Q: "I've been following your column for a while now, and I see that it can save me some money. But, I find that the products I want to eat -- healthy, organic, fruits, vegetables -- very rarely have coupons, or have any such great deals. From reading your columns, it appears that you can save lots of money and even get free items, but you end up getting stuff that, maybe, you wouldn't buy normally. How do you translate the savings into the foods you want?"
Q: "The main thing that used to frustrate me about coupon-cutting is that the coupons seemed to be geared toward processed foods. After reading your column for a few weeks, I noticed quite a few things in the coupon inserts that I would buy, even eggs and bacon, so I was thinking of trying again. I guess I am wondering if it would be worth it to me. I do have to buy cleaning supplies, paper supplies, cereal and products in the health aisle. Do you think it's worth the effort? You just don't see a lot of organic produce or products from smaller health-food companies represented in the couponing world."
A: I like these two e-mails very much, because they accurately represent another strongly held -- erroneous -- belief about coupons: That all coupons are for "junk food." Not so! I've long said that there truly is a coupon for anything and everything. It's just a matter of finding it.
It's important to me that our family eats healthy food, too. We eat a great deal of organics. If you're looking specifically for coupons for organic products, you need to head to the Internet ... but not necessarily to print coupons. Most organic-food manufacturers offer their coupons via direct mail. On my coupon blog, jillcataldo.com, I've archived a list of "200 Places to Find Coupons." Click the link, scroll to "Organics" and you'll find a list of links to organic manufacturers' web sites. Register to receive their coupons via mail. I particularly like the mailers from Organic Valley and Mambo Sprouts, both of which send booklets of organic coupons regularly throughout the year. You may also find printable coupons from manufacturers in this list, but in my experience, manufacturers of organics seem to prefer to make these coupons available directly to those interested in them, versus wider distribution.
Don't count newspaper inserts out, though. We are seeing more natural and organic products featured in them than in years past. But for the time being, getting coupons for organics directly from the manufacturers is your best bet.
Coupons for fresh produce are most often found in the produce department at the supermarket. I always make a point of looking for tear pads of coupons hanging near the salads, carrots and other bagged items. One of my recent favorites? A coupon for "Buy 2 bagged salads, get 2 lbs. of bananas free." I took a few of these coupons, then waited for that brand of bagged salads to go on sale. When the price dropped to 99 cents a bag, I took home two salads plus two pounds of bananas for less than $2!
The reader who sent the second question makes an important point: People tend to think of coupons primarily for food, but most of us also use cleaning products, paper products, personal-care items, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines. For all of these, there are coupons in abundance. And, these staples can often be purchased extremely inexpensively with coupons. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, shampoo, soap, lotion -- I haven't paid even a dime for these items in years. With coupons, they're free on a regular basis, particularly at the national drugstore chains.
Don't forget about coupon overage. If I have a $2 coupon for a $1.50 item, I not only get that item free, but I also gain 50 cents in overage to apply to the rest of my bill, reducing the cost of my fresh produce and other items even more. I always take the free item home, regardless of what it might be -- because it's free, and it actually reduces the cost of my other items, too.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.