An Experiment in Couponing

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We're all after ways to lower our grocery budget, right?

Well, I decided to go back and make another attempt at something that I've previously deemed as not worth it. I've been asked before whether or not I coupon, and the answer has always been no. My primary reasons for not doing so are:

1) I live in Canada, where coupons are really not used to nearly the extent that they are in the US. It's time consuming, difficult and in the end, not especially worthwhile for the most part, though I'm sure there are many people that still do it with success.

2) We eat a whole foods diet, which just doesn't lend itself to couponing very well. When is the last time you found an add for $1 off a 5 lb bag of quinoa or Buy 1 Get 1 Free jars of coconut oil in your Sunday newspaper? Oh wait… never!

But lately, I got to thinking, what if it could still be done, to supplement and support a whole foods diet? What if you could get organic products you might normally buy for cheaper or nearly free? What if you could get some grocery staples like baking soda, organic canned tomatoes, ziploc bags and toilet paper for practically nothing?

And thus, my experiement was born.

This weekend, we will be spending an early Thanksgiving weekend in Seattle with my husband's family (to beat the actual Thanksgiving border lineups). While we're there, I'm going to go grocery shopping and I've been planning my couponing strategy this entire past week.

I'm a newbie at this, so it's taking me a long time. I understand the concept of coupons, working with manufacturer's coupons, store coupons and store sales. What is taking so much time is sifting through all of the coupons out there for foods and products that I would never dream of buying, to find the products that would actually be worthwhile to me.

What do you think? Is it possible to shave a few dollars off of the grocery budget by careful couponing of the items that work for me? Are any of you doing this (with a whole foods diet) with any success? If so, what resources/techniques are you using to do so?

When I come back after the weekend, I'll let you know how it went and what my thoughts are. Obviously, this won't be a lifestyle for me, being that I don't actually live in the States! I just thought it would be worth it to try, just for fun (yes, for fun– did I mention that I'm a geek?) and to see if it would be helpful for those of you who do happen to live where the coupons abound.

To be continued…

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  1. I appreciated your post. I live in Missouri and have never done the “coupon thing” before, but have recently been considering it. We buy mostly generic products and do our grocery shopping mostly at Walmart. So, with generics (the Walmart brand) there are never coupons for that. My big question is…where do you get the coupons from? Do you have to BUY the newspaper subscription to get the coupons to save $$ on groceries???? That doesn’t seem practical. I tried to sign up on a website for free coupons, but they wanted my name, address, birthdate, phone number…way more info than I felt they were entitled to! I know you’re in Canada, but if you have any other info that would be beneficial to me, please feel free to email me. Have a great Thanksgiving and good luck with the shopping!

  2. Please do keep us informed! I have been looking at all the blogs online of women who coupon a lot, but because we buy organic, and the majority of things that are in coupons are not organic, I have been unable to join them. I would love to come home and report to my husband that I bought half a carload of groceries for $5.00 as many women are able….. 🙂 You have inspired me to look out myself thanks!

    BTW Fred Meyer’s has great Organic stuff for good prices, and they do have coupons every now and them for them! I know there are Fred Meyers in Washington state, so keep an eye out for one.

  3. These are the same reasons why I don’t use coupons either. I was trying to think of something I buy that I could use a coupon for — maybe toilet paper. I’m interested to see how this works out for you!

  4. I have often wanted to use coupons as well but like you am Canadian and eat a whole foods diet so the two don’t mesh at all.

    I think I have used 2 or 3 coupons, ever. I have heard of some people getting some success by writing the company that they buy from requesting coupons…but I can’t personally see myself doing that.

    I often have wished I lived in the US though to use more coupons, but probably I wouldn’t find many that worked for us anyways. Let us know how it goes!

