Yesterday I did some creative couponing that netted me four brand new, brand-name boxes of cereal for a dollar. We don’t actually eat cereal, but we have house guests coming who do, so I wanted one box for them. My choice was to spend $2.50 for one box, or $1 for four. So, thanks to the joys of grocery store math, I decided to buy four boxes and donate the excess three to a food drive.

How the Deal Went Down
This was a spectacular deal, but you do see things like this at the grocery store a few times a year. It’s a great opportunity to stock up on food drive donations so you can help those who are less fortunate.

It started with a special:
General Mills cereal for $1.50 per box if you bought four boxes in one transaction, otherwise it was $2.50 a box. If you bought four boxes, you also got $4 off your grocery order.
So, $6 -$4=$2 for four boxes. Not bad, just 50 cents each.
But it got better. I had a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes. My store only doubles up to $1 max, so $2-$1=$1 for four boxes.
I could have gotten the cereal free if I’d had one more coupon with a value of 50 cents or more, but I settled for 25 cents per box.

What to Watch Out For
When you’re doing deals like this with an eye toward donating the excess you won’t eat, always check the condition of the donated item. Choose cans or boxes that don’t have dents or tears, because the food bank may not be able to accept it. You should also check the expiration date. Make sure that it’s far enough away that you’ll have time to find a food drive and the food bank will have time to distribute your items before it expires. In my case, the cereal doesn’t expire until October, 2010.

Creative Couponing Opportunities
All though super-amazing deals like the cereal deal are less frequent, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities. Personal care items are a big one for super deals, and charities always need things like toothpaste, shampoo, and diapers, which are donated less frequently than food. Here are a few creative coupon methods to score free or cheap items to donate:

B1G1 or BOGO Deals – Combine a buy one, get one free special with a coupon. You’ll get the single item you wanted very cheap, plus a free one to donate.

Close-outs – Sometimes close-outs are too close to the expiration date to make it a good deal, but not always. You might see a big sale on something like cranberry sauce after the holidays. It’s not expired, but the store knows it won’t sell. Charities, on the other hand, don’t care if cranberry sauce is a holiday item. A close-out may also occur if the store is scheduling a remodel or phasing out a brand. I’ve seen close-outs for a packaging change, too. When Tropicana’s new package flopped, they significantly marked down their juice to get rid of the new cartons before re-releasing the old design.

Rebates - Several times a year, a manufacturer will offer a rebate for certain grocery or personal care products. Buy twice as much as you need. Donate half, and then keep the rest to submit your labels for the rebate. Often you’ll at least cover the cost of the donated food, and might even make a little extra on the deal.

Free with Purchase – This happens more often at Costco, but I’ve also seen it at Target and grocery stores. Sometimes the manufacturer will bundle a product with a sample size. Donate the sample sizes and it costs you nothing. I have one sample size of my shampoo, body wash, etc. If you need the sample size for traveling, keep one that you can refill (the top comes off if you pull hard enough) and donate the rest.

If you watch your coupons and store circulars carefully, you can score lots of free or nearly free items that are perfect donations to a food drive. Why not use some of your good fortune to help someone else?

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