Melissa left the following comment on my Super Savings Saturday post last week. I began to respond to it in the comments section and I wrote so much that I finally decided it would be better to make this a separate post:
I've been using coupons for a while, but I've just newly done research on getting the most bang for each coupon. The thing that I notice though is that much of the food you get at really great prices is not really so healthy… chips, candy, cookies, and lots of processed stuff which could definitely be left out of the grocery budget totally. I have a terrible sweet-tooth and really love all that stuff, but if I got that much I know it would not be so good for my waistline. Are there ways to coupon and get healthy stuff, or does the couponing really only work for the junk food? I don't seem to find a lot of coupons for fresh foods, and healthy meal/baking supplies. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place? Any suggestions? -Melissa
Melissa, what a great question! There is a widely-held myth that using coupons means you only feed your family junk food. From a cursory vantage point, it can seem like us couponers buy a lot of processed food. And yes, it might appear like my family must only eat MSG and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden foods. However, that is very far from the truth.
I definitely do buy some processed foods and my grocery shopping trips are evidence of this. I know that bothers some people and I often receive hate mail about it. I understand that some people want to avoid every ounce of processed foods–and that's okay with me! But that's not where our family is right now. We strive to eat a balanced diet and do the best we can with the time and money we have.
We don't eat all organic, we do eat processed foods probably at least once or twice a day, and I don't always bake and cook every single thing from scratch. But if you look at examples of our weekly menus here, you'll see that according to most people's standards, we do try to eat fairly healthfully. There are definitely areas we can improve in and I'm always seeking to work on those. It's a learning process!
Balance is key to me; it's not an all or nothing thing. We've chosen to eliminate food coloring from our diet, we also rarely eat pork, we are very particular about the meat we buy, we eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (many of which have come from friend's gardens this Summer–yum!), we make much of our food from scratch, we eat very little fast food, we use primarily freshly-ground whole-wheat flour in our baking, we use all-natural cleaners for at least 90% of the cleaning we do in our home, we don't drink soda pop, and we avoid artificial flavoring whenever possible.
Those are just the things we've chosen to do in our own home based upon the research we've done and what works for our family. Every family is different so I encourage each family to do their own research and decide what are their own family's goals and priorities and then stick with those.
While we mostly eat foods cooked from scratch, I do buy some processed foods (such as granola bars, ice cream, and cereal–and occasionally even Oreo Cakesters!) when I can get them at rock-bottom prices. We enjoy these for treats, I pack a few in my husband's lunches each day, and we often share some of our extra goodies with others.
That said, there are quite a few coupons for healthful foods. To give you an example, this past week I was able to get All-Natural Dannon Vanilla yogurt and Musselman's All-Natural Applesauce for over 66% off the retail price thanks to coupons. The week before that, I got 12 organic CLIF bars for free and five boxes of Kashi products for free. There have also been some great Target coupons out recently for fruit and vegetables. Coupons for organic foods and produce are becoming more prevalent than they used to be, and I'm excited about this trend!
If you don't want to buy processed foods at all, but you still use traditional household items (such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and the like), you could just use coupons on household items. By watching for sales on these and pairing the sales with coupons, you can significantly slash your grocery bill–without ever even using a coupon on food items!
For example, I never pay more than $0.20 for toothpaste and toothbrushes. Every few months, these go on sale for $1 and there are quite a few $0.40/1 and $0.50/1 coupons available–which our Dillon's store doubles. I save these coupons and use them during the week of the $1 toothbrush and toothpaste sale to stock up!
It's the same for laundry detergent, deodorant, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and so on. By combining coupons with sales, I often get these items for free or for pennies on the dollar thus saving us a significant portion of our grocery bill.
Unless you truly cook everything from scratch, don't use shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and use cloth toilet paper, you likely buy at least a few items which you could use coupons on. If you even just use coupons on 5-10 items per shopping trip and pair these coupons with great sales, you could probably save at least $20-$30 off your grocery bill per month–and that's money which is then freed up to be invested elsewhere in your grocery budget or put into savings!
I will be quick to say that while I'm a big advocate of using coupons, there are many more ways to save on your grocery bill without using coupons. In fact, I see coupons as just a part of the reason we're able to have a $40/week grocery budget. I also recommend that you have a budget, plan a menu, plan your menu around your store's sales, learn the sales cycles so you can buy ahead when an item you regularly use is at it's rock bottom price, shop with cash only and a calculator, shop at more than one store (if you're crunched for time, just glance at your local stores' ads when planning your shopping trip and determine which one has the best sales that week and then shop there), and bake and cook from scratch as much as possible.
Not everyone can do every single one of these things (and if you're new to the world of bargain shopping, coupon-clipping, and frugal living, please do not burn yourself out by trying to do it all at once. Take babysteps, okay?), but a little time invested in some of these things can go a long way towards shrinking your grocery budget without requiring you to expand your waistline or consume loads of junk food in the process!
For more information and ideas, be sure to read my article on how to lower your grocery bill without using coupons. Amy is also doing a series on her blog on 20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Using Coupons. Check out the first installments of her series here and here.
In addition, if you're new to frugal living and want some great ideas to slash your
grocery budget without using coupons, I'd definitely recommend checking
out the book I am currently reading Family Feasts for $75 a Week.
What other suggestions do you have for Michelle? Please share in the comments section. In addition, if you eat primarily unprocessed foods and blog on how you do so on a budget, would you be kind enough to leave your link in the comments section?