People who are focused on eating a minimally processed, real food diet often pay a high price at the grocery store checkout counter. Some of the basic ingredients for a real food diet are much more expensive than their heavily processed counterparts, and a full cart at Whole Foods or Earth Fare can easily cost over $200. Fortunately, there are ways to significantly cut grocery bills. If you’re interested in trying your hand at couponing, here are some basic rules of thumb to get you started.
- Get coupons for the things you want. You can get coupons from several sources, including the Sunday newspaper, the internet, coupon booklets sent home in the mail, store coupon booklets, product packaging, peelies (peel-off coupons found on the product as it sits on the store shelf), and blinkies (the little machines sticking out from the shelving in the grocery store aisle). If you can get several versions of the same coupon, this will allow you to stock up when you see a good deal. In Massachusetts, you can get a free set of weekly coupons from the Boston Globe by signing up for Savings Central.
- Save your coupon inserts. One thing I didn’t know about when I first started couponing was that an item often goes on sale at stores a few weeks after the coupon runs in the newspaper inserts (e.g. Smart Source, Red Plum, and P&G). I save all my inserts for several months until the coupons expire, and I only cut out the coupons that I absolutely plan to use. If I see a coupon that I might want to use, I typically leave it in the insert until I see that it’s on sale somewhere, and then I cut it out.
- Match coupons with sale items. When you get a good coupon, it’s tempting to use it right away. However, if you give it a few weeks you may find that item on sale, which will get you an even better deal.
- Check coupon blogs and match-ups. There are thousands upon thousands of blogs dedicated to coupons and grocery deals. Two of my favorites are Hip2Save and Maven of Savin, and I also like store-specific blogs like Totally Target and Iheartcvs. On these blogs, you will find listings of what is on sale at various stores and what coupons are available to use with these sale items. Before I go shopping, I often consult a coupon match-up on one of these blogs to see if there are coupons available for some of the things on my shopping list. I can often print out or cut out a few extra coupons that I wasn’t aware of and save more money on my shopping trip.
- Organize your coupons. When I started couponing, I kept all my coupons in a little pouch in my purse. This was not a good system for me, because I never knew what coupons were buried in there and I didn’t go through them often enough to take advantage of their potential. Now I have a much better system. I keep all my coupons in baseball card holders in a three-ring binder, and I can quickly flip through it to see what I have. I organize them according to category and I go through the binder about once a month to purge the expired coupons.
- Familiarize yourself with your stores’ coupon policies. Coupon policies vary quite a bit from store to store, so take the time to find out how coupons can be used at the stores where you shop. Some grocery stores, including Stop and Shop and Shaws, will double coupons up to 99 cents, and this can make for some great deals. Many stores will allow you to “stack” a store coupon on top of a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item, which can double the savings. Local chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid are all great places to get free and cheap grocery and household items, but their coupon policies all differ.
- Don’t buy junk just because you can get a good deal on it! This probably goes without saying, but it can be very tempting to buy something just because it’s a great deal even though you don’t need it. If you are trying to focus on a healthy diet, there are many great bargains out there that you’ll want to avoid. Stay focused on the fact that you are trying to save money on high-quality items, and this will help guide you through the many shopping decisions that you face every day.