Junior theatre major Lauren Haas admits she isn’t like the extreme couponers on TV, but she does bring a detailed shopping list and a thick, coupon-stuffed envelope on each of her monthly grocery runs.
Haas boasts that her monthly grocery budget has never topped $125, an impressive feat for someone who eats most meals at home. By combining manufacturer coupons with store discounts and weekly specials, she often saves a total of$20-$30.
Her frugality stems from her experience in Johnson Hall during her first two years at UMKC. Despite having a meal plan, Haas avoided the cafeteria.
“It wasn’t as bad as my high school cafeteria food, but it wasn’t like ‘home-style’ cooking,” she said. “They just kept switching out the same stuff.”
The cafeteria salad dressing, she said, tasted watered-down, and the meals had a distinct institutional flavor.
Back then, her grocery budget was $60 a month, and she still managed to get by.
“I would stock up on snack food, frozen pizza and other comfort foods,” she said. “And there you gain your freshman 15.”
Now, she rents a bungalow from UMKC Homes on the outskirts of campus with her two roommates.
With a range, full-size refrigerator and enough cabinet space to stock up on food, Haas is able to plan healthier, cheaper and more creative meals.
However, price remains the determining factor in what she buys.
“I’ve always set a grocery budget,” she said. “That’s something I learned from my mom.”
Haas said she starts planning her trips by clipping manufacturer coupons emailed to her from GroceryCouponCart.com and other websites she subscribes to, and by reviewing grocery ads in the Sunday Kansas City Star.
In addition, her stepfather clips coupons during the week, which he saves to give her when she comes home to visit on Sundays.
“He knows what I’m going to use, and he cuts those coupons out,” she said. “I’m not a coupon junkie or anything, but I will hang on to the coupons I’m going to use.”
Haas even saves up coupons that come with products she buys for her next grocery run.
“I look at the coupons I have and go in knowing what I’m getting,” she said. “Usually I get the same thing, and it’s the stuff I can make easily.”
As of late, Haas said she tries to buy healthier foods, like Greek yogurt, seafood and fresh produce. To compensate for the higher sticker price, she doubles down on coupons and sales.
Her favorite stores: Price Chopper and Walmart.
She worked in a Price Chopper deli last year and learned the ins and outs of what to buy and when to buy it.
“I feel like I live for [Price Chopper’s] three-day sales,” she said. “I got three Red Barron pizzas there for $9 on Super Bowl weekend.”
Haas, who doesn’t drive, gave her boyfriend a copy of her Chopper Shopper rewards card to save on gas at QuikTrip. He saved about $5 the last time he filled up his tank with a $0.25/gallon discount.
Haas said she has found the best deals on toiletries, vitamins and cosmetics at Walmart. The diet supplements she buys are $5 cheaper there than at CVS.
As for the other stores: “If I could, I would go to Hy-Vee, but there aren’t any close to campus,” she said.
“Apple Market isn’t bad, but their meat and deli aren’t very good.”
Sun Fresh? That’s where Haas racked up her record $125 grocery receipt.
“They’re a little more high-end on their prices,” she said.
Cosentino’s Market, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods? No way, they’re too expensive, she said.
At Oak Place, MBA student Sunny Sanwar and freshman Martin Marquart have taken a different approach to savings by buying in bulk.
Marquart has been a body builder for six years, and both are avid about working out, which Sanwar said necessitates a highprotein, low-carb diet.
The two roommates both eat at the cafeteria occasionally, mostly just to socialize, although neither has a meal plan.
“The people who work there [at the cafeteria] are friendly,” Marquart said. “They know you by name, even if you just go there a couple times a week.”
Both roommates said buying groceries allows more room to plan meals that suit their health-conscious diets.
Marquart, a German student studying abroad, said it is typical for people in his home country to shop for groceries two or three times a week.
“We eat fresh food and produce more often in Germany,” he said. “There’s a lot more fast food in America.”
In addition, he said German stores offer percentage discounts instead of “buy-one/get-one-free” specials and weekly sale ads.
For him, American grocery stores are an interesting change.
To make the most of the $55 annual membership, the roommates bring friends from Oak Place on their trips to the midtown Costco at Linwood and Gillham.
Neither sets a precise budget, makes a list or clips coupons. However, both said price is their second consideration after nutritional value.
Unlike Price Chopper, where Sanwar and Marquart also shop, Costco does not run weekly sales, nor does it accept manufacturer’s coupons.
Regardless, both agree the bulk discount savings are substantial.
“If we see it at the supermarket and we like it, we’ll buy it,” Sanwar said. “We already save a lot with our membership and rewards card.”