Calgary

Calgary woman shares her tricks for coupons, and others offer tips for stretching a food budget

As the cost of food rises, it seems everyone on a tight budget is finding different ways to save. In this article, residents from Calgary and across southern Alberta share their best tips.

'I don't know how I could afford groceries without them,' says coupon expert

Tina Garstad checks the PC Health app, where she earned 100 points a day last month. By the end of the month, that meant $30 off groceries. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

This story from our series on the high cost of food was originally published on Dec. 14, 2021.


Annette Lowe goes grocery shopping with two binders full of coupons. 

Patience is the secret to getting awesome deals, says the Calgary resident, whose only income is a government disability cheque.

She makes that stretch by printing, clipping and watching for sales.

"We'll make a shopping list and then I'll go through the coupons," she said in an interview for CBC Calgary's project on the increasing cost of food. "I'll go to Superstore because they will price match and use my coupons to make my grocery bill as low as I can."

"You can make it fun. It depends how serious you want to be about it," Lowe said. "But it is 100 per cent necessary to make my budget work. Cleaning supplies are very expensive and I get most of my cleaning supplies free, just from the printed coupons. I always get cheese very cheap because those coupons are always available."

"I don't know how I could afford groceries without them."


Inflation and pandemic-related supply chain issues have been driving up the cost of food to the point where many Calgary residents say they're struggling. CBC Calgary has been inviting people to share tips for saving money on Facebook and through a text-messaging app.

Whether it's canning and dehydrating, shopping in bulk or cutting out meat, it seems each person has a different technique to get by.

Online coupon group shares secrets

Lowe recommends joining the Canadian Savings Group on Facebook to read their primer for tips and links. That coupon-focused group now has 94,000 members.

She says she often gets items free if she has a coupon for several dollars off and waits until the item goes on sale. Several stores let customers layer up deals like that, and often companies send coupons by email.

"Chapman's will send you a $4 coupon toward ice cream every year," she said. "You email them and they'll send you a coupon.… My grandchildren, they like that Christmas ice cream, so I wait until it goes on clearance and buy two."

A dollar here, 50 cents there and so on. It soon adds up to significant savings on a grocery bill. (Submitted by Catalina Barrios)

Other Calgary and southern Alberta residents shared their tips for winter gardening, for shopping at discount produce stores, and for using community programs such as Fresh Routes and the Good Food Box.

AMA discounts and Checkout 51

Community member Joan Karlowsky told Daybreak Alberta host Russell Bowers about a class on reducing food waste she took from the Calgary Public Library. Now she is careful about how she stores produce, ensuring fruits and vegetables are separate, and she shops more frequently, buying just what she needs.

Others told CBC News they share a Costco membership, or they buy gift cards through the Alberta Motor Association to get five per cent back.

Then there's the PC Health app. Tina Garstad says she got $30 off groceries at Superstore in November just by taking a couple health challenges.

On the topic of apps, several people wrote to say they use the app Checkout 51. When they buy an item listed on the app, they upload the receipt and get money back.

"Once you save $20, essentially with their online coupons, they send you a cheque. I've been using it for years with no complaints," said Shauna Ogston, a single parent living in Calgary.

She lost her job during COVID, then focused on homeschooling her two children since one of them is immunocompromised. She says one child needs gluten free food, and the federal help she was getting ran out, so every penny counts.

Shauna Ogston stands with son Blayze Balmer and daughter Haylee Balmer. She says having to plan every meal carefully to make her budget stretch has been difficult. (Submitted by Shauna Ogston)

"It's difficult. It's time-consuming and drains a lot of energy," she told Bowers on Daybreak Alberta. "To have to sit and really plan out every meal, to make sure that roast you buy, that there's enough for two days. Just simple things like that, I find, have been mentally draining."

Sharing bulk buys and dehydrating

Meanwhile, others in Calgary are focused on preserving food and turning to each other for help.

Four people wrote in about dehydrating. It seems that grew in popularity, too, during the pandemic, and now it's paying off in savings for people who buy in bulk or just use it to preserve tired produce otherwise going to waste. 

Calli O'Brien says she bought a dehydrator from Cabela's for $99 and got so into it, she wrote a recipe book for rehydrated meals. That saves money when her husband travels and isn't forced to go to a restaurant.

Calli O'Brien bought a dehydrator at the start of the pandemic. She now uses it to make camping meals and meals for trips to save on restaurant costs. (Submitted by Calli O'Brien)

Donna Dapp texted in to say she started saving money after she met a friend in similar circumstances living just down the hall in her building. They both live alone and now take advantage of deals by splitting a flat of 30 eggs, a large brick of cheese or five-pound bag of mandarins. 

"I met my neighbour in June, when I moved in. Once we got to know each other, we became good friends," Dapp said. "For seniors or singles, it's not just about saving money; it's about not throwing out food or seeing it spoil."


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elise Stolte

Journalist

Elise Stolte has 15 years of experience telling the stories of her community and has been recognized for feature writing, social-impact and community-based journalism. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal and joined CBC Calgary last year. You can reach her at elise.stolte@cbc.ca.

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