would have been monstrously long and no one would have read it. This one’s going to be bad enough as it is. But even though it’s going to get somewhat technical, I believe these money-saving strategies are worth taking some time to learn. Bear with me and be patient, and hopefully you’ll gain something worthwhile.
Here’s the deal. Food is one of the biggest expenses not only in everyday life, but in preparedness as well. In fact, it’s such a big expense that it’s a barrier to people keeping enough on hand to weather a disaster. And understandably so. Two weeks of food for a whole family is a LOT. Especially if you’re not particularly well off. As a former broke college student who’s not in college anymore but is definitely still broke, I can personally assert that there’s no reason not to have adequate supplies on hand just because you’re cash-strapped. Like Jonathan said in his post last week about how to save money by purchasing core gear at Goodwill, survival isn’t mega bucks, it’s mega ingenuity. We’re going to continue in that theme, because we want to see people outfitted to PREVAIL regardless of what their means are.
Let’s get started talking about how to do that.
We’ll go into more detail about specific foods and supplies in our next post. But suffice to say, what you’re looking for is calorie-dense, nutritious food that you don’t have to worry about. Non-perishable is the name of the game. Canned, dehydrated, freeze-dried, or otherwise shelf-stable food is what you want. Fresh food is obviously a no-go, and frozen food is only good as long as you can power your freezer, otherwise you have a second disaster happening after the big disaster: your entire freezer of food spoiling before your very eyes. As Hurricane Irma recently proved, having cases or jugs of water on hand is also a great idea. Other important supplies include toilet paper (when the s*** hits the fan, you’ll want a lot of it) and other personal care items including feminine hygiene supplies, off the shelf medication such as NSAIDs, batteries, cleaning supplies, and other multi-purpose items such as bleach, baking soda, vinegar, and ammonia. With that being said, let’s get to it.
1. Grow Your Own
The first great way to secure the supplies you need is to produce them yourself. Homesteading in the modern definition is the school of prepping that says trying to buy all the supplies you need to prepare for any and every disaster is astronomically expensive and impractical for most people. Instead, homesteaders advocate learning old-fashioned ways of self-sufficiency and practicing the skills needed to live with little or no modern technology. Having spent my formative years living on a farm, the idea of homesteading is near and dear to my heart. There’s something deeply gratifying about the whole thing, whether it’s getting your hands in the earth and tending your crops, picking and processing what you’ve grown, or having the satisfaction of self-sufficiency, at least to a degree. There’s nothing quite like seeing shelf upon shelf of Ball mason jars full of home-canned produce at the end of a season to get you through the winter. We will be talking about homesteading much, much more in the future. When it comes to long-term preparedness, I believe homesteading is the way to go, for multiple reasons. But for now, we’ll just be discussing it in the context of cost savings.
Out of the three money-saving methods we’ll be discussing today, homesteading is by far the most cost-effective way to stockpile a supply of food. When I sold produce for a living, the seeds I used to sow a nearly half-acre garden plot usually cost me around $75. And that was with me buying them fresh every year. Had I gone to the trouble to save seed, my only recurring costs after my initial startup would have been water and fertilizer. Even a small plot of land, properly managed, can produce enormous quantities of food. Green beans can produce 10-15 lbs per row foot over a season, tomatoes can produce 20lbs per plant if the soil is good. Over the course of a season, even a plot as small as 10’x20’ can produce hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce if managed intensively. If you learn how to can (which is not hard at all) and invest in a used pressure cooker and a few cases of mason jars, you’re set. Two weeks of food can be grown and made shelf-stable for under $100. When it comes to return on investment, it’s almost impossible to beat a garden plot. And you don’t have to live on a large piece of rural land to do it. Most people have enough space in their backyards that’s only growing grass right now. And the quality of the food can’t be beat. Anyone who’s ever experienced the glory of a homegrown tomato can attest to that fact.
