This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for awhile. After my last weekend’s excellent haul, I finally felt motivated to write it.
My latest fascination has been Extreme Couponing. They make it look so easy — waltzing into a store and buying a ton of groceries for $0.62. Of course, that’s not exactly true — the magic of television hides a lot of the planning, strategizing, dealing, stressing, and calculations. And especially in Canada, where we don’t have double coupons, can’t stack coupons, and don’t have a lot of them provided. What’s even more difficult is that when you eat mostly organic and whole foods (lots of produce, meats, dairy, etc.) and focus mainly on chemical-free, homemade cleaners and cosmetics, it’s tough to really get anything out of couponing. Most people don’t even bother.
A lot of people give coupons a bad wrap, saying that “you only ever get coupons for junk food” and “products that harm the environment”. I disagree with this statement and here’s why:
In a real food kitchen, don’t think of couponing as directly contributing to your grocery savings, but indirectly reducing other aspects of your budget. In other words, it’s not so much buying real food with coupons as it is saving on other items with coupons that helps you purchase your produce, meats and dairy. If you are able to save money from you grocery budget by buying toilet paper using coupons, that money saved can go towards buying more fruits and vegetables. $12 saved is $12 saved, no matter how you went about it. That’s just $12 to put toward a freezer full of locally raised organic ground beef!
I’ve been practicing it for about six months and I have to say that for us, it can be totally worth it. Here’s how we practice couponing in our organic, semi-vegetarian, whole foods, nourishing household.
First off, we only use coupons for products we frequently use, or for items of equal quality in comparison to ones we frequently use. This includes toilet paper, tissue, sanitary napkins, diapers (Naomi has been mainly using disposables since she started daycare), frozen pizzas (our trick to avoiding fast food places and delivery menus on nights when we’re too tired to cook), ice cream, toothbrushes, dry cereals (not necessarily for breakfast, but for use in play kitchens), dishwashing liquid, frozen vegetables, almond milk, and the very rare produce items. We don’t collect coupons for things like chemical cleaners, toothpaste and soaps, junk foods, juice, yogurt (dairy intolerant!), or cookies.
We’re not brand loyal on most things, with few notable exceptions. Naomi seems to do best with one certain brand of diapers, and so we pretty much only purchase that brand of diapers. On the other hand, we don’t really worry about which type of ice cream or frozen pizza we collect — those are treats and not a common item that we come across, so when we get a coupon for it, we don’t really squabble about the brand.
The prices of things are usually pretty consistent, but when there’s a sale, we stock up. We save our coupons until the sale comes up and save even more money! This week at our local discount grocery store, frozen pizzas were marked down from $5.67 to $2.97. I had six coupons that ranged from $0.75 to $1.00. So using my coupons and the deal, I was able to purchase 10 pizzas. The total would have come to $56.70, but after the sale and my coupons, I paid $21.70, or $2.17 per pizza.
Having said that, just because something is on sale and you have a coupon, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good deal. Always check the alternative brands, and the store brand. We’ve come across “great deals” before only to discover that the unit price of the store brand is even better, even after sale price and coupon price. Most stores now feature the unit price on the tags on the shelves anyway, so it’s easy to check.
I also don’t go out of my way to use a coupon just because it’s going to expire. Coupons expire — let them. There will be more. It’s very rare that you get a coupon that you’ll never see again. With the exception of the odd amazing coupon for fruit, dairy or meat, you will likely see lots of coupons for paper products, cleaners, bathroom products, and junk foods. So don’t worry if you don’t get to use your coupon before the sale comes up. There will always be another one.
And oh the temptation to save on junk! That is the toughest part and Michael is having to rein me in all the time. If a deal looks too good to pass, it probably is! Yes it’s possible to get a blue box of macaroni and cheese for $0.25, but really, why bother? You know it’s full of chemicals and garbage, so why would you even put it in your cart? The same goes for soaps, cleaners and junk foods. Be careful what you put in your carts and your bodies.
As unlikely as it seems, it is possible to get coupons for fresh produce, meats, dairy and organics. Some stores, like our favorite grocery chain, feature special coupons for in-store purchases and often include fruits and vegetables. Some products feature coupons for different products like eggs, vegetables and meats as well, if you buy something that goes along with it. I’ve seen cereal boxes with coupons for milk, and plastic baggy boxes featuring coupons for bread. Just be careful that if you’re buying the product, it is something you actually use, or else you might as well just buy the product featured on the coupon instead!
Even though we don’t use them all, I do save all the coupons I come across and trade them for things we do use. It’s especially handy in a home like ours, where we don’t really use a lot of the products for which coupons are readily available. I have been able to trade good coupons for cleaners, cereals and cosmetics for coupons we readily use, like ice cream and diapers.
So how else can coupons save you money? Why they allow you to contribute and donate! You’re more readily able to donate to your local food bank when you can get a bunch of items for a much more discounted price. No one wants to fill up on a lot of sugar and chemicals, but let’s face it — everyone needs to eat. If you’re hesitant about donating because you don’t feel you can afford it, why not try couponing? Save your coupons for things like bagels, peanut butter, jam, juice, mustard, hot dogs, toiletries, and other necessities and when a great sale comes along, go spend some money on those items, and use your coupons. Ta da! You’ve got a very valuable, and very rewarding, lot of donations you can make to someone who does not have your good fortune.
Another way coupons allow you to be generous is by being the coupon fairy! If you have a coupon that is about to expire and you know you’re not going to use it, why not leave it at the store for someone else to use? I have done this several times, and have come across wonderful coupons for things I might not have purchased had I not found a coupon that allowed me to save more!
Coupons can be a great addition to your family budget. Taking the extra bit of time to acquire, organize and employ them can save you money in lots of different situations!
How do you use coupons in your home? Do you have a different strategy? I’d love to hear it!