The first thing most people say when I tell them I like to use coupons is that "coupons are only for processed food." Which implies that I only buy processed food for my family, and that's not very nice - and most definitely not true. I'm a broken record but this is the fact: many coupons are for processed food but not all. You just have to dig a bit.
So someone asked me how I save money on produce and I figured I'd just blog about it really quick so I'd have a reference source to send people instead of just answering over and over.
But I have to say first, I am lucky enough to live near YDFM, so I have easy access to inexpensive fresh produce (organic and conventional). To be honest, that is the short answer of it - when I shop at YDFM, I spend less than I spend at regular grocery stores and my cart is full of ingredients, not finished products. If you can find a place like this near you, that's what I'll say to do - don't fuss with coupons or sales, just buy the cheapest you can find.
Around here (in the greater Atlanta area), there are also so-called "ethnic" grocery stores and they almost always have super cheap produce (and produce I can't find anywhere else) - Super H-Mart, Cherian's International Groceries, Patel Brothers, the Buford Highway Farmers Market, etc. (Plus, if you have a Super H-Mart near you and if you sign up for a shopper card, they also send you coupon books every few months with produce deals galore in them.)
Also, I haven't bought the paper in months and I almost never use the coupons from those circulars. I rely on printables, apps, and other deals instead.
Other ways to save money on produce with coupons:
Look for the marked-down stuff in the back of the store! Here, my local Kroger stores do this regularly. I've bought barely browning bananas for pennies and frozen them to make smoothies and "ice cream." I always see bruised fruit or veggies that are on their way to mush but still edible. If my budget was even tighter than it is now, I'd buy from there constantly.
Buy in season! Out-of-season fresh produce = more expensive. Find out what's in season in your area and buy that to get the best prices.
Frozen frozen frozen! Many studies have shown that frozen veggies are as good as - sometimes better than - fresh. Plus it lasts longer (how many times have you bought fresh stuff and had it go bad? Just me? I doubt it...). I can get a big bag of frozen spinach for 99 cents and I put that in everything. Frozen peas are awesome. Frozen broccoli rules. I buy a lot of frozen produce. Store brand, mostly. But there are almost always coupons for the national brands and this is particularly awesome when you can combine it with a sale.
Apps! Ibotta (referral link!), Savingstar, Checkout 51, Snap from Groupon (also a referral link!). All almost always have rebate deals on fresh produce - Savingstar has a weekly 20% deal, Checkout 51 has given me money off of bananas, oranges, and salad mix, to name a few. Ibotta has deals all the time. There are downsides to this strategy - you have to save your receipt (hi, husband who never remembers to do this), take a picture of it within the app (and scan the bar codes of things you bought - that takes 1 second though), upload it, and wait to be credited. It's an extra step to save money but for me it's worth it. Then all of these apps have a minimum threshold for cashing out, so this is not fast. But it's money back for produce, and I'll take it. Also check out Shopmium (referral code - please use it! - GMMKKUWC, and you'll get a free Lindt chocolate bar when you do, which is LIKE a vegetable...), which kicks back your savings to you without a minimum, and BerryCart, which is all organic/healthy products, including produce.
Target! Target will text you coupons if you sign up for them, and I have seen fresh (and frozen) produce deals almost every week.
Digital coupons! Kroger has digital coupons for fresh stuff often (usually its house-brand organics).
Printables! Especially the printables from Mambo Sprouts (all organic/healthy stuff), but poke around on coupons.com, smartsource.com, redplum.com, and also coupons.target.com (some are Target store coupons - and some stores consider Target a competitor and take 'em too - and some are manufacturer).
Overage! Sometimes you have to buy something you don't want/need (DONATE IT) because it's not only free but your coupons/savings give you more back than the item costs - and then you can apply that extra to your produce. Rare these days, but it does happen. How do you find out about these deals? Well...
Bloggers! Find the bloggers covering your area/your local stores and follow them! They do all the legwork for you. I don't know what I'd do without Michelle from iheartpublix and iheartkroger. (I also like Southern Savers.) MoneySavingMom and CouponMom also cover grocery stores across the country. Let them tell you what's on sale and how to maximize that sale! They often highlight produce deals so watch for those in particular - and scroll by what you won't buy/use/eat.
Go to the brands themselves! Find Facebook or webpages for produce "brands" and sign up for whatever you can. Check packages too - some brands of strawberries, for example, or packaged lettuce blends, definitely offer printables and bonuses and deals. Basically, look for any spot where you might be able to get a discount and sign up for it.
And finally, yes, there are circular coupons for produce. Usually it's for frozen/name brands (Birds Eye, Green Giant, etc.), but sometimes it's for fresh (I've seen coupons for oranges, pomegranates, lettuce....). Also sometimes they come in the form of "Buy this one thing, get this produce thing for a discount/free." If you're buying the first thing anyway (like...buy cereal, get strawberries), this can work out well for you.
Then stretch what you get. Buy in bulk if you find a great deal and freeze (I did this with fresh organic strawberries when they were at their peak - cheapest and sweetest - a few months ago, and I plan to use them in January when it's dark and cold). Make a soup (and freeze it). Sneak everything into pasta sauce. Etc etc etc. I also adore BudgetBytes for recipes that are inexpensive and full of veggies.
I will update this post if I think of more tips, and I welcome your comments on how you save money on fruits and vegetables because nom nom nom!