Picture this: One day, you are strolling through the grocery store with your calculator, trying to figure out the best way to feed your family without spending a small fortune. You head over to the bananas and check out the prices. In one bin are the conventionally grown bananas for 59-cents a pound and right next to them are the organic bananas for $1.39 a pound. You look at them carefully…they appear to look exactly the same. Sure, you’ve heard stories about the long term effects of pesticide residue in our bodies and you are just as worried as the next girl about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But, what it all boils down to is the amount of money you have to give the cashier when you are done shopping. You would love to shop organic, eat healthier, and save the planet, but you just don’t have the money, right? Well, maybe you can afford those organic bananas, after all. It is just going to take a bit more work than zipping through the grocery store and grabbing everything that looks good.
One of the easiest ways to save money on organic foods is to clip coupons. Coupons for organic products really do exist, you may just have to hunt a little harder for them. There are a few things you absolutely must have in order to be a successful organic coupon queen: you must have a telephone, an Internet connection, a printer and be able to get yourself the Sunday section of the newspaper.
1. Familiarize yourself with the store. The first thing you will have to do is head to the store and familiar yourself with the brands and what type of products they offer. You can usually find a decent selection of organic foods in large chain grocery stores, although you will find a better selection if you head to specialty stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Remember, buying organic is not an all or nothing decision. Buy the organic products that you have coupons for and that fit into your budget and fill in the rest with conventional foods.
2. Follow companies online. Once you know the names of the companies you are interested in pursuing, find them on the Internet. Use Google or your favorite search engine and visit their websites. Also, be sure to “like” them on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Many organic coupons exist only on Facebook.
3. Ask for coupons. On the company’s web site, click the ‘contact us’ button and send them an email. Tell them how interested you are in their products and ask them if they could send you some coupons. Many companies will allow you to do this every six months or so.
4. Sign up for email newsletters. Many companies use email newsletters to send exclusive promotions.
5. Print coupons from online sites. You can also find organic coupons online on the major coupon sites like Coupon.com, Redplum.com, and Smartsource.com. Organic coupons are not as common on these sites, but you will find them occasionally. This is where the printer becomes a requirement! Find your coupon, click, and print. Use your browser’s back button to print another one. Most coupons have a print limit of two, although there are some exceptions to this rule.
6. Check the packages. If you don’t have access to a printer or can’t find the company you are interested in online, look on the package for a phone number and give them a call. Most companies do a lot of their advertising online, but you should still be able to find a real human being on the other end of the telephone
7. Double up to save. One thing most people aren’t aware of is that a lot of stores will allow you to pair a store coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon, even at places like Whole Foods. Whole Foods has their own store coupons, so if you can find a manufacturer’s coupon to pair it with you will probably get that item cheaper than you would a non-organic equivalent.
8. Be creative and flexible. Packaged foods like cereals, chips, and pasta are relatively easy to find coupons for, but what about fresh produce? This is an area where you may have to be a little creative. Often, each chain will have a different organic fruit or vegetable on sale in any given week. I have two stores that I shop at frequently and find great deals. I have also learned to be flexible with my meal plans. If I can’t find a good deal on a product that week, it isn’t on the menu! And remember, it isn’t all or nothing! So, one week you buy organic apples but the next they are way too expensive. Buy the conventional ones and look for a better deal the following week! It’s baby steps on the road to going green!
9. Think outside the store. There are other ways to eat organic than going to the grocery store and handing the clerk a coupon. Home gardening has become very popular and it isn’t that hard to plant a tomato and harvest your own organic produce. You don’t need a huge stretch of land in your yard or any fancy equipment. I have several small raised beds that are lined with rocks and filled with soil from the garden center. I have the best luck with starting from plant rather than seed, but your results may vary. There are numerous organic gardening websites to help you with planting, growing, and harvesting. There is nothing quite as satisfying as going out to the garden in the morning and picking the produce you will use in that evening’s meal. No yard to plant a garden in? Consider a pot on the patio or a community garden!
10. Go local. Another great option is heading to the Farmer’s Markets. These tend to be seasonal gatherings of local farmers, some of whom may follow organic gardening practices and some may not. Talk to the farmer and learn more about how they grow their products. A lot of small farmers do not have the money to file for organic certification (this process costs a LOT!) but may actually follow organic practices. Another perk to the farmer’s market is that you are supporting your local economy!
One great site that will help you find local farmers is LocalHarvest.org. Type in your zip code and the kind of food you are looking for and it will pull up a map and a list of all available sources. Consider buying not only organic produce and packaged foods but meat, dairy, and eggs as well. You can also look into Community Supported Agriculture which allows consumers to purchase items directly from the farmer as a group to negotiate a lower price.
The one thing I hope you get from this article is that every baby step counts! It may take a little bit of work to buy organic on a budget, but it can be done. Cook from scratch, find a farmer, use your coupons, and know that every organic item you buy not only reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides and fertilizers, but also helps to protect our planet from the damages associated with conventional farming.