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9 ways to be a coupon hero

Once you've met your own needs, why not join other people who use their coupon powers for good?

By Donna_Freedman Sep 24, 2012 11:41AM

Logo: Woman Grocery Shopping Fuse/Getty ImagesExperienced couponers know the satisfaction of getting food or household supplies free or nearly free. It's a great way to stretch available funds and maybe even free up money for long-term financial goals.

But some take it a step further: They use their coupon powers for good. Can you picture yourself as a coupon superhero? 

Using coupons and sales stretches your "giving dollars" to the utmost, allowing you to give more than you thought possible to shelters, emergency food programs and other community efforts.

This is particularly valuable if you're in a tight spot yourself. Once your own needs are met, even a small donation -- a bottle of shampoo, a package of notebook paper -- makes you feel like a million bucks.

"Giving puts our own financial situations in perspective, and helps us be thankful for all that we do have," says Stephanie Nelson, aka "The Coupon Mom."


You could find special meaning in helping someone you know, such as an under- or unemployed friend or an older relative whose retirement benefits aren't stretching quite far enough. But you could also choose to help someone in the community -- or halfway around the world.

Here's how.

Reaching out

1. Donate to food banks.
The Coupon Mom's empire started with a simple project back in 2001: teaching coupon skills to encourage more donations to emergency pantries. "If every household got one (free) item for charity, we would flood our food banks with food. They'd never have to turn anybody away," says Nelson, author of "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Food Bill in Half."

Note: Some community pantries don't accept food items because of a lack of volunteers to sort them. If that's the case in your area, perhaps churches or family shelters could use your freebies. Or perhaps you could . . .

2. Help with personal emergencies.
A bag of groceries can make a huge difference to someone having money troubles. "My readers, friends and family always know to call me when someone is without a job, is ill or is unable to get groceries. They come shop my stockpile," says Melissa Fox of Frugalissa Finds Frugalissa Finds.


3. Provide cleanliness. Homeless shelters may be desperate for shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, lotion, razors and other toiletries that are often free or nearly free, thanks to sale/coupon combos. Ask about other needs, such as laundry soap or over-the-counter medications.

Students and soldiers

4. Shore up our schools.
Karen Idleman Rodriguez, who blogs at Saving the Family Money  donates cleaning supplies, school supplies and small toys. A great time to do this is during back-to-school sales, when supplies can be had for as little as one penny. But items like tissues and hand sanitizer can also be found during Black Friday sales or as loss leaders throughout the year. You can also trade printer cartridges for school supplies or teacher gifts; for details, see "How to turn ink into chocolate."

5. Donate to local emergency efforts.
 Cox donated 100 boxes of pasta to hurricane relief efforts in 2011; all were free, thanks to sale price plus coupon. Tiffany Ivanovsky, who blogs at, donated nearly $1,000 worth of toiletries after a hurricane in her region, and also put together more than three dozen bags of household items for flooded-out families. 


6. Create military care packages. Plenty of coupon-able items are needed by deployed soldiers. Here are just a few suggestions, courtesy of the Army Wife Network blog: sunscreen, eye wash, nasal spray, toothpaste, gum, shampoo, lip balm and laundry soap. An APO/FPO flat-rate box  currently ships for $13.45 through the U.S. Postal Service. The Any Soldier website offers a list of military personnel to whom you can send items, as well as a super-useful FAQ section

7. Send expired coupons to the military. Overseas service members can use coupons for up to six months past their expiration dates. This post at The Krazy Coupon Lady blog explains how to sort Qs and where to send them.

8. Help cats and dogs.
Pet rescue groups would likely welcome donations of cat litter, pet food and cleaning supplies. "My children love gathering up all the goodies and bringing them to the (animal) shelter," says Brittany, who blogs at The Prudent Patron.


9. Be a coupon fairy. I do this myself, whether it's setting Qs atop products on shelves or offering a coupon to the person ahead of me in line. No one has ever said, "Nah, I don't want to save a dollar on my purchase." I doubt anyone ever will.

Do you use your coupon powers for good? How?

More on MSN Money:

Sep 24, 2012 4:13PM
I send out boxes to family members chock-full of items for which I generally just pay sales tax (after coupons and rebates). When I factor in the cost to ship I generally pay for the items once.

Most recipients seem to like this arrangement and I don't end up with a storage problem. Win-win if you ask me.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.