Tuesday, June 29, 2010

eating healthy on less than $1 a day, or epic coupon gaming

Elusive Quaker Tearpad Coupon for $3.00 off when you buy any 5 Quaker products, cc by-sa image by Hotcouponworld.com on Flickr

This fellow was able to eat healthily for 30 days on nothing more than $27.08 and an incredible amount of coupon jockeying. Jeffery's "Eat Well on $1 a Day" challenge turns out to be less about finding coupons for healthy food, and more about gaming the bizarre world that is the grocery coupon industry. Noting that "getting good deals while grocery shopping is a game," he set forth the rules of his month as such:

1. I will begin on May 1 and will have no accumulated food of any kind. I have $31 to spend ($1 for each day of the month). I can start buying food on May 1 and can not exceed the $31. I must document the cost of the food with receipts.

2. I can only use 2 computers to print coupons. Although I have access to more which would make this challenge much easier, we agreed that not everyone will have access to a lot of computers. However, we also agreed that anyone reading this has access to at least one computer and should be able get access to another one using a bit of creativity.

3. I can only use 2 inserts from the Sunday paper each week. Although I have access to many more than this (I usually pick up anywhere from 3 to 5 copies for free from the local coffee shop alone each week), we decided that not everyone would have access to dozens of inserts. We agreed that anyone could get the coupon inserts from at least 2 Sunday papers with a bit of creativity. I am allowed to use up to 2 of previous week’s coupon inserts that I already happen to have.

4. I can use as many coupons as I want that I can get in the grocery store where they are available to everyone.

5. I can only buy food from retail outlets (grocery stores, drug stores, food markets, etc). I can’t supplement what I buy at the store with free food from trees, dumpster diving, friends, food banks, donations, growing my own, etc.

6. I can only use deals that anyone else would have access to getting.

What follows is his fascinating day-by-day account of how the challenge played out. To set the theme for his process, it's worth noting that his first purchase was for cleaning solution, just to get the coupons at check-out who's net worth in food was more than he paid for the cleaner. (As with the rest of the excess product he acquired over this month - a surprising amount - he donated it to a local food bank.) While most people won't have the time or patience to equal this feat, it does show that with some ingenuity and research, frugal shopping for healthy food is possible by gaming the system. Go here to read his account, as well as his follow-up experiments in the weeks after.

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