In our quest to eat healthfully, many of us are stung by the prices that ring up at the register, especially on organic and all-natural foods.
Eating healthful food is great, in theory, but how does anyone afford it on a budget?
The answer might surprise you: coupons.
Long associated with the likes of sugary cereals and canned spaghetti, coupons get a bad rap in healthy-living circles. And let's face it, we all know it's much easier to find a coupon on Cocoa Puffs than coconut oil.
But as more of us have started paying attention to healthier eating habits, manufacturers and marketers have started paying attention, too, issuing more coupons for healthier options.
That makes it easier for all of us to watch our waistlines and our bottom lines.
"The consumer is looking to eat more healthy foods, and consumers really drive everything," said Sarah Schloemer, president and cofounder of CommonKindness.com, a Sausalito, Calif.-based coupon-printing site that offers coupons on organic and natural products. In 2012, its first year, CommonKindness had more than 2 million visitors.
The coupon savings on health foods can be substantial, said Crystal Collins, author of "The Thrifty Mama," one of several blogs that match coupons for healthy foods with store sales.
"It's going to take ... some coupon smarts, watching sales cycles and eliminating things that aren't a priority," but it can be done, said Collins, who estimated she spends $50 to $80 a week to feed her family of four. "And that's eating mostly organic."
Lisa Eberhart makes her living advising other how to eat healthfully, so it's no surprise that the registered dietitian's grocery cart is filled with fruits, vegetables and lean meat.
She skips most coupons -- those on processed foods and convenience items -- and zeros in on the cents-off discounts on healthier foods.
"People don't realize they can get coupons for healthy foods," said Eberhart, 55, who works for North Carolina State University, where she counsels students on making better food choices and does healthy makeovers of dining-hall fare.
So just where do you find coupons for popular organic and natural brands?
-- Pull those Sunday newspaper coupons out of the recycle bin and give them a second look. You'll often find coupons for organic yogurt, cage-free eggs and other healthy products.
-- Check the websites of companies that sell natural and organic products. Become a fan of their Facebook pages. Many companies provide links to printable coupons or will mail you coupons.
-- Head to the national coupon-printing websites, some of which focus entirely on the niche market of budget-conscious healthy-food shoppers.
-- Check grocery-store websites. Many offer store-specific paper and digital coupons for organic and natural products.
Once you have your coupons, your next stop is the grocery store. But which one?
Conventional grocery chains have all beefed up their selections of organic and natural foods in recent years. Or take those coupons to a smaller chain specializing in healthy foods for a wider selection and, sometimes, a better deal.
Both Earth Fare and Whole Foods offer store coupons -- in traditional paper format and online -- and accept manufacturers' coupons.
To clip your way to more healthful fare, try these tips:
-- Read the fine print, on the coupon and the product, said dietitian Eberhart. Have a coupon for $1 off two boxes of General Mills cereal? Skip the Cookie Crisp pictured on the coupon and buy the Fiber One. As long as the coupon says "any" GM cereal, you're good to go.
"If it's a milk coupon, I pick the low-fat option," Eberhart said. "Green beans? I do no-salt added."
-- Set aside 30 minutes a week for coupons. Take five minutes to flip through the coupons in the Sunday newspaper inserts, then check coupon websites, plus Facebook pages of your favorite organic and natural products.
-- Be realistic. Forget "extreme coupon savings."
-- Stock up when you find an extraordinary deal with coupons.
-- Don't be lured by a good coupon into buying something that's not on your list. "If you don't eat ice cream, you don't want to start buying ice cream just because you have a coupon," Eberhart advised.
-- Be strategic. Food isn't the only thing you put in your grocery cart, said Brugh, who gives most of her food coupons to friends in exchange for coupons on cleaning products, paper goods and personal care items.
(Contact Amy Dunn at email@example.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)