Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eating Healthy While Clipping Coupons: The Dos and Don’ts

(So, I finished this piece a few days ago, but waited until today’s scheduled Article Day to post. Money Saving Mom beat me to the punch in the best possible way. Guest contributor Jody Connelly has a tremendous essay called Nine Coupon Myths Debunked, and while it doesn't concentrate wholly on healthy couponing, it’s absolutely worth ten ganders. I encourage you to read it, study it, and adopt it as your child. Once that’s done, c’mon back here. Hopefully, this can add to Jody’s well-observed points.)

A few weeks ago, Serious Eats (one of my favorite blogs) picked up on a CHG piece called The Hour: How 60 Minutes a Week Can Save Hundreds of Dollars. Their post summarized The Hour in four simple steps, #2 of which was “Clip and organize coupons.” Quite a few commenters picked up on it, and more than one made the same salient point: it’s difficult to use coupons and eat healthy.

(Incidentally, one or two comments were along the lines of, “Coupons suck. I’ve been a vegan for 400 years, grow and cook all my own food from scratch, and refuse to ingest anything that’s ever come within 300 yards of a questionably unhealthy chemical. P.S. I’m better than you.” But we’ll ignore them.)

(For now.)

I won’t deny it: the “coupons aren’t healthy” folks are largely on the money. When it comes to food discounts, the vast majority of coupons are for sugary snacks and preservative-laden convenience products. You’d do better to lick a few dirty band-aids for the vitamins and minerals they provide, “Low in fat! High in niacin!” claims aside. What’s more, coupons can lure you to buy foods you wouldn’t otherwise, and oftentimes, those items are significantly pricier than generic or competing brands.


There are ways around the coupon trap. By applying the little buggers prudently, you can (and will) save a few bucks off healthy foods every week. It’ll compensate for the cost of labor and materials, and the time commitment shouldn’t take away from more important things. Like cooking, sleeping, or wondering why your boyfriend can get his laundry NEAR the hamper, but never IN the hamper.

Here are a few guidelines. You’ll note that some might not be applicable to your particular situation, and a few may even be at odds with each other. But hey – take what you like, and leave the rest. As always, I’d love to hear reader suggestions, as you guys are a scrappy, brainy bunch whose wisdom trumps mine by a country mile.

DON’T clip coupons for crap foods. It may seem intuitive, but if you ignore the insert discount on Mr. Transfat’s Super Rainbow Sugar Snackaroos, you’re much less likely to buy the product. And sandwiched between that barrage of prism-hued cartoon ads (which, infuriatingly, are often and obviously aimed at kids) are food coupons much more worth your while, as both a cook and a healthy eater. Bonus: by snubbing the crap, you’re not adding extra time to your grocery routine.

DO clip coupons for pantry staples. Sure, some folks have the time and inclination to brew their own soy sauce from scratch, and more power to them. I don’t. Fortunately for me, a plethora of standard condiments and cupboard stalwarts appear quite regularly in coupon inserts. In fact, right now, I have paper discounts for bread, Tabasco sauce, mustard, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, milk, eggs, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, soy milk, frozen vegetables, sugar-free sorbet, coffee, whole grain pasta, peanut butter, jelly, bagged salad, and 5,000 kinds of yogurt. These aren’t unhealthy foods, and many function as ingredients for other, nutritionally sound meals. Plus? When the coupons are paired with circular sales, each item can be purchased for well below the regular price.

DO check online. I could be wrong, but I find websites seem to have more health-based coupons than do Sunday newspapers. As of this writing, $3 worth of Muir Glen tomatoes, Birds Eye frozen vegetables, and Tuscan dairy discounts are available at, while has $3.85 off Tribe hummus, Borden organic milk, Near East couscous, Heartland pasta, and Pompeian olive oil and vinegar. (And, um, $1 on Ben and Jerry’s.) Lots of organic-friendly companies will include coupon offers on their business websites, as well. All in all, that ain’t too shabby. (Of course, beware of grocery stores that don’t take print-out coupons. Mine don’t.)

DON’T be unwaveringly brand-loyal. A vital component of this whole healthy couponing thing (and couponing in general) is forgoing your allegiance to certain brands. Simply, coupons are for all kinds of items made by all kinds of companies, and the more you’re willing to try, the more you’ll save. It means you may have to give up Pillsbury sugar for Domino’s, but the money’s worth it in the long run.

