Turn on the television or pick up a magazine and you can’t avoid seeing the latest craze – Extreme Couponing. It’s a full time job for many women and it’s become the next big thing. TV shows spotlight shoppers who pay next to nothing for cart after cart of merchandise, and cameras focus on closets of toothpaste and basements full of toilet paper. You can’t help but be interested; after all, who among us hasn’t fantasized about being paid to shop and bring home food for free?
Having a larger than normal size family, I’m always interested in trying to cut my large food bill. The most I’ve ever been able to save is about $25, and although I’m happy to accomplish at least that much of a savings, I’d love to do better. I’ve thought for quite a while about trying to use coupons more successfully, but having spent some time cutting coupons from my local paper I’ve noticed that there’s just one small problem: The vast majority of the coupons I’ve seen have been for heavily processed, high fat or high calorie foods that my family just doesn’t eat. Is it just the reality of extreme couponing that you will have to sacrifice eating healthy in order to save money?
Stephanie Nelson, the Coupon Mom, has a philosophy she refers to as strategic shopping to help save money at the grocery store. “Strategic shopping is not changing the way you eat, it is about changing the way you buy the food that you like. If you are working on losing weight, improving your health, improving your family’s health or all of the above, it is possible to do that while saving money on groceries when you know how to be a Strategic Shopper.”
Successful coupon clippers are organized, systemic and thorough. They know the tricks, the ins and outs and have determined the best prices for the foods that they want to purchase for their families. One of the top secrets that many coupon clippers follow – they don’t waste time clipping coupons for products that they won’t eat. If you are following a healthy diet, this means weeding through the multitude of coupons for sugar cereal, processed and canned foods, and look for products that offer benefits to your family.
Begin by making a list of the items that you purchase most often at the store. Separate it into sections – produce, staples, canned goods, cereals, and frozen foods. The next time you visit the store, keep the receipt and jot down the price on your master list. This price is often referred to as the price point. By using coupons, utilizing the sale flyers and other in-store offers, your aim is to try to lower that price point as much as possible.
Check the manufacturer’s websites for some of your favorite products. “If there’s a product you enjoy but can’t always afford, you should reach out to the company directly and see if they circulate coupons or offer any kind of discounts via email or direct mail,” says Scott Elling, Founder of CouponPal. By simply requesting a coupon, many vendors will send you multiple coupons and add you to their mailing lists for future offerings. In addition, many companies will offer coupons available for print as a download from their website and you can print multiple coupons for use on multiple products. You will need to check with your local grocery store, as there are some who do not accept coupons printed from home, but most do, and many stores offer double or even triple coupons at specific times of the month.
Descygna Webb, staff writer at DietsInReview.com, explained this concept further. “Learning your stores’ policy on coupons is important when it comes to doubling. One of the best deals I’ve gotten, aside from the free items, was when I bought some Dannon Greek yogurt. They were on sale 10/$10 and I had a few $.50/2 coupons. Kroger doubles, that so I received one dollar off every two yogurts making them $.50 each. It was a great deal because those yogurts are usually $1.29 regular price!”
One important point to remember is that there are products on your shopping list that aren’t food. Foil, soap, toothpaste and cleaners are all items that are often added to the grocery bill, and there are always coupons for these items in the circulars. By using coupons for these, as well as pantry staples such as flour and sugar, you can use the money that you save to purchase healthy whole foods like produce, grains, and meat.
Webb has recently delved into the world of couponing and she’s become addicted. “I use coupons for everything that my family needs including household items. For healthy foods, I use them a lot for Greek yogurt. I have a one-year-old and she loves the stuff. As I’m sure you know its become very popular and there are a lot of brands available. Along with that, all the brands typically put coupons out so that’s helpful.”
“The way I use coupons on healthy items like boneless/skinless chicken breast, low fat cheese, various nuts and Greek yogurt is I buy six papers per week. I clip coupons on anything that I think I will use and when a store puts an item on sale, I can use my coupons to score additional savings. In some cases, this results in items being free. I have gotten rice, pasta, deodorant, toothbrushes and dental floss free so far.”
Elizabeth Ketchem, who runs the incredibly efficient blog CouponsMakeCents, loves to help others save money on their purchases. “In terms of buying organic packaged foods, many companies put out coupons for their products. I did a quick search on eBay for “organic coupons” and got results for Eggland’s Best, Organic Valley, Kashi, Horizon, Yobaby, Santa Cruz, Cascadian Farms, Annie’s Organic, Stonyfield, RW Knudsen, Earth Balance, Dream, Country Choice, Clif Bars, Bear Naked…and the list goes on. The best way to search for organic coupons on eBay is to search by the company’s name that you are interested in. Sometimes people balk at the idea of ‘buying’ coupons, but even if you pay $.25 for a $1 coupon, you have still saved $.75 more than you would otherwise.”
“On eBay you will be buying multiples of a coupon; a seller will have 10 or 20 of a coupon to offer, and you will buy them, then use those coupons to purchase multiples of the item when the item goes on sale.”
Ketchem also recommends the popular practice of coupon stacking. “Many stores accept one manufacturer and one store coupon (i.e. Whole Foods, etc.) per item, which means you get two discounts on each item you buy. You can even do this when the item is on sale, which makes a really nice deal.” Serious coupon aficionados find that the majority of their savings come from coupon stacking.
Produce coupons are more difficult to come by, but they are out there. I’ve seen them for pre-sliced apple packs, salad in bags and even grape tomatoes. On occasion, Kroger’s register coupons will even dispense something like “Save $5 on your next produce purchase.” If you can’t find coupons for produce, don’t despair. By saving money on your other purchases, you will have extra money to be able to afford the produce you want to buy.
Lessie Perpura, who blogs at MyCouponLady, has formulated a list of pantry staples that she buys almost exclusively with coupons. She suggests not being brand loyal for these products, saying “Try other brands. You may find that, even though you LOVE the Prego Sauce, that you will love the Ragu Sauce just as well. Maybe not, but it is worth a try. Since both are essentially the same raw ingredients, it is worth giving them a try. Don’t be brand-loyal unless you have to be.” Her list includes rice, pasta, cereals, canned and frozen veggies, condiments, canned tomatoes, pasta sauces, canned tuna, and butter.
So called “healthy” supermarkets like Harris Teeter, Whole Foods and Sprouts like to distribute their coupons online and through their email newsletter. There are multiple sites for coupon downloads: Mambo Sprouts, The Krazy Coupon Lady, We Use Coupons, and Heavenly Homemakers. Don’t overlook the machines located around grocery stores, as well as the register generated coupons, which are often based upon your purchases and for a competitive brand.
One other way to save on your grocery bill is not coupon related. Seek out discount stores in your area – Aldi’s, Sav-a-Lot, Costco or Sam’s, even Dollar Tree, and many other discount places are fantastic ways to find your foods for less. I’ve recently discovered that the bread I like for sandwiches, which costs $3.50 per loaf, is sold the next day at the dollar store. I can get four bags for just a bit more there than the price of one; then I pop it into the freezer for the rest of the week. (This is helpful when you go through a loaf of bread a day!) Farmers markets, food co-ops and local farms are fantastic ways to look for cheaper food, and they have an added benefit that you can use these trips to help educate your children on exactly where the food comes from.
Getting started with couponing can be intimidating, but by following these basic steps, you can find that you will begin to save money each and every shopping trip and afford the healthy foods you’d rather be buying.