My sister challenged me to try and eat well for a month spending only $1 a day for food. It probably would have been wise if I had thought about how much I hate shopping and cooking before I took on the challenge, but once I committed, nothing could stop me (not even a trip to the emergency roomtwo times — in the first week) I began May 1 with absolutely no food and managed to stay under my $31 budget for the month (I bought $597.96 worth of food and other stuff for $27.08 during the month). Here are some of the things I learned:

Grocery Shopping Is A Game: Getting good deals while grocery shopping is a game. If you don't think that it is, you are simply unknowingly playing it and it's costing you. Most people don't understand the rules of this game and that is why they pay much more for food than they need to. It takes about a month to learn the rules of the game and how to play it to your advantage which makes it possible to get huge discounts on the food you buy.

You Can Eat More Than Junk Food On $1 A Day: Most people that I told I was going to be trying this challenge assumed that I was going to be eating a lot of macaroni & cheese and instant ramen. I actually was able to get fruit and vegetables into my diet on a daily basis. I only ate 100% whole wheat bread the entire month. While I could have made my diet healthier if I had more money, I believe that what I ate was better than what many people in the US eat without the strict financial limitations.

Drug Stores Can Be A Great Place To Get Free Food: Most people don't think of their local drug store as a place to get free food, but if you have any of the three big national chains near you (CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid), they are a great place to get free food. These drug stores often have deals where you can purchase things for free and when combined with frequent offers of a certain dollar amount off when you buy a qualifying amount, it can mean free food.

If You Don't Know What A Catalina Coupon Is, You Don't Know About The Most Powerful Discount Available To You: Catalina coupons are those coupons that you get with your receipt that give you money off your next shopping purchase. By utilizing these coupons in conjunction with sales and coupons, you go from getting good deals when shopping to being able to get food for free, or even make money.

Generic / Store Brands Aren't As Cheap As You Think: Most people I talked with believed that I was going to have to only buy generic / store brand food. I don't think I bought any store brand products (except for Safeway apples) because they were much more expensive than the name brand product discounts I could find.

If you are under the assumption that it isn't worthwhile to use coupons because you mainly use generic / store brands and they are less expensive than name brands even with coupons, then you don't know how to use coupons. I used to believe the argument and it is just false.

You Don't Know How To Shop: If you are like most people, you decide what you want to eat and then go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients you need to make that meal. If this is the way that you shop, you have already lost the game and will pay much more than you need to be paying.

If you truly want to save money shopping, you need to learn how to create your meals from what you already have in your house and then buy the best deals each week to replenish what you have on hand. This allows you to purchase food at the best prices as opposed to what they happen to be when you go to get the ingredients for your menu. This simple change should instantly cut your grocery bill by 50% or more.

It's Possible To Donate A Lot of Food While Only Eating On $1 A Day: One of the things that I am most proud of in this challenge was that beyond not going hungry, I was actually able to donate quite a bit of food to my local food bank during the month. This included:

8 Deli Selections lunch packs
8 packages hardwood smoked turkey franks
3 sample packs of Maxwell House Vanilla Carmel Latte
1 can of Pork & Beans
32 boxes of cereal
50 packs of Philadelphia Cream Cheese Minis
4 boxes of Wheat Thins

In fact, to get many deals you probably will need to buy more than you actually need. Instead of looking at this as something negative (“I don't need that much so I will buy something more expensive but in a lesser quantity”), embrace it and begin donating to your local food bank. Your local food bank will greatly appreciate it and you will wonder why you didn't begin doing so sooner.

It Doesn't Take Near As Much Time As You Would Imagine There is an initial learning curve when you really do need to devote a good amount of time learning how the system works, but once you become familiar with it, things shouldn't take too much longer than they do for you now. While it is possible to spend a lot of time cutting, sorting and cataloging all the coupons you have, you don't have to. I don't. I simply date the Sunday coupon inserts with a pen and then only get coupons when there is a great deal that I want to take advantage of.

Being Able To Get Coupons Is Key: Your ability to get coupons will be the key to saving money and the more you can find, the better the chance you will have to get great deals. Although I was limited to using the coupons from 2 Sunday inserts, I still did well. Had I been able to use more, I could have done much better. I also utilized a lot of coupons found in the stores — something that most people don't do nearly enough.

Anyone Can Do It: I only started couponing in February of this year to help out local food banks and avoided shopping as much as I could before then. I didn't have a clue about anything about couponing or grocery shopping when I began. If I was able to figure out how to do this, I assure you that anyone can. It will take about 10 hours of learning how the different store systems work and about a month of practice using what you learn to become comfortable with using coupons. From that point on, you can expect huge savings in your grocery shopping.

Bonus Observation: It is amazing what you will consider doing in order to get a free jar of peanut butter when on a limited budget…

If this is your first visit to this challenge, you may be interested in frequently asked questions

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  1. I feel like I’m having a reading comprehension fail. What date do you put on the Sunday coupon inserts, exactly? The expiration date?

    Thanks much!

  2. No, you place on the Sunday date that the coupon insert arrived so you can easily find it at a later date.

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