DO clip coupons for personal and kitchen supplies. I don’t know if you’ve ever bought generic plastic wrap, but in my experience, it’s slightly less worthless than a Paris Hilton math book. With the help of coupons (paired with store sales, of course), you can regularly score aluminum foil, Tupperware, soap, cleaners, and toothpaste – all necessities that usually get lumped into the grocery budget - for next to nothing. And? The money you bank can be applied toward healthy whole foods like produce, grains, and meat. Money Saving Mom has the lowdown.

DON’T clip coupons for items you will never use (or donate). Much like the “No Crap Foods” rule, there’s no need to blow two hours eviscerating a coupon insert because you may miss a fantasy deal on fish oil supplements. If you’re an elderly dog owner prone to yeast infections, go ahead and getcher markdowns for Tylenol Arthritis, Alpo and Vagisil. If you’re not, pass them by (unless you will donate those goods to charity in the near future). Again, you’ll save time and aggravation, which affect both your health and your willingness to coupon.

DO read up. I’m far from an expert, but I know that circular sales or coupons by themselves aren’t usually enough to make a product enticing. Applied together, though? Different story. And these two posts include all you really need to know: Coupons Tips and Tricks That Can Cut Your Grocery Bill by 80% at The Digerati Life and The One Month Coupon Strategy at The Simple Dollar.

And that’s it. Readers, again, I’d love to hear from you. There’s so much to talk about with this particular subject, and I’m sure I forgot a ton. Please edumacate me.

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members ninjapoodles, joslynl, and peretzpup.)

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Ashley said...

wow... did you really have to add in the band-aid comment???

I did like the article though, the hint about saving your coupons for 4 weeks before using them is definitely something I will try.

Pam said...

I started clipping coupons a couple of months ago and was amazed at how many of them are for personal care items. Since I'm not brand loyal for these kinds of things, I've saved a lot of money using coupons. It's freed up more of my grocery budget for the organic dairy I've been wanting to purchase but couldn't.

Kris said...

Sorry, Ashley. I was shooting for funny and could only come up with disgusting. :)

Di Hickman said...

I've actually been busy trying to compose a blog post on this myself. When we first came to America I was amazed at the coupons, then dissapointed as they were ALL for junkfood.

I'm not the 400 year old vegan (lol) but I am vegetarian, I cook more from scratch than I used to and I'm more into green living and sustainability than I used to be. In fact I JUST stated a new blog addressing these things (and yes I WILL be growing some veggies etc so maybe I'll BECOME that 400 year old vegan, who grows their own food). I am JUST starting to research more into chemicals in our foods and cookware and am appalled at what I find out!

Also for those looking for healthier coupons, try they have some health food coupons, but then you gotta search the supermarkets to find the items! (though whole foods does take coupons)

Cooking from scratch really doesn't take ANY extra time! Plus nothing says I Love you, more than a homecooked meal waiting for you after a hard days work.

Speaking of working on blog posts, I better go finish that one!

Chocoholic said...

Another thing on the websites, especially organic companies, sign up for their emails! I routinely get emails from Horizon, Organic Valley, etc. that have coupons in them.

Make sure to check out the register coupons some places print. I've bought Amy's pizzas and gotten Kashi pizza coupons and vice versa. Also, Meijer (if you are in the midwest) routinely prints coupons off for $1 off any of their brand organic items, especially if you bought something organic on that trip. They have pretty good frozen fruit, broth and olive oil in their brand.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog! I like ramen, and I like Epicurious, but now, they've blended together here like chocolate and peanut butter. Anyway, I was raised by--with all respect--a cheap, poor, coupon-clipping maniac (the things I've eaten...) Thank god I'm turning out just like Mom. Here's what I've learned from her and doing it myself.

1. Don't use that little "coupon wallet" to store them in. I keep mine in a trapper -keeper filled with transparent baseball card holders--It was worth the investment to NOT have to rifle though the same coupons 1,000 times. That way, you're looking at 9 at a time instead of 1. And, as stated in the post, keep only the ones you'll use. Don't sort them by "grocery isle," sort them by expiration date. If store sales haven't come up for ones about to expire (wait until the last possible minute) use the best ones.

2. Check the coupons in the paper before you leave the store. Sometimes, there's nothing worthwhile in the paper--sometimes, there aren't any coupons at all. Try to do a little addition in your head; Is it really worth spending $1.75 for the paper on crap like single-serve Pringles and hair dye? But sometimes, usually around a food-holiday, it's worth buying 2 or more papers if the coupons are worth $10-up in savings on yeast, tuna, butter, cheese, ect.

