Can Healthy Eaters Shop with Coupons?

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This week when I checked the coupons in my Sunday paper, I found plenty of candy, juice and frozen entrees. Not much, in other words, that regularly appears on my shopping list.

In my house, we eat food that we prepare ourselves as often as possible. Our meals include plenty of fresh produce and grains, lots of dairy, some chicken, and once in a while, beef. But with a family to feed and plenty of bills to pay, I look for opportunities to save money whenever I can. After my daughter was born I found myself wondering how (and if) healthy eaters can shop with coupons. Here’s my strategy.

Stock up on staples

When you come across a healthy coupon for something you normally use, like yogurt, toothpaste or ketchup, buy it. Buy up to the limit if it’s something that won’t go bad before you have a chance to use it.

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Tip: Keep your eye out for these items that manufacturers frequently offer coupons for, that often go on special in local stores, and that won’t sabotage your healthy eating goals:

  • Dairy (milk, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese)
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, hand and body soap)
  • Lotion
  • Pet food
  • Medicine (particularly seasonal items like antihistamines in the spring)
  • Laundry soap
  • Household cleaning products (the most common type of manufacturer’s coupon)
  • Beauty products
  • Meat, produce and coffee (in your local store advertising circulars)
Take advantage of store specials

Many of us transfer the weekly junk mail directly from the mailbox to the trash can. But before you do that, find the weekly advertising circulars for your two or three favorite stores and scan the specials. Store specials often coincide with national coupons, netting you the greatest savings. When your favorite meat item goes on sale, buy extra and keep some in your freezer. Remember, though, that most foods need to be eaten within six to 12 months of freezing.

Tip: The best prices at many grocery store chains are available only to shoppers who participate in the store’s loyalty program. Join at every store near you. These programs are free and your membership can usually be attached to your phone number, so you don’t even have to carry the membership cards.

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Pass over the bad stuff

The key to healthy couponing is to resist the urge to deviate far from your normal shopping and eating patterns. Skip over coupons for unhealthy but enticing items like sugary snacks or drinks, boxed food or other convenience items loaded with unpronounceable preservatives.

Tip: Don’t let your kids clip coupons for impulse items. Explain that junk food is junk at any price.

Check online coupon sites

You might have to set up user accounts and customize notification settings to avoid being inundated with emails, but take a look at some of the bigger coupon websites. I like CouponCabin.com for the organization and layout; also try SmartSource.com, RetailMeNot.com and Coupons.com. Coupon sites aggregate coupons for stores nationwide and allow you to customize your searches and preferences. Check your favorite brands’ websites, too. Some brands, like Horizon Organic Dairy, offer coupons right on their site.

Many bloggers, like KingdomFirstMom.com and MoneySavingMom.com, host coupon databases and can lead you straight to the source of any coupon you wish to take advantage of. TheDigeratiLife.com offers great couponing tips and links, too.

Tip: Set aside an hour or two each week to clip and browse coupons. If it’s too much of a time-thief, you won’t enjoy it and it won’t feel like a great value.

Don’t spend wastefully

Don’t buy anything you wouldn’t normally buy – you’re not saving if you’re spending. And don’t make a special trip to use a small coupon that is about to expire or only good at one store. Driving a few miles or more to save twenty cents is counter-productive on so many levels. Also, don’t be unnecessarily loyal to brands. The more flexible you are, the more likely you’ll drive your total grocery cost down.

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Tip: Check prices. Don’t use a coupon for a national brand when a suitable generic is sitting right next to it for an even lower price.

Organize

You won’t use your coupons if the tiny scraps of paper are crumpled at the bottom of your purse or pocket. Use a coupon organizer. Some extreme couponers also suggest that you wait at least two to four weeks after clipping a coupon before shopping for the item, because you’ll be more likely to find a store special after a short delay.

Tip: Get a coupon organizer that attaches to the handle of the shopping cart. And unless you’re clipping and filing coupons, leave the organizer in the car so you’ll never be in the store without it.

Make it fun

Explore different ways to shop healthy, like local farm memberships (find one near you on LocalHarvest.org), warehouse stores or even a vegetable garden of your own. Involve your kids in shopping and meal preparation activities. Finding ways to save money on healthy food should and can be fun for the whole family.

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