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Guest Post: How I buy organic, fresh foods for pennies


photo by NatalieMaynor

Guest Post by Beeb Ashcroft who blogs at Super Coupon Girl

With the current economic landscape, more and more families are tightening their belts and looking for ways to cut costs. The prices of basic pantry staples, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and produce, have risen in recent years. And unfortunately, coupons for produce or dairy are often somewhat few and far between. So what’s a thrifty shopper to do?

At the beginning of this year, I was regularly spending between $600-$800 a month for groceries, although I didn’t like it one bit. I am inherently frugal, so it went against my nature to cough up $80 every time I went through a checkout.

Certainly, my two-person household could have gotten by on a dramatically smaller budget. However, eating a healthy diet is important to me, and I paid a lot for my groceries because I felt like I didn’t have a choice. But once I discovered coupons, a whole new world opened up for me.

The myth about coupons is that you can only save money if you buy nothing but Hamburger Helper and Spam. So I was shocked to discover I could use coupon techniques to help pay for my most expensive grocery items.

I’ve found my two major allies in drastically reducing our grocery budget have been overage from coupons and catalina deals. Let me share a little what these terms mean and how, too, can you take advantage of these deals.


photo by *clarity*

Let’s start with coupon overage.
Say you have a coupon for $2 off Wheat Thins, but they’re on sale for $1.50. Many stores allow the excess amount from the coupon to be used to pay for another item in your order. So you could buy the Wheat Thins and another item for 50 cents, and get both for free using the coupon.

Occasionally, you may run into a store that does not allow overage, so check with your store’s manager if you are unsure of their coupon policies. More often than not, stores accept overage as correct redemption of the coupon. (The store will get reimbursed the full coupon amount from the
manufacturer so they are not out any money by giving you overage.)

So how do you find coupons that will give you overage? Flip through your grocery sale fliers, and notice the sale prices when you visit the store. Compare these to the coupons that you have to identify money-makers.

Think big: if you discover an item on sale for $0.89 and you have a coupon for $1 off , you’ll get 11 cents of overage. But if you have ten of these coupons, you’ll have over a dollar in overage. See how it can add up?

I use that extra dollar here and dollar there earned from overage to help cover the costs of fruits and veggies or organic food so that I’m "paying" with coupon overage rather than paying out of pocket. [Note from Crystal: Check out this post if you’re wondering how you might be able to snag 10 copies of a coupon. It’s really not that hard!]

Catalina deals are another great aid as you strive to eat better for less.
Has a coupon ever printed out while you were going through the checkout? These are known as "catalinas" because the company that markets the coupon printers is Catalina marketing.

Manufacturers will often give out money-off coupons towards your next shopping order to reward their customers for purchasing their products. These valuable coupons print out at the register, and can be used like cash towards your next purchase.

You can get some amazing deals by paying attention to catalina promotions. For example, Glade recently had a promotion at my store where you receive $2 off your next trip for purchasing their Plug-Ins. The Plug-In warmers were on sale for $3.99, and I had coupons for $4 off. This means that the Plug-Ins were free, and I earned $2 in catalinas for each one that I bought! And once again, I was able to use the extra $2 I earned each time I did this deal to pay for some of my fruits and vegetables and meat, instead of paying out of pocket.

To identify catalina deals at your store, keep an eye peeled for items marked with special tags highlighting the promotion throughout the store. And watch your sales fliers–stores will often run specials where you can earn catalinas towards your next order for purchasing a certain combination of items, and you can work these to your advantage with coupons also.

In order to maximize my savings, I write out my grocery list and determine what coupons I can use to get overage and offset the cost of what I am purchasing. If I have catalinas, I pay for the rest of my purchase using those.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to buy organic, fresh foods for pennies. Learning these coupon techniques has radically changed the way I approach my shopping budget. I’m healthier now that I use coupons, and so is my budget.

Originally from London, England, Beeb Ashcroft moved to the US in 1989. Currently residing in a resort town on the North Oregon coast, she works out of her home as a freelance journalist. In her spare time, Ashcroft enjoys clipping coupons and finding the best grocery deals. She chronicles her adventures in savings at her blog.

From Crystal: I’d love to hear ideas from the rest of you on how to afford organic and fresh foods on a budget. Any thoughts or great ideas?

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  • Carrie says:

    This is great advice. I get a lot of overage at CVS, but don’t think about it as much when grocery shopping.

    For fresh meat, my best bargain tactic has been hitting the “Clearance” bin at my local Dominick’s, where meat expiring within a day can be found. I’m also trying to get into a Community-Supported Agriculture farm for next year. I think this is going to be the most affordable (and convenient) source of organic veggies for me.

  • I find that coupons definitely help for organic dairy and cereals, as well as for produce (using $2/$5 produce purchase coupons to purchase organic produce).

    Since my husband hunts, we have natural meat all year long, which is a huge blessing.

    One thing that I have done in the past and am working on getting back into is buying organic foods in bulk from a co-op, as well as shopping at a local farmers market for more natural/fresh fruits and veggies.

