In our quest to eat healthfully, many of us are stung by the prices that ring up at the register, especially on organic and all-natural foods.
Eating healthy foods is great, in theory, but how does anyone afford it on a budget?
The answer might surprise you: coupons.
Long associated with the likes of sugary cereals and canned spaghetti, coupons get a bad rap in healthy-living circles.
And let’s face it, we all know it’s much easier to find a coupon on Cocoa Puffs than coconut oil.
But as more of us have started paying attention to healthier eating habits, manufacturers and marketers have started paying attention too, issuing more coupons for healthier options.
That makes it easier for all of us to watch our waistlines and our bottom lines.
“The consumer is looking to eat more healthy foods, and consumers really drive everything,” said Sarah Schloemer, president and cofounder of CommonKindness.com, a Sausalito, Calif.-based coupon-printing site that offers coupons on organic and natural products. In 2012, the first year of its existence, CommonKindness had more than 2 million visitors.
The coupon savings on health foods can be substantial, said Crystal Collins, author of The Thrifty Mama, one of several blogs across the country that match coupons for healthy foods with store sales.
“It’s going to take ... some coupon smarts, watching sales cycles and eliminating things that aren’t a priority,” but it can be done, said Collins, who estimated she spends $50 to $80 per week to feed her family of four. “And that’s eating mostly organic.”
Lisa Eberhart makes her living telling other people how to eat healthier, so it’s no surprise that the registered dietician’s grocery cart is filled with fruits, vegetables and lean meat. What might surprise you is that Eberhart is a coupon clipper.
She skips most coupons – those on processed foods and convenience items – and zeros in on the cents-off discounts on healthier foods.
“People don’t realize they can get coupons for healthy foods,” said Eberhart, 55, who works for N.C. State University, where she counsels students on making better food choices and does healthy makeovers of dining hall fare.
So just where do you find coupons for popular organic and natural brands such as Applegate, Stonyfield, Earthbound Farm and others?
• Pull those Sunday newspaper coupons out of the recycle bin and give them a second look. You’ll often find coupons for organic yogurt, cage-free eggs and other healthy products right alongside the coupons for fish sticks.
• Check the websites of companies that sell natural and organic products. Become a fan of their Facebook pages. Many companies provide links to printable coupons or will send you coupons by mail.
• Head to the national coupon-printing websites, some of which focus entirely on the niche market of budget-conscious healthy food shoppers. At CommonKindness, at any given time, you’ll find coupons for up to $300 in savings.
• Write or call your favorite natural foods companies and compliment their product. Flattery will often score coupons.
• Check grocery store websites. Many offer store-specific paper and digital coupons for organic and natural products. Kroger, for instance, offers coupons on its Simple Truth line of products, which includes organics.
Once you have your coupons, your next stop is the grocery store. But which one?
The large conventional grocery chains have all beefed up their selections of organic and natural foods in recent years. At Triangle-area Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods stores, every-day double coupon policies make coupons on those products stretch further. While coupons no longer double at Kroger stores in the Triangle, most Kroger have their own organic sections with competitive prices, particularly on organic produce.
Or take those coupons to one of the smaller chains that specialize in healthy foods for a wider selection and, sometimes, a better deal. Whole Foods, which has 10 stores in North Carolina, and Fletcher-based Earth Fare, with eight North Carolina stores, have embraced coupon shoppers as an important segment of their customer base.
“Our customers are extremely savvy,” Earth Fare spokeswoman Kristi Kanzig said. “We have a lot of coupon usage in the stores.”
Both Earth Fare and Whole Foods offer their own store coupons – available in traditional paper format and online – and also accept manufacturers’ coupons. At Whole Foods, you can score double savings when you match a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon on a single item.
Greensboro-based The Fresh Market, which operates 15 stores in North Carolina, also accepts manufacturer coupons. Even Trader Joe’s, which likes to create a no-sale, no-coupons aura, accepts coupons on the name-brand items it carries.
Jenn Dixon, who manages the Whole Foods store on Raleigh’s Wade Avenue, said coupons play an important role in making the store appealing to shoppers who are both health-conscious and budget conscious.
To skeptics who say they can’t afford to shop in her store, Dixon asks: “‘What price tag do you put on your health?’ Then I say, ‘Bring me your list and let’s walk through the store.’”
Want to try clipping your way to a healthier cart full of groceries? Here are a few tips:
• Read the fine print – on the coupon and the product, said Eberhart, the dietician. Have a coupon for $1 off two boxes of General Mills cereal? Skip the Cookie Crisp pictured on the coupon and buy the Fiber One. As long as the coupon says “any” GM cereal, you’re good to go.
“If it’s a milk coupon, I pick the low-fat option,” Eberhart said. “Green beans? I do no-salt added,” she said.
• Set aside 30 minutes a week for coupons. Take five minutes to flip through the coupons in the Sunday newspaper inserts, then check the coupon websites. Don’t forget to check the websites and Facebook pages of your favorite organic and natural products.
• Be realistic. Forget “extreme coupon savings.” It’s just not going to happen when you purchase mostly organic and natural foods, as Kim Brugh of Garner does. “I try to save where I can. It’s making a dent,” said Brugh, 33, who estimated she and husband save $20-$30 on a $120 grocery order.
• Stock up when you find an extraordinary deal with coupons. Buy enough to feed your family until the next sale so you’re never forced to pay full price.
• Don’t allow the lure of a good coupon fool you into buying something that’s not on your list. “If you don’t eat ice cream, you don’t want to start buying ice cream just because you have a coupon,” Eberhart advised.
• Coupon strategically. Food isn’t the only thing you put in your grocery cart, said Brugh, who gives most of her food coupons to friends in exchange for coupons on cleaning products, paper goods and personal care items. That way, she said, she “saves a little bit here to spend a little more there.”
• Think of coupon clipping as an investment. Eberhart recommended families use their coupon savings to make room in their budgets for foods that don’t typically have coupon offers. “Your grocery bill will be the same, but you just have healthier stuff in your cart,” Eberhart said. Added Brugh: “I’d rather spend more now on quality foods than spend more later on health care costs.”
Take advantage of rebates on produce, meats and seafood offered by beer companies. In North Carolina, you don’t have to purchase the beer to get the savings. Look for these mail-in offers on beer displays in the grocery stores.
If all of this sounds like too much effort, let a healthy-food blogger do the work for you. Several healthy-foods blogs match the coupons and sales for you, allowing you to see at a glance where the best deals can be found. Besides TheThriftyMama.com, try OrganicDeals.com and HealthyLifeDeals.com.
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