Sue Field is a conscientious coupon collector with super-saving shopping acumen.
Commandeering her cart up and down every supermarket and drugstore aisle, Field is on a mission.
Specifically, the UCC’s Mission: 1.
“I call it extreme couponing,” says Field, a member of Holmdel (N.J.)Community UCC. “I am very detail-oriented, somewhat obsessive and rather competitive, so it has become rather like playing a computer game. But instead of winning points, I win food.”
Field’s market magic is now focused on the UCC’s Mission: 1 campaign, which plays on the UCC’s motto, “That they may all be 1,” Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11). During those 11 days, the UCC aims to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks and collect $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related causes, while marshaling its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
One of the primary benefactors of Field’s shopping sojourns is the food pantry supported by her church. “I recently made a shopping trip that yielded about $65 worth of groceries and drugstore items for the food pantry at a net cost to me of $5.60,” she said. “If you get things on a good sale and have a good coupon, you can often get them for free, or very nearly free.”
A pantry drop-off worth $200-$300 is not unusual, Field said. “But it’s usually five or six sacks of groceries, toiletries and medicines. It will still add up to hundreds of sacks of groceries and thousands of dollars worth of food over the course of a year.”
Field and her husband, William, have set a maximum weekly donation amount of $50. “It’s really unusual for me to spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a grocery haul, and very often I spend about 10 percent of the shelf price of a purchase,” she said.
Initially, Field bought only for her family, stockpiling non-perishable items she purchased at “rock-bottom prices or for free.”
“Then the university where my husband teaches started a food drive,” she said. “The first category was cereal. Coincidentally, there was an excellent deal on General Mills cereal in that week, and I sent William off to work with giant sacks loaded with 28 boxes of cereal. By my calculations, I actually made $2.79 in the course of acquiring this cereal.”
Field encourages the use of coupons good for discounts on future purchases. “You can get all kinds of free merchandise –– medicines, toiletries and food –– at pharmacies,” she says. “Walgreen’s is the couponer’s Mecca.”
She also credits a blog maintained by Cindy Livesey as a huge help.
“Cindy publishes several-times-daily updates of what is on sale where, and what also has coupons,” said Field. “She has a massive database of online and newspaper coupons, and she gives match-ups for most of the local stores. Cindy is a strong advocate for ‘Couponing for a Cause,’ as she calls it –– using coupons to get food for food banks and pantries.”
Field noted that “power couponing” success –– as worthwhile and rewarding as it is –– does not occur overnight. “It takes a while to build up an inventory of coupons and to develop a sense of what’s a super-good deal and what’s not,” she says.
Come fall, Field says she will be prepared for the Mission: 1 homestretch.
“My hope is that I can run a workshop or two after church in September and get a gang of shoppers armed with the know-how so that they can go forth and coupon their way into a massive pile of food by the time November comes along.
“I could see that this could go viral with only a little effort,” Field added. “I can’t be the only skilled couponer in the UCC who could get a congregation fired up to do this.”