Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Us Versus the Man, Round 2

Time for the next episode in the ongoing adventures of a frugal couple trying to beat the system:

Round 2: Amy and Brian versus General Mills

If there's one food product that can challenge soft drinks for the title of "Most Ridiculously Overpriced Food," it's got to be breakfast cereal. The manufacturers start with a few cents' worth of grain, strip off the most nutritious parts, grind it, squeeze it, flatten it and generally change it into some other shape, then add sugar, artificial flavors and colors, and some vitamins to replace the ones they stripped out—and sell the whole mess back to us for four dollars (the average retail price for a box of cereal according to this week's Coupon Mom list). Store brands are a lot cheaper, but even they tend to cost over $2 per pound.

Since cereal is Brian's favorite breakfast, we've tried various strategies to beat the high cost. Back when we were first married, we used to make homemade granola often, using the recipe from the Tightwad Gazette. At one point, I calculated the cost of the ingredients in a batch of our granola and found that it came out to about $1.60 per pound, or 10 cents per ounce. So I decided that any ready-to-eat breakfast cereal that cost this amount or less was a reasonable deal. Since then, although food prices have gone up, I haven't changed my target price, because 10 cents per ounce is such an easy number to work with. No need to haul out the pocket calculator in the store; I can just do the math in my head.

Over the years, the number of cereals that fall within the 10-cents-per-ounce limit has dropped steadily. At this point, pretty much the only one that meets the standard is Millville raisin bran, the Aldi store brand. (The Millville corn flakes are even cheaper, but we don't usually bother with them because they're not as filling. Also, I have a tendency to snack on them, mouse-fashion, until they disappear without a trace.) So, since we don't make the homemade granola much these days, Brian's breakfast is almost invariably a bowl of raisin bran (cut with plain rolled oats to make it still more filling and cheaper).

Once in a while, though, when the stars are aligned just right, a name-brand cereal goes on sale for less than half its usual price, while at the same time a coupon comes out for that same brand that takes the price down by 50 cents or more. And if the sale happens to occur at a store that doubles coupons—as most of our local supermarkets do, if they're under a dollar in value—the price per ounce can actually drop well below our ten-cent limit. And thanks to CouponMom, I can now easily find these deals when they pop up.

Last week, for instance the site alerted me to a deal at the Shop Rite: four boxes of any of various types of General Mills cereals for $8. This could be combined with a 75-cents off coupon on Wheaties from Coupons.com, which, if doubled, would take the price down to a mere 50 cents a box. The only catch was, you had to buy four boxes to get this price. Which means you also had to have four coupons. And since Coupons.com has a print limit of two on most of its coupons, I could only get two of them.

However, all was not lost. I hunted through the other coupons on the site and managed to find a 50-cent one for regular Cheerios and a 75-cent one for Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch. This is the sort of sweet, calorie-dense cereal that we normally steer clear of, but if it could serve as the fourth box that would give us our great deal, we were more than happy to try it. So here's how the deal stacked up:

Two 10.9-ounce boxes of Wheaties, regular price, $4.19 each
One 14-ounce box of Cheerios, regular price, $4.29
One 13.1-ounce box of the Medley Crunch, regular price, $3.99
Regular price for all four boxes: $16.86
Sale price for all four boxes: $8.00
Two 75-cent coupons for Wheaties, doubled: $3 off
One 75-cent coupon for Medley Crunch, doubled: $1.50 off
One 50-cent coupon for Cheerios, doubled: $1 off
Final cost for all four boxes: $2.50

Yep, that's four boxes of cereal for less than the regular price of one box. The cost per ounce for all the cereal we bought was 5.1 cents, or about half of our limit.

Round 2 winner: Amy and Brian. Woo-hoo!

Sadly, as I mentioned before, we aren't able to score deals like this on a regular basis. I don't know how the extreme couponers do it, but I know that in our area, at least, magic combinations like this don't show up on CouponMom more than once every few months. And since a box of cereal lasts us only a week or so—even when cut with oats—I'm sure we'll be back to the Aldi raisin bran within a couple of months. But in the meantime, Brian can enjoy a nice change of pace. (That's assuming I leave him any of the Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, which turns out to be waist-threateningly tasty.)
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