Editor's note: For daily tips on saving money, check out the Centsible Saver blog on newsobserver.com. Amy Dunn writes every day about coupons, saving money and frugal living. Below are recent excerpts from her blog.
Shannon Eddleman's daughter was 4 years old when she first noticed a homeless man on the side of the road. What does his sign say, the little girl asked her mother.
Eddleman explained that the man was hungry.
"We need to feed him," the preschooler responded.
Turning her back was not an option for the North Raleigh stay-at-home mom.
"The way she said it, there was no question whether or not we would feed someone who was hungry," Eddleman said.
Already an avid coupon shopper, Eddleman decided to use the same skills she used to trim her own grocery bill to buy food for the hungry. Her first purchase: six pop-top cans of chili for just 10 cents each after coupons.
In the four years since, Eddleman and her two children have made shopping for the less fortunate part of their regular supermarket routine. Their donations go to North Raleigh Ministries and the food bank at Asbury United Methodist Church in Raleigh. Oftentimes, the items are completely free after store discounts and coupon savings are applied.
"We talk about how we wish everyone would clip five coupons and get five free things," Eddleman said. "Think of all the people we could feed."
There's a name for what Eddleman does. I like to call it couponing for a cause. She's one of many in the Triangle and across the country who parlay coupon discounts into a regular stream of food and personal hygiene donations to charity with very little actual money changing hands.
Food banks and homeless shelters aren't the only beneficiaries of the kindness of couponers. Many coupon clippers focus their efforts on buying food for cats and dogs at local animal shelters. Other causes taken up by coupon shoppers include sending care packages to U.S. troops overseas and filling shoeboxes with toys and treats for the Operation Christmas Child project run by Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse based in Boone.
The national coupon site HotCouponWorld.com has a forum devoted to helping others. And at least two national coupon-printing sites pledge corporate donations to charity when folks print and redeem their coupons.
At CommonKindness.com, coupon clippers get to choose a local charity to receive the marketing fees generated from the coupons they redeem. At CouponsForChange.org, which is operated by industry giant Coupons.com, the company pledges one meal to a hungry child in the United States for every three coupons redeemed.
The common thread among all the efforts: to muscle as much buying power as possible out of coupons.
Cindy Sink, spokeswoman for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, said her organization doesn't have any way of tracking donations purchased with coupons.
But she said she welcomes folks to take up the challenge of coupon clipping for her organization's Grocery Bags for Seniors program and the more well-known BackPack Buddies program, which sends needy schoolchildren home with a backpack filled with a weekend's worth of food.
Among the greatest needs are items on which coupons are often available: canned tuna and chicken, packaged noodles, instant oatmeal, cans of fruits and vegetables, boxes of 100 percent juice and shelf-stable milk, and boxes and bags of individual healthy snacks such as granola bars, raisins and pretzels.
"It certainly would help if you have a BOGO. You keep one and you give one," Sink said.
Darci VanderSlik, spokeswoman for the SPCA of Wake County, said she doesn't have solid numbers on the number of coupon clippers assisting the animal shelter. But based on the comments about sales and coupons regularly posted on the shelter's Facebook page, she said she's certain it's a common practice.
The shelter also keeps a basket filled with coupons for cat and dog food and treats. "People are welcome to drop off coupons and take some if they need them," she said.
Barbara Corbin of Cary is another coupon clipper who scouts the deals for charity.
Corbin's four children are grown and gone but she enjoys the thrill of the bargain hunt too much to give it up.
She typically buys cereal, pasta, rice, microwave meals and fruit cups. "I try to focus on the healthy foods but not always because everyone likes a treat," she said. She also likes to donate personal hygiene items, which are often free with a coupon.
"I've always done coupons because I've always tended to be a thrifty person," Corbin said. "I was raised that way."
If you're a coupon shopper and would like to help any of the local charities mentioned, below are links to their websites. Or, if you'd like, share your stories with me about the charities you assist through couponing. I'll share them with readers in a future post.
* Asbury Methodist Church: asburyraleigh.org
* Brown Bag Ministry: brownbagministry.org
* Catholic Parish Outreach: cporaleigh.org
* Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (BackPack Buddies and Grocery Bags for Seniors): foodshuttle.org
* North Raleigh Ministries: northraleighministries.com
* Samaritan's Purse: samaritanspurse.org
* SPCA of Wake County: spcawake.org
More good deals and good works
While we're talking good deals with a charitable twist, here are two more ways to save yourself some money while helping others.
First, through Sept. 30, Bruegger's bagel shops are selling coupon booklets to help fight childhood hunger. For a $5 donation, you'll get nine coupons valued at about $20, including two coupons for freebies.
Second, Pantene has teamed with Walmart to offer up to $30 to folks who donate a ponytail of their hair to be made into wigs for women fighting cancer.
Head to GotoBeautifulLengths.com to fill out a form for a donation kit that includes a prepaid postage envelope, ponytail cutting instructions, a $30 rebate form and a "Pantene Beautiful Lengths bonus bag."
You must purchase a Pantene product from Walmart and submit a receipt from the hair salon where your ponytail was cut.
The value of the rebate – sent in the form of a Visa giftcard – will be based on the price of the haircut. The offer is good through Oct. 31.