  5. Ohh, I’m anxious to see if you have any luck with the coupons!

    Kim – I’m also a Missourian . . . it is kind of hard to get coupons without buying a paper and/or signing up for them. I signed up through Penny Pincher Gazette, which gives me access to 3 different coupon sources. I used a combination of initials instead of my name, and I haven’t received any junk mail or e-mail as a result of signing up. I will warn you though – most Wal-Mart stores won’t take coupons printed off your home printer (even if it prints a really high quality image) – I guess they’ve been scammed too many times.
    I do most of my shopping at a regular grocery store that does take the printed coupons and I have been able to save on household goods and the occasional organic/staple food item.

  6. The best tip I can give you is that London Drugs stores “stack” coupons, meaning you can use as many coupons you want for a product up to their value as long as each coupon is different. They also do sell some organic and healthy foods, so check out their food section while you’re there. I’m not nearly as health concious as you are, so the other day I was able to spend $30 on about $130 worth of products, all things I was planning to buy anyways.

    You can also write or e-mail the companies you regularly purchase from and request to join a mailing list or just ask outright for coupons.

    I know in Maple Ridge, I recieve 4 free newspapers per week and get a coupon book about once every 2 weeks. The coupons can be pretty random. I never buy a newspaper to get coupons.

    Definitely let us know how you do!

    Oh, and one more tip – when you’re flipping through a coupon booklet, don’t even bother cutting out the ones that you won’t use. I used to cut out every single one but it was such a pain and they really never did get used.

  7. I have not had much luck in using coupons for groceries, either. Seems that they are all for processed convenience foods. I have found household coupons to be helpful, though – for OTC medications, soap & shampoo, etc. Craft store coupons are great as well. In my area they come out weekly, and are usually 40% off any one item; great for school supplies, gifts, and of course crafting supplies. I just bought cardstock at 40% off tonight.

  8. I do use coupons but not to the extent I used to. (when we ate not so healthy!) Now I use them mainly for certain household products (toilet paper, ziplocs, dog food, etc.) and when I can – on food. But of course GOOD food coupons are hard to come by!

  9. You would be pleasantly surprised at the number of coupons available for organic products! I’ve got a bunch of Muir Glen diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste in my pantry, FREE by using coupons! While we don’t eat a strictly whole foods diet, it’s been my goal this year to increase the amount of fresh vegetables and fruits we eat. With that, I’ve started cooking more from scratch and ditching the boxed/convenience meals. Therefore my couponing strategy is focused primarily on saving when it comes to non-food, household items. By saving on those items, which are typically more expensive than food items anyway, I have more room in my grocery budget for fresh & organics!

    I must add that our grocery stores here have very generous doubling and tripling policies for coupons, so my savings potential is greater. But others make it work for them in different parts of the country. Good luck with your experiment!

  10. We eat a mostly whole foods diet, but we use regular toiletries: toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Couponing gets me all of our toiletries for nearly free. (I usually spend less than $1 a month on all toiletries.) With that kind of savings, I am not at all motivated to switch to ‘natural’ products that I’d have to pay through the nose for. I’d rather use what little grocery money I have to buy loads of fruits & veg!

    So I coupon, but almost exclusively for toiletry products. I do find the occasional olive oil, tea, Muir Glen, yogurt, or cheese coupon, and I do sometimes use coupons to get my husband’s favorite junk foods, but otherwise I don’t use the food ones very much.

    With this kind of usage, I buy 2 papers a week and way more than recoup the cost of the papers and my time — I save about $20 a week. Coupons literally make the difference in us being able to afford a whole food diet. I can easily put up with non-natural toothpaste in order to eat more fresh stuff! 🙂

  11. I’ve never found coupons for things that I actually buy. I do, however, look at the specials at our local grocery store. They do a lot of buy one get one free… So I make a list of things each week that are cheapest there.
    We also have a local “Country Store” that keeps all local harvest produce and through the winter they drive down south for produce.
    Really, we’re very blessed here. Of course, I am moving to Haiti in six weeks… *laughs* Guess I don’t have to worry about coupons down there.

  12. One of the things that has helped me stay in budget is to buy coupons from Ebay. Weird, huh? They sell organic coupons on Ebay Canada. You just pay for the person’s time and the shipping. A few months ago I bought 20 $1 off coupons for $3. It was for butter so I could buy all 20 and freeze them. It’s helping us! I pray for the Lord to lead me to the best deals at the grocery and He always does! He’s SO faithful!