Now, the downsides. Although the amount of money needed to get started is minimal, the amount of sweat equity can be high. Especially if this is your first time trying your hand at this, the learning curve can be steep. And if you want the payoff, you have to be consistent in caring for your crop, no matter how busy your schedule. If you devote 30 minutes a day to it for maintenance and some time every weekend for food processing, you should be okay unless your plot is really large. But you can’t skip out on it. If you go on vacation, you’ve gotta find someone to look after your garden. If you’re having a rough week at work, you’ve still gotta pick squash. You’re not the only one who wants to eat what you’re growing, either. Be proactive about pest management and keeping deer away from day one. For apartment dwellers, homesteading isn’t that practical either. Yes, you can garden in containers on your balcony or do a mini-greenhouse indoors, but chances are, it won’t be enough to grow enough food to build a real stockpile.
And no matter how talented of a gardener you are, you still can’t grow toilet paper or household cleaning supplies. Unless you’re willing to do without, some things just have to be bought. Which leads us to our next way to save money:
2. Buy in Bulk
Joining a warehouse membership club is a great way to save money on buying large quantities of non-perishable food and other supplies. Places like BJs, Costco, and Sam’s Club are a prepper’s dream, with aisle after aisle of huge cases of everything from canned goods to cereal to toothpaste. Membership ranges from $30-$50 per year, but like a gym membership, if you actually use it, it’s a bargain. Packing your truck to the gills with cheap canned goods and oatmeal is strangely satisfying in itself – you feel kind of like a woodland critter preparing for winter. Like a frugal squirrel. And the savings really can be significant. During my research for this post, the average savings on non-perishable foods and household goods was approximately 30%, depending on who you ask. Saving almost a third off of normal shelf price is well worth checking out, in my opinion. For some items, like store-brand generic ibuprofen, the savings were closer to 70%. That’s impressive. So we’ve got prepper-size quantities of shelf-stable food and household goods at significantly reduced prices. Great! Now that we’ve got the pros established, what are the cons?
Well, for one, the selection at a lot of warehouse clubs isn’t nearly what it is at standard grocery stores. If you’ve got special dietary needs or certain foods you really want to base your two-week stockpile around, you may be out of luck. You may also not have a warehouse club located conveniently nearby either, especially if you live in a rural area. It’s nearly an hour drive to the nearest Costco for me. If you’re only using your club membership for prepping, it may not be worth it either. For example, if you buy most of your groceries in small amounts at a local store and head to Sam’s once a year to refresh your stockpile, it may not really be worth the membership fee and added hassle. And if your household just consists of yourself, or yourself and a spouse, you may be able to fulfill your food supply needs at a grocery store just as affordably, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But if you have a large family, go through a lot of groceries anyway, buy in bulk throughout the year, and aren’t picky about selection, warehouse clubs are well worth looking into. If you can’t grow your own and don’t want to deal with buying in bulk, there is a third option that saves even more money and time…
3. Shop Smart
There are real, proven ways to save significant cash at your local grocery store. It just takes some patience and discipline. My mother is a coupon queen. Yes, it’s a hassle. But she also saves up to $6,000 per year. Bet I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? Although she’s a pro and dedicates a lot of time to it, what she does isn’t rocket science. You can do it too.
One disclaimer: The glory days of couponing are over. Thanks to shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponers,” the tap hasn’t quite been turned off, but it’s been tightened up for sure. Food companies got annoyed with folks trying to hack the system and getting cartloads of groceries for nearly nothing. Stores got even more annoyed with folks clearing out entire shelves of inventory that they didn’t really need, just because they could. People would buy items for a few cents each and re-sell them on a weird sort of grocery black market. The greed got out of hand. I remember being behind a lady in the checkout line once who was buying dozens of bags of cat treats for a penny apiece. She didn’t even own a cat.
