The Volunteer Job of the Century! - Part 1

| GS INSIGHTS

Finding, Tracking, and Redeeming Coupons

A Conversation between Becky Cole and Cynthia Adams

At GrantStation we call our Customer Services representative, Becky Cole, “the Queen of Coupons.” For the past year, we’ve all marveled at how she turns her passion for making a difference in the community into truly wonderful philanthropic gifts to nonprofits by using coupons. I thought it was, perhaps, time to share some of her thinking and her process with you via a conversation between Becky and myself. We hope you enjoy it!

Cynthia: Let’s start with why you do this, Becky! What motivated you to begin managing coupons, gift cards, discounts, etc.?

Becky: I have always been involved in the community in a variety of ways, but a couple of summers ago I actually started this out of curiosity to see what I could do. I didn’t think about donating right off the bat because I didn’t know what all I would actually be able to accomplish, but the more I saw that I could do, the light bulb went off that this could actually be a way to make a difference and have fun doing it.

I like games and puzzles and this really fed that, as well, as I learned how to piece sales and coupons together. At the end of the first year, I gave away over $6,000 in supplies while keeping to my budget of $10 per week out of pocket (for tax or other things coupons didn’t cover)

Cynthia: You actually build up a ‘donation pile’ of items you can give away? And then how often do you disperse them?

Becky: Once I had the patterns down and a strategy in place, I can acquire enough to drop off a load about every 6 to 8 weeks. The most recent donation pile filled four 18-gallon bins. The amount and the types of things can vary from time to time, depending on the sales, but that’s about average.

Cynthia: I’d love to for you to share with us some of the corporate resources you use, and how it works.

Becky: I am sure there are other things and places, but these are the places that work for me. I like the Target debit card. With any version of their Red Card, you automatically get 5% off your purchase (free shipping on anything and a longer return period), but that can be stacked with Cartwheel deals and manufacturers coupons, too. I don't usually buy cosmetics or personal items at Target, but rather focus on household items and pet food. Those types of items often come with a gift card with purchase. The great thing about gift cards is that they don't expire. Because I have two cats, I often shop there for litter and cat food, saving up the gift cards until there is some kind of holiday sale for things like shampoo and toothpaste and then use the gift cards for those things. That way I am not spending any additional money for my donation pile.

Cynthia: That is very clever. You know how some businesses give you points? Do you ever make use of that type of resource?

Becky: My debit card from my credit union is set up to give me points for any kind of purchase. Those points can be used to purchase gift cards or other things. I also have a Mastercard that I don't use for donation purchases, but it gives me 2% back on anything I buy and I transfer that money to my checking account for my donations purchases. For example, my current rental situation lets me pay rent with my credit card, so I do that to get the cash back, and then pay off the card right away. So, I have $20 a month to play with just for paying rent.

Cynthia: That is seriously smart, Becky. And something so many individuals could be doing. A great job for a volunteer, I’d think. What other corporations do you work with?

Becky: Walgreens is another good one. They have recently changed their policy where they will not let you use more than $5 in points in a single transaction (probably because of me!) but they typically have good sales on things like personal items (every now and then they will have a buy two, get one free sale on things like shampoo, make-up, razors, and various other items so between that, the points and a manufacturer's coupons or the deals on your account, I can still get a bunch of stuff pretty close to free.

Here in Minnesota, we also have Cub grocery stores. I do my grocery shopping there, and I earn points toward a gas discount at Holiday gas station. But I also have my Kellogg's account set up to tie to this card, so any time I purchase any Kellogg's product (did you know Keebler is a Kellogg's brand?), Kellogg's automatically gets notified of my purchase and I get credited with points with them, too. Cub also has digital coupons that can be used on top of manufacturer's coupons. I buy cereal to donate, I get points from my credit union, points for gas, and points from Kellogg's all in the same transaction.

Cynthia: OK. You have to tell me more about Kellogg and how you “tie” your cards together? Can you explain how that works?

Becky: Sign up for an account on www.kfr.com and register your store card there. Kellogg’s will actually give you a few points for registering your store card with them.

Cynthia: Kellogg sounds pretty cool.

Becky: They are crazy cool with their coupons and points. You can use their points to purchase coupons for a $1 off a box of cereal or to purchase a gift card from different places. When the moon is aligned (ha!) there is a sale of 5 boxes for $10, I can use 3 $1 off coupons (because that's all I have available at the moment), a $3 off 5 coupon from their general site and two coupons for a free box of a new one they are just trying out. This means I get 7 boxes of cereal in all for $4, plus the points from the store and my credit union.

Kellogg's also has a ton of promotions. Like the recent one where when you buy a box of cereal, you get a free Scholastic book. And they often have a deal with Shutterfly where you can get a ton of free stuff from them just for entering the Kellogg's codes. I have gotten 8x10 pictures of Bobby and Lucy, and not too long ago they had one for a free memory book. Kellogg's does that “just because” and in addition to their other promotions. I also have my Kellogg's account tied to my CVS card, so on the rare occasion I purchase cereal from them, I don't have to notify Kellogg's of it.

CVS has a way to earn Extra Bucks for making certain purchases and they have quarterly rewards based on how much you have actually spent out of your own pocket. It's a minimum of $2 per quarter, and I don't usually get more than that because most of my actual spending tends to be minimal after the coupons and promotions have been applied. At the end of the year, my CVS account said my year to date savings was something like $5,700, but I only get $2 on the quarterly reward.

Cynthia: That’s just fascinating Becky. Where can folks go to figure out how to use these specific resources?

Becky: My go-to places for coupons (besides what those stores add to my account anyway or the Kellogg's site)

I am on an email list for Colgate, which often has some pretty cool coupons in it, too.

Those sites don't spam like some other sites do, and I have noticed that most of the other sites tend to pull from coupons.com anyway.

Where I live, new sale ads for the following week come out on Wednesday night, so I use them, too, to help plan for my next shopping trip or to decide to wait until the following week.

These are the places I have chosen to focus on/with for my donations strategy. I need to get in order to give, and these are the tools I find that works best for me. 

This way, too, I am not having to choose between buying groceries and donating. I am able to donate because I am buying groceries (so to speak) and there are some additional bonuses along the way, too. I am also using and making the most of what resources I already have.

Cynthia: You’ve shared a lot of good information with us today, Becky. I’d like to continue this conversation next time and talk a bit about your process, how you manage all of this.

Read Part 2 about the process Becky uses to secure products, how often she donates these products, and how organizations recognize (or don’t recognize!) these gifts.

Action steps you can take today
  • Read Part 2 of Becky and Cynthia’s conversation
  • We would love to hear from you regarding this two-part post. And please let us know about any other corporate coupons, gift certificates, and points that you would like to share with our readers.