It's never too early to teach our children the reality of hunger in our local communities and the important role they can have in helping to provide for families in need.
Community charities like food pantries and shelters have a greater need for donations in the summertime. Unfortunately, food pantry donations dip during the summer months as well.
This summer I am teaching my 11-year-old son to buy food and personal-care items for our local charity. Not only is he learning the math and budgeting skills to stretch his weekly charity budget of $3, but he will also realize how easily a small amount of money can help others.
Each week he buys a few items using the coupon system and puts them in a brown paper bag he labeled "Charity Stuff." When the bag is full, I take him to our local charity to let him donate the items to the food pantry volunteers personally. It is amazing to see how many items he can get at no cost each week.
Together we sit down and print a list of the best deals from either our local drug store's deals list (CVS or Walgreens) or our grocery store's list from the Grocery Deals by State section at www.couponmom.com.
The Web site does the work of matching sale items with coupons available so children don't have to figure that out. It also tells users the date the coupon came out so children only have to cut the coupons they need each week.
Get started by having your child find the coupon circulars from the Sunday newspaper and put that day's date on the cover of the circular. Save the circulars in a box or file, and simply cut out the specific coupons referenced on the store deals list from their dated circulars. You can download a free electronic book explaining this easy system from couponmom.com (called "Advanced Grocery Saving Strategies") or you can e-mail me and I'll e-mail one to you at no cost.
The types of items that charities need most tend to be nonperishable, high-protein items like canned tuna, meats, beans, milk and peanut butter. They also need items like canned fruit and vegetables, rice, pasta, pasta sauce, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and deodorants. Fortunately, these are all coupon items.
At this time of year, rock-bottom prices on school supplies make it easy to buy extra for the food pantry clients as well. The Cut Out Hunger section at couponmom.com lists the best items to donate to food pantries as well as a link to a directory of hunger organizations.
If your local grocery store doubles coupons, you may be able to get these kinds of items free with a coupon. Simply watch for featured sale items in your store's weekly circular and match them with grocery coupons available from the Sunday newspaper or online. You can find many coupons to print at www.couponmom.com.. You can also watch for store brand items to go on sale to get many low-priced bargains.
Look for "buy one, get one free" offers in your grocery ad and match them with coupons from the newspaper. The weekly CVS ad matches promotional items with their Extra Bucks rewards. Although you will pay for the item and get an Extra Bucks reward for a future trip, in many cases your Extra Bucks reward will be equal to the cost of the item. When you use your new Extra Bucks reward on your next shopping trip, you can plan your purchases to equal the value of the reward, making your new purchases free.
When my son began his charity shopping, I gave him one of my Extra Bucks rewards from a previous week, so his first order was free. Of course, he bought Extra Bucks promotional items, so he received coupons for the following week. With a little planning, he is able to continue getting free items each week using this method.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABCNEWS.com. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her Web site at www.couponmom.com.