Coupons are like money, if you use them wisely. And you can always get more — free.
Army wife Nicole Farley joined a coupon swap group in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg, where everyone brings extra coupons. Usually five to 10 women meet to share their money-saving ideas while they pick through coupons. They also often bring a dish to share that's low-calorie, low-cost or both, with copies of the recipe.
Farley said she saves an average of $100 per month by using coupons, but there have been times when she's saved $100 in one trip.
She does the bulk of her shopping at the commissary, but she also takes advantage of double- and triple-coupon days at local civilian grocery stores. Commissaries don't double coupons; the stores are taxpayer-funded, sell items at cost, and make no profit that would allow them to absorb the cost of doubling coupons.
Because the local stores are more expensive than the commissary, Farley said, she visits them only to use the coupons — and doesn't allow her eyes to stray.
"I go aisle by aisle, find the item, and see if it's worth it to use the coupon," she said.
Sales and coupons help her stock up on items such as baby wipes. "Even if I don't use them within the next couple of weeks, I know I'll use them," she said.
With extra coupons, she often buys four of the same item for what it would cost to buy one.
To find a coupon exchange in your area, search online, ask your friends, or check with your family center or housing community center. Or start your own informal coupon exchange with your neighbors or other families in your unit.
There are also coupon-clippers dedicated to helping military families. For example, some residents of an apartment complex in Worcester, Mass., clip and send thousands of coupons to families at Fort Campbell, Ky.
And through the Overseas Coupon Program, families and organizations in the U.S. are "adopting" overseas bases to send coupons to military families, linked through www.ocpnet.org.
The Kiwanis Club of Oviedo-Winter Springs, Fla., began sending coupons to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, last July. By year's end, they had sent more than $43,000 worth of coupons, said retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Barnocky, a member of the club.
About half of the 25 club members have a military connection, he said. "It's a time-consuming project," he said, taking about 50 hours of work a month.
The Kiwanis members have enlisted the help of others in the community — including two Kiwanis-sponsored service clubs at middle schools as well as residents of an assisted-living facility.
Barnocky said he received an e-mail from Spangdahlem's airman and family readiness center thanking the Kiwanis Club for sending the coupons.
"I can't begin to tell you how appreciative our military families are," wrote a community readiness consultant. "It really is nice to know others are thinking about our families and helping them stretch the dollar during these difficult times."
COUPONS AT COMMISSARIES
A big benefit for military families is that commissaries overseas accept manufacturers' coupons for up to six months after they expire. Commissaries in the U.S. accept coupons, but not expired ones.
For more coupon sources, visit www.commissaries.com and click on "Links," then "Coupons."
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