A few months ago I posted a grocery list and reflected on whether I was making mindful purchases or not. I’m one of those people who can sometimes cross the line between frugal and cheap (and can sometimes completely contradict myself by buying $22 eyeliners…). This is especially true when it comes to groceries – I will stand around paralyzed by the decision of spending an extra dollar. Kris hates grocery shopping with me and I understand why. Once, when he was at the store with me I stopped in the middle of the aisle and started yelling about how they only had name brand chili powder and it was 50 cents more. Kris calmly responded “well, what do you want me to do about that?” and an old man and his wife walked past and the man said something that implied Kris was catching on to the whole “how to deal with irrational wives in grocery stores” part of marriage rather well. Because of my grocery-spending angst, I try to use coupons. However, I haven’t decided yet whether I am just bad at using coupons, or if using coupons and healthy eating do not go well together.
I remember that my mom used to use coupons all the time as a kid. When I first moved out I was moving around too much to try to get a paper and we didn’t eat very many groceries anyway (mostly fast food). Therefore I didn’t worry about couponing too much. Trying to cut down my grocery budget only came with eating more actual groceries (and, I suppose, caring more about my financial stability). I still don’t get a Sunday paper because frankly, I have no idea how to get one. This means that I get most of my coupons from the internet. I know this is what is keeping me from some savings because a lot of sites like couponmom.com show you how to get items for essentially free by combining specials with paper coupons (i.e. drugstore X is running a 2/$1 sale and in this paper there is a coupon for $1 off 2). I primarily print coupons from the creatively named coupons.com and the shopathome.com Chrome extension. This gives me a lot of coupons I could theoretically use, but they don’t always work for several reasons: I don’t need the item before the coupon expires; it is for a brand my store doesn’t carry; or the store brand is cheaper anyway. I have also tried using the Ibotta app but it tends to be for incredibly specific products and my normal grocery store (Giant) isn’t on there so I have to figure out if one of their affiliate stores (Stop & Shop) will redeem rewards – I’d otherwise have to drive out of my way to go to Target or Wegman’s to use this program. So from this discussion you can tell that I am incredibly new to using coupons and still quite confused and I might just be doing it poorly.
The other issue is that it is not very easy to use coupons if you are trying to keep a healthy diet. First of all, there are almost never coupons for fresh produce. There are a few – for example, I’ve seen them for the bags of Dole salad, and my store will sometimes print me a “$2 off your produce purchases” coupon, but in general, a diet using a lot of fruits and veggies is not going to benefit much from coupons. Another issue is that even for other less-processed items, coupons tend to be for more processed versions or at least branded, pre-packaged versions. For example, there are not coupons for plain, brown rice; only coupons for those boxes of rice mixes. Another example would be that specific brands of pre-packaged meats will have coupons (rather than the meat packaged in the store). This leaves me with the few processed, pre-packaged things I buy being things that I can coupon.
For proof of how these two issues – me being bad at couponing and coupons being inappropriately matched to healthy eating – let’s discuss how they interacted with my grocery shopping yesterday.
Yesterday, I was able to use only 4 coupons during a huge (for me) shopping trip:
- 2 for coffee. This was one of those deals that was so good I couldn’t pass it up even though I have plenty of coffee. Coffee at my store was only sale for like $5.75 a bag and I had coupons for $1.50 off the bags. I go through this quickly so it wasn’t a big deal.
- 1 for pierogies (the wiki link is because I’ve met more than one person who thought these were a fictional food). This was another great deal. Pierogies were 3 for $7 at my store and the coupon was for $1.50 off 3. Score! Notice, however, that these were happy accidents – a good couponer would have known about these amazing deals in advance.
- 1 for almond milk. I needed almond milk and this coupon made Silk (not my favorite, but better than Giant brand) cheaper than Giant brand.
However, I also had the following coupon issues:
- I left a coupon for Halo brand clementines at home (one of the elusive produce coupons) because Giant “never” carries that brand. I wound up buying them because they were the cheapest fruit at the store anyway.
- Giant does not carry “Treasure Cave” brand Feta cheese, apparently.
- They also don’t carry Gardein vegetarian products.
- I also forgot to look to see if they had the specific brand of string cheese or sour cream that I had coupons for. Oops. I didn’t really need them anyway.
I think the one exception to this rule might be in terms of toiletries – there are a ton of coupons for things like vitamins and skincare products. Unfortunately for my new-found drive to use a ton of a coupons, but fortunately for my wallet in general, Kris and I go through toiletries very slowly (the perks of not having little ones yet) and have a lot of backstock of things like sunscreen and body wash (well, women’s, I guess I could buy some men’s). Also I can never conveniently find a coupon for the toiletry I need when I need it 😦