The Monroe on a Budget column runs Tuesdays in The Monroe Evening News. Here is this week’s installment:

Have you ever wondered where the savings are on “healthy” foods?

The key is to find the savings in every possible direction, including paper goods and personal care products.

That’s the concept Jessica Hacker of Caldwell, Idaho, teaches through her website You may have seen Ms. Hacker on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” but there is more to her shopping skills than a binder full of coupons. Some of her tips coincide with what I teach on Monroe on a Budget, but I also picked up a new idea when I spoke with her on the phone last week.

Ms. Hacker and her husband have a 3-year-old girl and she also has three teenage stepsons. The oldest boy is now in the Marines, and the other two are in high school.

A family of six would have a monthly food budget of $984.40 using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cost of Food Study thrifty range, the target point I teach for grocery bills. But Ms. Hacker says she has a grocery bill of $160 a month, which includes six gallons of organic milk a week. And she’s hitting that point in a community whose stores double coupons only during special sales.

While the TV show brought attention to couponing, Ms. Hacker said she spends a lot of time explaining the details during classes and to her readers.

“It put high expectations in people’s eyes,” she said about the show. “They (viewers) don’t understand how they did it, and how it works.”

Ms. Hacker actually combines couponing with stockpiling, followed by focused menu planning. Her shopping efforts take about five hours a week, starting with five Sunday newspapers delivered to her house and a binder organized with 36 categories of coupons she is likely to use.

The key, she said, is following the grocery sales cycles. Canned goods are on good prices now, and will be again in the fall. But summer is time to stock up on condiments. The groceries she stockpiles are ones that fit her family’s favorite menus and preferred personal care products.

Her tactics include earning coupons through purchase of toiletries and paper products, as can be done at CVS and Rite Aid, and apply those savings to other groceries such as the organic milk brand she prefers to buy.

Now here’s the tip that was new to me, but maximizes her savings:

Ms. Hacker builds her menu plan an entire month at a time, based on groceries she already has in stock. Since she buys only what her family would eat, and marks containers with expiration dates so the inventory is rotated, her family’s favorite foods are ready to prepare with huge savings along the way.

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Learn more about Jessica Hacker at Living On a Coupon and her press kit.

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