  13. I go to the Red Flag Deals website. The link below takes you directly to the Freebies page. By using this site, I have receive free samples in the mail for shampoo, dryer sheets, tampons, Motrin, Robaxacet, Myoflex etc. They also have links to various websites offering coupons as well. Some of these are for free items, not just $1.00 or $.50 off. I have received free full sizes of Kashi granola bars and Campbell soup this way.

    Yes, you’ll need to input your personal info to get these deals so I suggest you set up a free account at hotmail (for example) and use that just for online deals.

  14. Being Canadian I have often been a bit jealous reading about the great deals that some Americans are able to get with coupons, but then again a lot of the “deals” don’t fit into a whole food, organic diet anyway.
    I do use coupons as much as possible though and am always looking for ways to maximize our grocery/personal care item spending since it really is such a huge part of our spending on a monthly basis. I estimate that on a $500 month budget for groceries and household items I generally save (or get free stuff worth) between 100 to 150 dollars, which isn’t bad.
    The first thing I do is shop at Superstore/Loblaws when they have their “buy $250, save $30” coupon, which is usually at the very end of the month. I do my menu planning a month at a time and that way I can just do one “major” grocery shop and then buy my fresh produce and dairy at our local organic farm. Superstore really does have a pretty good selection of whole and organic foods. They also have a big selection of in-store coupons which can be combined with manufactures coupons; plus if you buy gas at their gas station you get “Superbucks” ($.07 per ltr) and if you save those up it can add up to a lot.
    The other thing thing that I do is buy my toilet paper at Safeway. Every six weeks or so they have an Airmiles promotion where the toilet paper is on sale (for less than it costs to buy it at Costco) and if you buy 5 packages you can earn 100 Airmiles. Combined with our local Safeway’s “spend $40 get 50 Airmiles” program my $40 purchase of something that we need anyway, nets me enough Airmiles for a $20 Rona gift certificate. In about 8 months I now have enough Rona gift certificates tucked away to shock my husband on his upcoming birthday… especially if I can hit a good after Christmas sale 🙂

  15. We also do a more whole foods diet and I have found a few coupons for organic items that I might typically buy (Muir Glen canned goods, Cascadian farm organic cereals/granola bars, etc.), but the best things are coupons for toiletries, etc. I know you typically don’t use traditional toiletry items, but I can typically buy a lot of those items for free or very close to free. This is usually accomplished by drug store shopping with the store deals, weekly coupons, rebates and ‘catalina’ printouts ($off your entire purchase coupons printed when you check out). I donate most of the free or close to free items to the food pantry at our church.

  16. I, like SarahMichelle do most of my groceries at Superstore. I rarely use coupons b/c they are for things I don’t buy. I do use there in-store coupons when it is something I am buying and occasionally I do the ‘big shop’ and get $30 off. We also collect superbucks which wittles down the grocery cost. We also have a pc mastercard (no, we don’t use it to go into debt, just for our budgeted items) which we collect points with. In December, which for me is an expensive month all around, I cash in those points and get free groceries. This year we will get about $160 in groceries. It really helps!

    I’ve read a few things too, about our American neighbors getting groceries for almost free and it makes me jealous! 🙂

    Have fun shopping!

  17. Ladies, I have been couponing for over a yr and I can tell you, yes you save a bundle. Once you have a stockpile of goodies then you are more selective in your purchase. I never purchase off brands, don’t have to with the savings. Let’s take the above post, for example, Muir Glen tomatoes. Publix have $1.00 for two products store coupon and the paper had a $.50 coupon that will double the amount. Product costs 1.25 each minus the .50 store minus .50 mfg cpn = .25 for a can of tomatoes. I also purchase items that we don’t use, such as Betty Crocker potatoes, for charity. I just paid $.09 for each box. Dove, Loreal, Vive shampoos for .50 after cpns. One site to understand the art of cpning is Read her E-books. All FREE.

