Couponing on a Special Diet
Wondering if it’s possible to use coupons on a special diet? About five years ago, I seriously doubted it. I had never clipped a coupon, tried to stay on a budget, or set foot in a Walgreens or Rite Aid. When I thought about making dinner, I would head to Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, or another high-end, specialty grocery store and buy whatever sounded good. We had no idea what we spent on food or household items, I just thought that as long as there was money in the bank, we were okay.
At Angela’s couponing classes, she recommends budgeting about $100 per month per adult and $50 per month per kiddo per month. I remember thinking at the class “This is really just for people who eat boxed meals & junk food, but I will try this out, and see if I can make it work.”
Our family of three at the time had two dealing with gluten intolerance which can be a spendy diet, so I decided to add a bit more to the budget and round it out to $300 a month for our family of three. In addition to our gluten issues, we also eat only organic meats, buy mainly organic dairy, fruits, and veggies, and lean toward natural products in general.
I convinced my husband to try out a cash-based system, and we were off on our journey.
The first few weeks were hard. I mean really really hard. I cried many times, and some days I just couldn’t figure out how people did this all the time. Looking back it seems so silly, but at the time it was hard because I was changing major spending habits and exercising self-control in areas that I had never practiced it before. I had always rationalized our spending so much on food because I felt paying more for organic and specialty items was just the way it had to be.
Fast forward to one year later, and I was completely dominating our food budget by using coupons and other savings strategies. I could not imagine ever going back to the way things used to be. I had built an overflowing pantry and we were spending much less than our $75 weekly allotment for all grocery and household purchases.
Here’s what I’ve learned about couponing with specialized dietary needs or preferences:
This is not going to happen overnight. Your cupboards will not be overflowing in the first month of doing this, but over time you will be watching sales and building up a supply of what your family can use.
Stockpile things your family will use. If you can find 100% juice for free, think about how much your family will use in a year and purchase that amount. When Chex cereal went on sale last September for around $.60 cents per box after coupons you can bet that we brought home more than 20 boxes of their gluten-free varieties over a number of transactions. Many products have one or two big promotional pushes during the year. During this time multiple stores will run competing sales on these products. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this stuff will be on sale again next month (especially on specialty foods) so if you see a smoking deal that if good for your family, capitalize on it!
Putting in a little time and effort to build your stockpile will have a significant impact on your monthly grocery budget.
Look for markdowns and close-dated discounts on organic meat and dairy. I often find these items for 50% off. If I find organic meat on clearance, I buy it and put it in the freezer immediately. All dairy is generally clearanced very close to the “sell by” date printed on it, however the “sell by” date is not a “use by” date. Milk does not go bad the day after the sell-by date. It is usually good for at least one week after it is opened.
Learn the sales cycles of natural grocery stores. For instance, New Seasons (a Portland grocery store) puts organic boneless skinless chicken breast on sale twice a year for $3.99 per pound (regularly $6.99 per pound). When it goes on sale, I stock up and freeze it.
QFC puts wild salmon on sale for $3.99 per pound a few times a year and they will filet it and cut it to order for free. Fred Meyer has their Founder’s Day Sale one week per year and usually has fantastic deals on Tillamook cheese and Amy’s Gluten-Free Frozen Entrees. I typically use a manufacturer’s coupon on the sale items to get these specialty foods for a reasonable price.
Look for natural and organic coupons in the store. Fred Meyer has the free Naturally Preferred magazine in the Nutrition Center filled with manufacturer’s coupons. Also look for tearpad coupons hanging on the shelves in Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, and New Seasons as well as conventional grocery stores. Whole foods also puts out the Whole Deal newsletter at the front of the store featuring store coupons that can be stacked with a manufacturer’s coupon.
Write or email companies that make you use and love. Praise the products or if you have a concern or issue, let the manufacturer know and ALWAYS include your mailing address. You will be surprised how often these companies will send you high value coupons or even coupons for free products.
Use drug-store incentives (like Register Rewards at Walgreens and +UP Rewards at Rite Aid) to get natural products and food for free. This takes some time and effort but is totally worth it. Yes, this involves purchasing items that you may not need, but can always give away or donate and sometimes there are some great products involved. Find out how Walgreens Register Rewards work here and Rite Aid +UP Rewards work here.
Buy specialty items online. Amazon.com will frequently run specials on specialty foods. For instance, I ordered a case (6 boxes) of gluten-free crackers for about $10. This may not seem like a big deal to many readers who can get Wheat Thins for free at Safeway, but gluten-free crackers generally retail for $4.99 or more a box.
Remember, it is totally OK (and I give myself permission) to take little “breaks” from clipping & filing coupons, hunting for deals, rolling the Register Rewards. It can be overwhelming to do it all the time. Taking a break reminds me why I love to do this and gives perspective on what our goals are.
Couponing on a special diet does not need to take a bunch of time. When I started couponing, I was working full time. I care for our daughter all day before I leave for work, I cook almost all of our meals from scratch. I have many goofy time-consuming obsessions such as line drying all of our laundry, making all of our gluten-free bread and baked goods, preserving fruit and canning jam to last us all year, dehydrating fruit and making our own fruit leather for snacks, recycling to a fault, etc. It’s totally possible to eat on a special diet while keeping a budget.
Get more help saving money on real food here.
This is a guest post by our New Seasons contributor, Laurie.
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