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.)
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 Coupons.com, while SmartSource.com 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.)