  18. I just don’t see how I would be able to save enough with coupons for it to be worth my time… I have tried a few times and have only found a couple of coupons for things I actually buy. We eat lots of fresh fruits/veggies and very little canned or packaged foods. For staples like dried beans, flour, baking soda, etc… I always get the generic brands or bulk, which never have coupons. Even the name brands of these types of products rarely have coupons. I also make almost all of my own household cleaners and personal care products myself, so I don’t need coupons for soap, lotion, shampoo, etc… So, if I spent hours a week searching through newspapers, store ads, and websites for coupons I could actually use, found a couple, then went to several different stores to get the deals (spending time and gas money for each extra trip), I MIGHT be able to save a buck or two. MAYBE. Just not worth my time:-) I already spend a fraction of what my friends and family members do on groceries anyways so I try not to sweat it too much, but if I do happen to run across a coupon for something I would normally get, I use it!!

  19. I look forward to seeing how your experiment goes. We, like you, eat whole foods, and I have to follow a gluten free diet, so we rarely use coupons just because we don’t find them for the products we buy. I look forward to seeing how much it saves you!! I really enjoy your blog!

  20. I got into couponing about the same time I started cooking more healthy foods(which also happened to be when I got married!) but I find it is easy to do both. I probably don’t save as much as someone who buys mostly processed food but it is still worth my time. We use coupons on paper products (toilet paper, occasional paper towels) and spices, olive oil, flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, yogurt, sour cream, and some of the few convenience foods we eat like Kashi and cheerios. I probably average a savings of $10 per week (of our $200 a month budget).

    Like Vicki mentioned above, we also use it for giving purposes. We have gotten things like shampoos and toothpaste for free (or even paid to take) and been able to give it out to college students we know, food pantries and shoe boxes for children in other countries.

  21. I’m what I would call a quasi-couponer. I have a subscription to our local paper for weekends only so get the coupons once a week in my Sunday paper. Like you, I’m often dismayed at the quantity of coupons that I flip through and DON’T use (almost all are processed, packaged, fake color/flavor/sugar/preservative-full items that we don’t eat). HOWEVER, I have had some luck by watching our store ads (a few of my local stores offer double coupons) and utilizing their store-brand organic line.

    This time of year, right before the holidays, you can often find coupons for baking basics, including aluminum-free baking powder, good chocolate, cornstarch, spices, etc. I stock up at this time using coupons and have the pantry items set for the rest of the year. I’ve sometimes been able to get good deals via coupons for olive oil, whole wheat pastas, canned tomatoes (organic) and some dairy (cheese, yogurt, etc.) Other than that, the main area where I’ve really saved money using coupons is on toiletries. Frequently my stores will offer a buy one, get one free option for something like shampoo. They also accept double coupons, so in that case I frequently will use the BOGO-free option plus a double coupon (say, originally $1/off is now $2) and I’ll get two bottles for $3 instead of $10. I’ll stock up at that time if I have more than one coupon and be set for a few months.

    I second the recommendation to go to your favorite brand’s websites to see if they have coupons available or an online store. I’ve received as many as nine or ten coupons at once from some brands! Online stores are great too . . . For example, I’ve been baking a lot more and prefer King Arthur’s whole wheat and white whole wheat flours (organic and non). Though I can’t find paper coupons for them to take with me to the store, they have an online store and I can buy in bulk a larger quantity of flour for a cheaper price than my local store, plus can frequently find coupon codes for their online store with a simple google search.

    These little hints allow me more room in my budget for spending more elsewhere for the whole, nourishing foods that we eat. Hope this helps!


  22. i haven’t seen many coupons for stores i buy healthy foods at, but i know that places like capers and choices do have weekly sales, and i have wondered if i could benefit from keeping track of what the bargains are.

  23. Let me try to answer a few comments here:

    I’ve been getting my coupons on line, this past week. I will also be trying to get some from my MIL’s newspaper inserts when I go down tomorrow. One site that has been really instrumental in helping me find coupons is

    Maple Ridge Mom, thanks for the tip about London Drugs- I wouldn’t have thought of using them, but seeing as you live really close to me, that might be a good Canadian option! I’m surprised you get 4 free papers! Where I live across the river, I only get 1 and it rarely has coupons.

