It’s no secret that I’m a big coupon user. When I mention this to people, I get one of three reactions:
1. “Hey, that’s great, how much do you save?”
2. “You must have a really unhealthy diet because coupons are only for junk food. It’s not worth it.”
3. “You could save so much more if you bought store brands.”
Number one makes me smile because I know I’m in the presence of someone who understands. Number three makes me sigh because I know that store brands are usually cheaper. I only use coupons when the name brand with coupon is cheaper than the store brand, or when I just cannot stand the store brand. I know the game and get a little irritated when someone assumes that I’m doing it wrong.
It’s number two that really raises my hackles. I get a little angry when people assume that, because I’m using coupons, I’m feeding my family nothing but cookies, chips, and boxed mac and cheese. While we do enjoy those things some of the time, in moderation, we actually eat very healthfully. And we still use coupons. How can that be?
Coupons have come a long way in recent years, partly because food manufacturers have also come a long way. We now have many more organic, vegetarian, natural, low sodium, and sugar-free alternatives than we used to. Many are made by national manufacturers who are willing to put out coupons for their wares. It’s not uncommon for the Sunday coupon flier to feature coupons for natural peanut butter, organic cereals, eggs, low sugar/sodium alternatives, bagged salads (not always economically sound, but certainly fast to make when you’re in a hurry), frozen and canned vegetables and fruits (which have been shown to be as healthy as fresh and without the spoilage problem), whole wheat breads, milk, yogurt, flour, and soy products. Yes, there are coupons for sugary cereals, Pop Tarts, boxed mac and cheese, high sodium dinner kits, and sodas, but there are still plenty of options for those who prefer healthier items.
I tend to score my best coupons for “healthy” products directly from the store fliers. They often have coupons for fresh meat and produce, store brand milk, eggs, and cheeses, fresh deli products, and baking products like flour and spices. Usually these work in conjunction with the store’s loyalty card. The loyalty card brings the price down a few cents and then the coupon brings it down even more. Or there are often coupons like $5 off a $50 purchase. You can use this coupon to buy anything you want, healthy items included.
Several of our stores now offer eCoupons in addition to their regular fliers. When you register at their site, they send you an email alert letting you know that there are new deals available. When you go to the website you can choose which of the “coupons” to add to your loyalty card and create a shopping list. When you get to the register with the items and swipe your loyalty card, the “coupons” are automatically deducted from your order. The stores here frequently include meats, produce, and dairy items in these deals, as well as name brand healthier products like Kashi, Stonyfield, Morningstar, Bocca, and others.
This past week I made my bi-weekly trip to the grocery store. Here are some of the “healthy” coupons that I used:
- Free milk with purchase of bananas: That one was in the store’s flier.
- $0.50 off five Del Monte canned vegetables. These were on sale, plus the store doubled the coupon, making the name brand cheaper than the store brand.
- $1.00 off Kashi cereal
- $0.75 off Egglands best eggs. Again, doubled and on sale made them cheaper than the store brand.
- $1.00 off any Morningstar vegetarian item.
- $1.00 off a bag of potatoes (from the store flier)
- $1.00 off bagged salad
- $1.00 off six cups of Stonyfield yogurt
- $0.50 off 5 lbs. of flour (from the store’s flier)
- $1.00 off Sara Lee whole wheat bread
- $5.00 off a $50 purchase
- $.50 off Smuckers Natural peanut butter
- $1.00 off Tropicana low sugar orange juice
- $.50 off Dole canned fruit
- $1.00 off popcorn (the kind in a jar you pop in an air popper)
- $0.75 off low fat cottage cheese
- $1.00 off Steam Fresh vegetables
- $1.00 off mixed bag of apples and oranges. From the store’s flier.
- $.50 off any produce item. This was an eDeal.
Couponing no longer means that you have to choose unhealthy foods. There are many healthier alternatives available now and coupons to match. Even if you don’t want to use food coupons because you still believe you can’t eat healthfully, coupons are widely available for toiletries, paper goods, cleansers, pet products, and other household items. Those can still help you save money, even if all you ever eat is raw produce. Even if all I used on my recent trip was the $5 off $50 coupon, that would still have been well worth the time it took to clip it and stick it in my purse.
Using coupons does not automatically doom you to an unhealthy diet. Yes, sometimes there is nothing in the Sunday coupon fliers for healthy products. Look around a little more. Try your store’s flier or see if they have eCoupons. Check the next week’s paper as you might have better luck then. If your store never offers any coupons you can use, try writing to their corporate headquarters and making your needs known. If enough people complain, maybe they’ll start adding more healthful coupons and deals. Over time you can find coupons that you can use. And when you hold out to combine those coupons with sales, you can eat healthfully on a budget.