    I have definitely learned that you don’t have to pay top dollar for organic foods and products – it just takes a little extra time!

  • Marsha says:

    The overage/catalina idea is one I use frequently. I sometimes buy products I don’t use so that I can get these. I donate the unused items and thereby save a little on taxes, too. My main recourse is to spend as little as possible on items that frequently have coupons, so that I have more room in my budget for the special items I need or want.

  • MJ says:

    i utilize eating what’s in season as much as possible. Fruits / Veggies that are in season in my local area are much more affordable. I also check farmer’s markets, especially in the outlying rural areas near my home. Combine that with the coupons/overages, and good sales. Also – there are plenty of people who will trade or have overflowing gardens and are willing to share!

  • Tara says:

    Organic foods at Closeout Prices

    I used to shop at Big Lots alot because they had good deals on toiletries and household items (or at least I thought so until I discovered MoneySaving Mom’s tutorials. Thanks!)

    I no longer buy those kinds of items there, but I still go back occasionally because my local Big Lots consistently carries alot of organic and natural foods – particularly snacks, teas, and bottled drinks. I have seen many items at Big Lots that I have spotted in local health food merchants and stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market for up to SIX TIMES the price!

    I know the merchandise varies locally at closeout stores like this, but you might check your area store to see for yourself.

    Warning: Make sure you check the expiration dates.

  • Shannon says:

    Don’t forget that many stores will mark down produce when it is getting close to the expiration date. This is how we eat produce on pennies. I just simply buy the marked down stuff and that is what we have for fruits and veggies that week! So don’t be afraid of the red stickers!

  • Kristen says:

    We save on organic products by ordering through our local co-op. It’s through UNFI and the more we order, the more discount we get. The prices are already signifigantly cheaper than the helath food store plus we gat an additional 15% everything. We spilt cases with other members to benefit even more since we don’t like to buy whole cases sometimes. They have a website! It’s worth it to check if there is one in your area and you can even start your own if you have enough people interested.

  • Jan says:

    Nice post but no stores around here give overages. They adjust the coupon down to the purchase price. I sometimes do catalina deals- but only if I need the items.

  • Great advice! I’ve found just by using coupons to help save on non-food items (HBA, paper products, cleaning, pet & baby items), I’m able to stretch my grocery dollars further. Which creates more room in the budget to devote to fresh and organic fruits & veggies!

  • Lindy says:

    We save money by growing our own garden! We live in a suburban neighborhood with a fenced yard. In the last five years we have grown 3 types of tomatoes, acorn & butternut squash, peppers, cucumbers, red potatoes and blueberries!!! I froze some for the winter months and had a lot to give away! Our friends and neighbors could not believe what we had grown with little maintenance! We even grow fresh herbs around our deck! Plants include: parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, mint and chives. This year we are going to try to maintain the herbs indoors to have throughout the winter.

  • Lea Ann says:

    You really can get bargains and use coupons for organic and natural foods. I recently wrote a column for a local Dallas Magazine about that very subject. Here it is retooled as a blog article with links to specific coupons. Happy green couponing!

  • Brandi says:

    I buy a lot of organic products at a discount grocery store that is owned by an Amish family where my in-laws live. I stock up about once a month on brand name, organic canned goods, sauces, cereals, teas, coffee, snacks, etc. You have to be a bit choosy because a lot of their items are expired, but I’ve found that it just doesn’t matter with most things (unless it’s been expired for a long time!)

    For produce, I try to grow as much of my own as I can and buy organic the rest of the time. I try to buy only what’s on sale. Using the catalina system is a great idea!

    We have chickens, so we get our own organic eggs.

    If you have a discount grocery in your area, it’s worth looking into!

    Great post…thanks Beeb and Crystal! Great ideas!

  • Mandy says:

    We’ve been part of 2 different CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) I’ve not liked them very well, but it is a very good way to get inexpencive organic produce-around here it’s about $15/week for a half bushel of fresh local produce. My problem was we got a lot of things we dont’ use and not enough of what we do.

    That said, I’m a huge fan of out farmer’s market, go later in the day and ask for a discount. The worst they can say is “no”!

  • 1. Trader Joes! I recently discovered it! It is inexpensive, offers a great variety of organic foods! If you have one near you, check it out!
    2. Get on your stores “best customer” list to receive coupons on dairy, eggs, meats. I shop at Kroger and they mail out AWESOME coupons!
    3. Save as much as you can on nonperishable items so there’s lots of room in the budget for fresh produce and meats.

  • Calee says:

    Check out ethnic markets! We shop mainly at a Middle Eastern Grocery store that often has organic, but also just has really cheap fresh produce. Avocados are $1 each at Ralphs–they’re often 5/$1 at a local Mexican market.

    Also- I second the idea of a garden. We have a tiny back yard (patio really) but still grow tons of veggies in a small space.

  • Sally says:

    None of the stores near me (Atlanta, Ga area) will give overage on manufacture coupons. Cvs, will give overage on their store coupons, the other stores do not allow overage on store coupons.