However, there are still great savings to be had if you know where to look. The first way doesn’t even involve coupons. Most grocery stores release a weekly sale flyer that advertises the deals that are coming up that week. Some of the deals aren’t worth much (“Buy five, get one free!”), but some of them are really, really good. Buy-one-get-one (aka BOGO, aka 50% off) deals are there for the taking in every flyer on supplies that are perfect for your two-week stockpile. Here are some deals from this week’s Publix sale flyer:
- Progresso canned soup, BOGO
- Pompeian olive oil, BOGO
- Bumble Bee premium tuna, 25% off
- Del Monte canned vegetables, BOGO
- Kind Healthy Grains granola, BOGO
- Kellogg’s cereals, BOGO
- Quest protein bars, 2/$4.00
- Clorox disinfecting wipes, 2/$7.00
- Energizer batteries, 25% off
These are all things that fit our criteria for our two-week kit – shelf-stable, calorie-dense foods, and necessary household supplies – at 25% or 50% off their normal price. This is not out of the ordinary. I didn’t search an exceptionally great streak of deals just to make a point for this blog. The items above were gleaned from five minutes of perusing a flyer I picked up for free at the Laurel Canyon Publix in Canton, Georgia. If you’re patient and disciplined, you can maintain these savings for your entire kit. As a former Publix employee, I can say that these items have a sale cycle – it might be once a month, once every six weeks, quarterly, bi-yearly, or yearly, but there are set times of year that all of these items go on sale. If you don’t want to go to the trouble to track it, ask a manager or customer service staff member at your local grocery store. They probably know it, and if they don’t, they can find out.
Adding coupons to the mix only improves your savings. Instead of throwing away the coupon mailers that show up every single day in your mailbox, take a minute to look through them. SmartSource and Redplum usually have at least something worthwhile. Many stores also have coupon flyers available for free. In this week’s Redplum that came in the mail, we’ve got:
- $1.00 off MetRX protein bars
- $.75 off College Inn broths and stocks
- $1.00 off Brawny paper towels
- $3.00 off Community coffee
So, not as great as the store flyer. But still a useful resource. Combining these coupons with existing deals can give you some significant savings. There is also another option when it comes to coupons: Printing them from coupon sites. Coupon sites are a completely free resource. They make their money from ad revenue on their sites, so all you have to do is click on the coupons you want and print them off. That’s literally free money, y’all. Here are a few:
- SouthernSavers.com. (Probably the best out of all of them.)
- Couponmom.com. (Yeah, I know. Bear with me here.)
- IHeartPublix.com. (Site-specific to Publix.)
If you shop the sales, clip coupons that come in the mail or you pick up from a store flyer, and print them out online, your real-world savings can consistently be in the 50% to 75% range for your preparedness stockpile. For example… those Del Monte canned vegetables (on sale BOGO right now) also have a manufacturer’s coupon for $0.50 off four cans (available online) and a store coupon for $1.00 off of four (available in the store flyer).
This works out to $0.27 each for canned goods that are one of the staples of a disaster prep stockpile. This is not a gimmick. It’s real, it’s doable, and this kind of deal is repeatable enough that you can rely on it to build your supplies up. And since these aren’t supplies you’re using every day, you can afford to take your time and only buy them when they’re on sale or you have a coupon.
So there you have it. Three ways to save a pile of money on food and other necessities for your preparedness stockpile. Now you know that no matter what your income level, you can have the supplies you need for you and your family to weather the storm and PREVAIL. This will come into play in the coming weeks when we discuss how to put together a SIP kit, and a smaller stockpile to keep at your workplace. I believe that this is also useful knowledge to have for your everyday life as well. Even if you’re not cash-strapped, who doesn’t like saving money? If you’re spending less on food, you can be spending more on other things…like, say, SARCRAFT classes. Just sayin’… If you’ve got any more suggestions on how to save money on preparedness, or any questions about what we’ve talked about today, leave us a comment! And as always, if you LIKE what you see, SHARE it with your friends!