I am a hard-core coupon queen. I used to stock up on anything and everything that totaled $0 on my bill. Unfortunately, most of the "food" items were either junk or so processed that they barely resembled food at all. Thankfully, the Triangle area is saturated with healthy grocery stores and farmers markets, and I have changed my unhealthy ways while still staying within my budget. Here is how I did it and how you can too.
When you first start couponing, it's easy to get carried away. All those bargains make your head spin, and seeing that you saved 75% on your grocery bill entices you stock up on items you wouldn't normally buy. And when you are trying to eat healthier, you realize that most coupons found in the Sunday paper are for processed or junk food. One way to handle this is to donate those items to the local food bank. This satisfies my need to not let a bargain get away, and I get to help out a neighbor.
But what about coupons for healthy foods? There are online sources for organic and specialty foods coupons, such as Mambo Sprouts and Common Kindness. Company websites frequently post coupons, although you might have to sign up for their newsletter first.
If you prefer to shop at health food stores and farmers markets, visit the store websites to print out store coupons and then stack them with manufacturer coupons found in coupon circulars and online. Watch for specials on produce, meat and fish, and plan your menu accordingly.
Shop for seasonal, local organic produce at the farmers market. If you join the email lists of your favorite vendors, they will often send out a weekly email detailing what they will have available, helping you to plan your meals.
Shop the farmers markets near the end of the day when produce may be marked down. You can also ask if they will give a discount since it's so late in the day. They will often say yes rather than haul all that produce back to the farm. If you freeze or can produce, buying in bulk from the farmer can result in deep discounts.
If you don't have a garden and can't get to a farmers market, consider a CSA (community supported agriculture) membership. There are many local farms that offer you seasonal produce in exchange for your upfront investment in their business. Some offer organic produce and even eggs and meat. Here's a website that lists many local Triangle area CSAs.
I still shop the local grocery stores, limiting myself to the deep discount coupon weeks (super doubles, triples, etc.) where I will usually save at least 50% on my bill.
If you haven't stepped into a Trader Joe's store yet, you are definitely missing an adventure. It's a unique experience that can yield some surprising cost savings. If you're looking for non-coupon food items, Trader Joe's offers great value and an unbeatable return policy. If you don't like it, for any reason, bring it back for a full refund, no questions asked. My kind of store.
For non-food items don't forget about Triangle area Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens stores. They each have a reward system in place that can save you a lot of money. You earn reward dollars on purchases that can then be used on purchases that provide more reward dollars. You are essentially "rolling" the rewards over from week to week. And you can use store and manufacturer coupons to sweeten the deal.
Southern Savers is a great website with a tutorial on couponing and weekly lists that can be customized. This site covers many stores in the Raleigh area, including Whole Foods, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Target, Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Lowe's Foods.
Good luck on your journey to health and savings!