    I use the $5/$25 (precoupon total) kroger entertainment coupons, at publix/kroger, along w/ coups that make an item free, to pay for produce/meat/milk. Also, getting all health/beauty items for free, also leaves room for the healthier food!

    I second the garden idea, we do that also! Fruit trees, pay for themselves very quickly!! One plum tree, produced 50+lbs of plums this yr. We gifted some, ate some, juiced some, and froze some. Many people have fruit trees they won’t eat off of- check w/ your neighbors, many won’t mind if you pick some!

    The CSA’s around me are more of a donation,than a source of fresh produce. I was sorely dissapointed after joining and finding out I was getting $5/produce/week, in exchange for my $30/week payment. I would love to help local farmers, but I can’t afford a $25/week donation! Make sure there is a system in place, in case a crop is small or the growers have issues.

  • Katie says:

    When it comes to organic, the best way I save money is by NOT BUYING ORGANIC. I am a dairy farmer and understand how milk is produced. I know how much hype and misinformation is provided to consumers thinking that organic has to be better than conventional foods. Truth is, they are pretty similar and both have their pros & cons. To me, its not worth paying more money for something that is the same. While I thoroughly agree with supporting local farmers, I do not agree with buying organic.

  • Catherine R. says:

    LOL Spam, Hamburger Helper…and toothpaste! It always seems like I have 8 coupons at a time for toothpaste alone and hardly ever any good coupons for actual food.

    You ladies are way ahead of me in couponing skill. I still spend too much most of the time and live in an area with higher prices.

  • FarmNana says:

    Our church is collecting items to send to our soldiers overseas. It is delightful to be able to donate deoderant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion, Dr. Scholl’s pads, and lots of other free/or almost free items. God bless our brothers and husbands who are risking their lives and giving up the comforts of home for our freedom!

  • Rachel says:

    I am intrigued at your September spending of only $11. (I read that on the current post at your blog). I am curious though if this total includes newspapers. How do you get all of your coupons? You must get A LOT of coupons. I have not really asked people for their extras and am not really into dumpster diving….how do you get so many?

  • Jamie says:

    Wow – I love the idea of extras from coupons! I never knew that stores did that. I have always just stuck with a tight budget and therefore didn’t worry so much about coupon cutting, but you might have just won me over! Thanks for the info!

  • Cireena says:

    This year I joined a CSA for the first time. I enjoyed it, but as with the other comment, I received a lot of produce I ended up not using and it went to waste. I also grow a garden, but I have not had good harvests so far. I need to work the soil some more and tend to it better, each year I hope to do more with the garden so I can buy less at the store. I purchase my Dairy and Meats from a local farm, and visit the Farmers market when I’m not a member of a CSA. Right now to save money, EVERYTHING is not organic just the things that are the most important to me, and I have been shopping at Wal-Mart instead of my Local Grocery Store, and use coupons. I don’t like it, but for now it’s necessary.

  • Stacy says:

    Sounds like we may be some of the only ones who are benefiting from going the CSA/co-op route. Ours is set up so that you only pay when you order a basket (no membership fee), and you get a share of whatever is bought that week. For $15 we’re consistently getting at least $30 worth of produce. Most of it is things we normally eat- apples, bananas, pears, tomatoes, onions, etc, but we’ve had a few more unusual things. Its been fun figuring out how to use it so nothing goes to waste, and has definitely made it easier to stretch our grocery budget every month.
    The link (for anyone in the Phoenix area) is

  • Nancy says:

    Hi, we have 8 horses and with 8 horses – you know what that means – fertilizer – well, we have a gardener that needs fertilizer so a win-win is we give him our fertilizer for free and he brings us fruits and vegetables for giving him the fertilizer! He is an organic gardener so we do not have to worry about chemicals. So we have to get or meat but we know some people who raise cattle and we go in with other families to get a steer for slaughter.

  • Hannelore says:

    I have a long term goal of being able to cut costs elsewhere in the food budget to afford organic food as much as possible. With that said, for me, organic dairy and meat are more important than organic fruit and vegetables. Toxins (such as pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones etc) are stored in the fat of all animals and so foods with more fat are a more concentrated source of toxins. Therefore, organic butter is a prioritiy for us when we can afford it! Then after that trying to get organic meat, then fruit and vegetables that you eat the skins of, then peelable fruit/vegetables. Also, a good fruit & veggie wash is a great idea! And you can google ingredients to make your own to save a little money. Others shared some great ideas!

  • Although my stores don’t give overage, I too buy organic produce at the local farmer’s market, through a co-op, and when it in season at the grocery store. Most of the time it is only 5-10cents more than non-organic.

    For other natural, organic food items I send emails over to my favorite health-food companies to enlist them in help on my money-saving adventure. I have a post over at my blog listing companies that I have had great success with. (

  • Good post. In a recent blog post, I offer some more ideas for buying organic on a budget. Check it out and let me know what you think

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