(This is in response to Keri's comment on my previous post about using coupons)
Before we had our first child, Andrew and I were changing our eating habits which meant less "convenience" foods and more cooking from scratch. We were noticing that certain foods were giving us heartburn or indigestion, or we'd get headaches or some sort of physical reaction to the foods we were eating. Something had to change, so we decided to stop buying all the ready-made mixes and after we used up what we had in the pantry, we'd go natural and start our garden. We got rid of the microwave, too, since we hardly used it. This was also the year we quit smoking (2001) and decided that sometime that year, I'd stop taking birth control and we'd try for a baby.
I found that a lot of the coupons I used at the time were for the foods we were no longer buying. That sucked. It made it a lot harder to save money on the grocery bill, but I could still use coupons for the toiletry items and cleaning supplies. We weren't saving a whole lot, but every little bit helped.
Meanwhile, in our quest to eat better, we started having less symptoms and no longer dreaded certain meals, knowing at the end we were going to have heartburn. I made and canned my very first batch of salsa and strawberry-rhubarb jam that year. I learned to make and can pickles. Our first garden did so well, that I have yet to repeat that success! Talk about beginners luck!
Fast-forward 9 years and we still make the majority of our meals from scratch, though the microwave has snuck back in for quick re-heating of leftovers. I learned how to make a lot of my own pasta and rice dishes, and have eliminated a lot of those packets for making chinese foods or gravies or other sauces.
9 years later, the coupon world has also changed-- a lot! There are more organic foods and health food stores available and many of them offer online coupons. Where we live, there are no major health food stores like Trader Joes or Whole Foods, so I am unable to shop there, but we do try to buy from local farm stands when they are open. I never did switch to cloth diapers or try "green" diapers because I am too lazy for the first and there are none available here for the second. With the coupons available for national brand diapers, I can get them for almost free, so it's cheaper for me to use them, though I do feel guilty for not doing my part in keeping diapers out of the landfills.
The majority of the coupons we use now are for scratch pantry items, toiletries and cleaning supplies. A while back, one of the coupon websites I follow posted the pros and cons of making your own or buying ready-made cleaning supplies and the cost value came out the same when you factor in coupons. Personally, I use a home-made vinegar cleaning solution for all-purpose cleaning of the tables and messes on the floors, but use store-bought laundry soap for our clothes. Not too long ago, I was able to get Arm and Hammer Laundry soap for $1.50 a bottle and Wisk Laundry soap for $1 a bottle. I use paper towels for cleaning up pet messes, vomit and poop but cloth towels for human messes (spilled milk, Peter running around without a diaper, etc). I made our own cloth napkins and stopped buying paper napkins.
Coupons are great for getting brand-name toiletries for cheap! There are also a lot of coupons available for natural brands, too, like Tom's of Maine and Burt's Bees, to name a couple. You can go to the brand's website and search for coupons, or even contact them and ask if they have any coupons. Many times, they will send you some or give you a link where to find some. I have not had to pay for toothpaste or floss since I've been extreme couponing!
I have not ventured into making my own shampoo, though I have wanted to, but with 4 young children to bathe and clean, sometimes it's easier to just grab a bottle of baby shampoo and wash 'em down. I can pick up a medium sized bottle of Johnson & Johnson's baby wash for under $1 when I wait for a sale and use a J&J coupon plus a store coupon. This week, at CVS, they have Aveeno shampoo on sale and combined with coupons, store coupons, and CVS bucks, I got 4 bottles for free PLUS there is a $10 rebate that I can send away for which ends up giving me $10 profit. With deals like that, it makes it hard for me to give that up to make my own shampoo.
Our kids drink a lot of juice, so we use coupons for getting 100% juice products. There are a lot of coupons out there for juices-- everything from orange juice to cranberry to fruit/vegetable mixes. They can be big money savers when it comes to 4 kids drinking several glasses of juice a day. I can tell you personally that several juice brands offer coupons on their websites. We also drink a lot of iced tea, and there are coupons out for several different brands. My personal favorite is Lipton, and there is a coupon for them every couple of months, and when it's out, I get several papers and stock up when there is a sale.
Feminine products-- I have been wanting to make my own cloth pads, but until I get around to making them, there are tons of coupons out there for many different brands. This week, I was able to pick up two packs of pads for free because they were buy one, get one free and I had 2 coupons, which made them free plus overage (3.69 for 2, I had 2- $2 off 1 coupons=$4 which means I paid nothing plus I got 31 cents extra off my total bill).
We like ice cream (yum! who doesn't?!) and last week there was a sale on Edy's for $2 a carton and when combined with a coupon, I can get them for as little as $1 a carton. This week Food Lion has a sale on frozen dessert items and it's an extremely good sale-- buy any 5 items and get $5 knocked of the total which basically means $1 off each item. Cool Whip is included in that deal and it's on sale for $1 which means what?? Buy 5, get $5 off = FREE! Add in a $1 off 4 coupon and you've got overage that will come out of the total bill. Cool Whip is my guilty pleasure, so it's not something I buy often, but with a sale like this, it's worth stocking up on a few containers, since they freeze well. If I dole it out carefully, I can still have some in the freezer for apple and pumpkin pie season in the Fall.
So, even if you don't buy a lot of convenience foods, you can still save a lot of money with coupons in other ways. Contact your favorite brands and see if they have coupons to offer, check with your local grocer's and see if they have coupons for loyal shoppers, they may even have coupons at the service desk, which I always check for. Search online for rebates and even more coupons. There are hundreds of coupon blogs for the many different stores in your areas, just do a little search for them.
Hope this helps! :o)