I think I love the organizing part of couponing more than I love the saving money part! (Ok, maybe it’s a tie….) Seriously, though: spreadsheets, strategies, multi-colored filing systems – throw in a glass of wine, a couple episodes of Fraiser and some cranberry-almond banana bread and you’ve got my perfect stay-at-home night!
I realize that everyone’s not as crazy about organizing as I am, though, so that’s why I thought it’d be helpful to post some of my favorite tips! Before we get started, here’s a few rules of thumb (if you’re already a bit of a pro, skip ahead to the numbered list!):
Clean eating and couponing both require a lot of meal planning. So if you’re going to dive into one, you might as well take on the other!
In order to start eating clean, you’re going to need to take inventory of everything in your kitchen, throw out everything you don’t need, make a list of everything you do, schedule multiple trips to the grocery store, map out your meals one week at a time and organize ingredients to make sure you use fresh foods before they go bad, etc. Wouldn’t it make sense to spend an extra hour or so scanning sales and cutting coupons so that you can save a lot of money in the process?
Make sure you know what clean eating is before you get committed.
I know this sounds basic, but the term “clean eating” is often used in a broad sense; it’s important to have a really clear idea of what the lifestyle means to you before getting started. This Clean Eating for Beginners post should help!
Know where to look for help!
Ok! So let’s get to work. It’s a new day, a new year and you’re ready to start couponing and eating clean. But you have absolutely no idea where to start. This is what you do:
1. Figure out what “clean” foods you’ll actually eat.
(I can’t stress this tip enough: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Sure it’d be great if you liked quinoa or wheatgrass, but chances are you don’t right now. So don’t waste your money. You’ll just end up throwing out a lot of food and feeling bad about yourself!) I start with Tosca Reno’s grocery list (The Gracious Pantry also has a good one). Go through these lists and write down/highlight everything you’ll actually eat in real life.
2. Come up with three ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus five snacks and something sweet.
Now that you know what foods you’re working with, come up with different “go-to” meals. (Don’t worry, this is just beginner’s meal planning – a couple weeks from now you’ll be planning fun recipes and adding in a lot of variety!) Remember step one, though: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. If the breakfast in your head takes 45 minutes to make, you’re not going to end up eating it.
3. Look at your calendar.
This is the part of the planning process where you remember you’re not a robot. Think about everything you have going on this week: meetings, dinner with friends, early morning workouts. Then go back to the honesty rule. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to cook, when you’ll be able to get to which foods, etc. Our goal is to eat five to six small meals a day, so look at your planner and start thinking about when which meal can go where.
4. Pretend you’re on Extreme Couponing!
Ok, maybe you’re not on TLC, but it’s still important to find as many coupons as you can! Sunday papers are going to have (up to) three inserts: Redplum, Smartsource and Proctor and Gamble. Find as many as you can and start clipping away! Also, be on the lookout for ‘peelies’ (coupons attached to boxes that have to be peeled off) and ‘blinkies’ (coupons that come out of those little electronic boxes in aisles at the grocery store). And always check the stands at the front of your store where they post weekly flyers!
5. Stock up on coupons!
This is one of my big tricks: since a lot of clean food never goes on sale, it’s important to save BIG when you can use coupons – that’s why I’ll order extra coupons from Coupon Clippers if I see ones that I know I can use. They might charge $0.10 for a $0.40 coupon, but that’s $0.30 I wouldn’t have otherwise saved on a product that I know I’m going to have to buy! (Update: Just found out about Klip2Save – same kind of service!)
6. Organize your coupons.
I keep mine in a binder with baseball card holders (my dad collects and sells sports memorabilia, so they’re easy to come by). Everyone has a different system, but I’ve found it works best for me to divide each section by food types (i.e., “Cleaning Supplies,” “Dairy,” “Frozen Foods”).
7. Get familiar with your local stores.
You’re going to need their coupon policies (what competitors do they accept coupons from? will they double coupons – and if so, up to how much?) and weekly flyers (what’s on sale?). Both of these are usually located at the front of the store – if not, ask customer service.
8. Save where you can!
Clean food is usually fresh food – which means lots of it doesn’t go on sale. But that’s ok! Use your coupons where you can! This is why it’s especially important for clean eaters to coupon: you can’t afford to not save on personal items like toothpaste and shampoo or paper goods like napkins. Make it a goal to never buy anything in the middle of the store (where all the plastic stuff lives!) unless you’re saving money on it!
9. Match your coupons up with sales.
This is where the real money saving stuff starts. You’re not just going to walk in a store and save $0.50 off some $3 brown rice. Oh no. You’re going to wait until that rice goes on sale “Buy One Get One Free” (BOGO in the couponing world) and then you’re going to bring in two coupons (that’s right, you’re going to use a coupon on a free item because you’re a couponing ninja like that!) and you’re going to walk away with two containers of brown rice, a $6 value, for only $2! Don’t you feel like you’re on Extreme Couponing already?! (Bonus tip: Sites like I Heart Publix match sales and coupons up for you!)
10. Finalize your list and attack!
Review everything you need (make sure to take in account everything you already have) and start writing down what you’re going to buy where, based on your coupons and this week’s sales. Organize your coupons, pack your reusable grocery bags (why do I always forget these in the trunk?) and you’re off!
Don’t stress yourself out if you’re not able to save a ton the first couple weeks or your clean eating is interspersed with “unclean” food. It’ll take about two months to really get your pantry all cleaned out and re-stocked again (plus you need to give your taste buds and schedule some time to adjust!). But before you know it you’ll be eating clean and saving money – all at the same time!
If you have any questions or tips and suggestions, I’d love to hear them!