    Mary Ellen, thanks for linking to the Organic Coupons Forum. That’s another resource that I’ve been using somewhat.

    Laryssa, I’m glad to hear that you’ve had success using Ebay. A few times while googling for coupons, I came across Ebay coupon auctions and thought they looked potentially worthwhile!

    Jennifer and Beatrice, thanks for the links!

    SarahMichelle, I also am a Superstore shopper and do most of the things that you do, except that I don’t spend enough there to make use of the $250 dollar/$30 off coupons. Although it may be worth it to occasionally arrange my budget to try to take advantage of that. We also do the Superbucks from gas, and use instore coupons, but I haven’t started using manufacturer’s coupons yet, which is my next step I think.

    Laura V, I love the idea of getting free things that I might not buy for my family, but donate them to those who would use them. That’s wonderful and I’m sure I could easily do that!

    Vicki, thanks for the link!

    Jodean, I totally understand- those have been my thoughts, too! Guess I’m trying to prove myself wrong. 🙂

    Sarah, I like the idea of stocking up on baking supplies. With the coupons I’ve been accumulating, looks I just may be doing a bit of that this weekend.

  24. I don’t know if this will work for you, but if you are coming into Seattle there are QFCs and Fred Meyers, and at you can sign your rewards cards up and use coupons that link to the rewards card number. The discount is taken off your bill automatically when you use the rewards card. Often the coupons include organic produce and meats. There are diaper coupons and things like that.

    Also, I use Organic Valley coupons for their butter and such that I print from their website. Their sister company Organic Prairie also has printable coupons.

    Another thing I do is to scan the organic produce, packaged grains/flours and dairy aisles. At both QFC and Fred Meyer, look for orange 50% off stickers. I picked up some organic, non-gmo, blue corn meal for less than the standard, yellow stuff, frequently get salsas, bags of carrots and such for half off that way.

  25. I don’t use a lot of coupons either mainly because I find that they are often for the processed foods which we don’t eat too much of. But I do use them for toilet paper, plastic (bags, wrap, etc), toiletries, batteries – things like that -plus dairy items. Every now and then I might find something like ‘free produce with purchase of tomato sauce, pasta, etc.’ That being said & someone may have mentioned this – I still think we save money not using processed food even without the coupons. Good luck on your venture – I look forward to hearing how it works for you. Have a great Thanksgiving and travel safely.

  26. Thank you! It’s great to hear from someone who acknowledges that couponing in Canada is tough. How do you find coupons in Canada? I live in Alberta and it is so difficult to find good coupons that I have virtually given up. The only coupons I seem to find are for junk food.:(

    Can’t wait to hear how your “experiment” turns out.:)

  27. Hi my beautiful friend. I’m loving reading the honest of the coupon endeavor and the challenge to revist something that doesn’t seem as if it works for all families. Back in “the day” I did coupons – we’re talking like 28years ago. We weren’t as savvy as the younger moms are today so for me this whole concept and pursuit of is still something I’m watching and learning.

    My oldest daughter just jumped in and she keeps telling me that the water is really fine. I’m still watching and I’m looking foward to seeing your progress.

    Hey…Merry Christmas to you! Love, Lylah

  28. From personal experience I know that coconut oil from the regular stores is expensive and you don’t always get the best quality coconut oil.

    I don’t benefit from telling you this at all so not trying to sell you anything. I get my coconut oil from Mercola ( – I get the huge 1 gallon bucket and then I put it into a bunch of glass jars – we don’t do a whole lot of plastic in our house and it comes in a plastic bucket that’s really hard to open and close. Some jars are for the bathroom (cause we use it on our skin) and some jars are for the kitchen. This bucket lasts us over a year (just my son and I). It’s the best coconut oil EVER – I can tell the difference from store bought ones instantly.

    I hope this helps! 🙂

    Happy 2009!!

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