3. Some larger stores will triple coupons less than 40 cents, and double coupons less than 51 cents. So those seemingly worthless coupons for ".30 off 2" become more valuable than ".75 off 2." Especially if the special is buy one, get one free (BOGOF). The free thing counts towards a coupon-discounted purchase. (My favorite is when the coupon is BOGOF, and the store is offering the same! two for nothing. I save ALL BOGOF coupons, just in case. It's usually gum or candy, stock up and savor.)

4. If you're lucky, and brave enough to rummage in the shadows, your store has a dark corner filled with food unworthy of being sold looking pretty. Coupons count towards these items. A can or box with a ripped label, or something else has leaked in the whole shipment but hasn't damaged what you're buying...just make sure the lid hasn't popped, or it hasn't expired (use your head--does mustard really go bad the day it's marked as expired? But baby, don't risk it.) And make sure you let the teller know it was on the clearance table.

saving advice said...

What is not readily known is that you can contact organic companies directly and often get coupons for their products. Here is a list of contact numbers for organic and natural food companies

Monroe on a budget said...

If you want to buy "pantry items" (useful for cooking from scratch) on coupons, you will find them as part of the Thanksgiving / Christmas foods marketing campaigns.

Yes, I'm talking about flour, canned milk, Splenda, cinnamon and other spices, even cookie sheets.

Value For Your Life said...

While I've been using coupons for a while, I'd never paid that much attention to the ones for personal care items. I've started using them more lately and have saved quite a bit. Every now and then the grocery stores (or Walmart) will get a special buy that you can combine the coupon with. For me, half the battle was actually finding a good coupon organization system to couple with my weekly planning.

The Digerati Life said...

Nice list! Thank you for sharing my article with your readers. I love the way you explain the Do's and Don'ts here: nice way to explain what it is that we should filter out of our coupon collection.

NH Mom of 3 said...

Good article! Two tips I wanted to share: First -- I was recently shopping at my local food co-op and noticed near the entrance a coupon book (geared towards the natural/organic type of items) in the rack with a list of weekly/monthly specials at the store. So that may be another place to look for coupons to use for healthier stuff. If you belong to, or shop at, a food co-op or natural food store check in with the customer service desk to see if they have any coupons available. If they don't, perhaps you could request them! 2nd -- I sometimes can find better deals on pantry staples and fresh fruits/veggies at stores like Costco, BJs, etc. But this tip is really only effective if you know your family can actually EAT everything that might be in the bigger item there. It's no bargain if the 5 pounds of tomatoes rot in your kitchen! I try to share with a friend or family member if I think we won't be able to use up or freeze all of the multi-pack.

kikiverde said...

I've recently written an article that you may want to check out. It does focus on organics, however many of the tips and tricks are just as valid for non-organic healthy purchases. Saving money on healthy food can definitely be done.

Four Tails Lampwork said...

Good article!

There's one fly in the online coupon ointment for me, and that is that the coupon printer that almost every site uses 1) will not load or run on a Linux OS, even using WINE, and 2) it also will not print coupons to a file that one can then transfer to a computer with a printer. (I do have a Windows netbook, but my printer still uses a parallel port ... ) However, getting coupons mailed is still an option. Even if you still use Windows or Mac, in the comments for the coupon sites write in "Add support for Linux users" -- by definition, people interested in free stuff / saving money, at least on some level -- that would help raise awareness!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever done the 'double your coupon value' thing from P&G Brand? I sent in a form and my receipt and have yet to hear from them.

Anonymous said...

Are there any places I can find coupons for products that are not tested on animals? I find most websites/paper coupons only have personal care products that are tested on animals.

adson stone said...

As a frugal mom of 4 with over 20 years of experience shopping on a budget, I have tested just about every level of grocery coupon use that a person can do; from all, to some, to none, and back again. Coupon use will vary depending on people's circumstances. I have known many people who refuse to use coupons because they feel they just don't have time. As a working mom myself, who barely has time to shop for groceries, let alone clip grocery coupons each week, I truly do understand. Yet, not using a grocery coupon on an item that you're going to purchase anyways is just like throwing money away. Yes, it does take a little time each week to clip the coupons and take them to the store, but just like earning money takes time, so does saving money!
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