Would you like to save money and be ready to minister when a need arises?
Teresa Robinson of Climax Springs believes couponing fills the bill — actually cuts it, often by more than half and allows avid coupon users the ability to meet emergency food needs rapidly at a low cost.
"Most start out because someone [in the family] is without a job or needs help," Robinson explained. "The economy is also driving people to be more careful with money."
The brink of bankruptcy pushed Teresa to give couponing a try. Four years ago, she and her family were deeply in debt and faced losing everything. Then, she and her husband signed up for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course and learned that cutting food costs was an immediate step they could take.
The family used to spend about $150 each week at the grocery store. By couponing, Robinson has cut the bill to about $45-50. The $100 she would have spent was redirected to debt retirement. "We started leaning on the Lord…and we'll be debt free in January," she said.
In addition to the financial reward for her family, Robinson discovered ways to minister to others. First, she always has items on hand that can be given to those who need help. "When I find people who have suffered a loss, I can get together a basket of food and supplies," she said.
Second, she is training others to reap the benefits of couponing and using the practice in ministry.
Asked to share the concept with a small group, Robinson hesitated. "God kept opening the door but I didn't think I could do it," she said. But that opportunity led to others, and since then, the demand for her expertise has resulted in leading two workshops each week on average and giving up her job cleaning houses.
Not only is the current upswing in the interest in couponing fueled by economic woes, Robinson believes. Fear of the future and the popularity of the television show "Extreme Couponing" also play into the fad.
Unlike many of the couponers highlighted on the program, Robinson doesn't stockpile items or buy what she doesn't use just because she has coupons for them. Because she doesn't own a dishwasher, for example, she does not purchase dishwasher detergent unless she knows of someone else who needs it.
She is a bit frustrated by the hoarding the show often depicts, particularly by those who clear out closets or shelves to fill with groceries they don't need and may not use, she said.
"It's not about fear. It's not about hoarding when a neighbor is doing without. Ultimately, God is our source, period," she emphasized.
Because of her concern for those who face tragedy or economic needs, Robertson emphasizes at her workshops the ministry couponing can open — even for churches.
After attending Robinson's workshop, Rae Lynn Hearst, a member of Westview Missionary Baptist Church in Jefferson City, now uses couponing to minister to the church, an area food bank, the Salvation Army and a local ministry center. She is able to supply the cleaning products and paper goods the church needs, and food and other items to the organizations. Hearst also ministers to a specific family.
By using coupons for purchasing sale items, she is able to get many things at no cost. In fact, all the toiletries given away through the congregation's shoebox ministry this year were free.
Hearst's experience has attracted other members and several are beginning to use couponing as ministry.
Some churches, such as Northgate Baptist Church in Kansas City, encourage members to bring in coupons they don't need. Others can browse through them and take what they can use.
In September, the Clay-Platte Baptist Association hosted a couponing workshop targeted to churches to help them learn to incorporate coupon use to stock their food pantries and to help the homeless.
To get maximum benefit, people who coupon must spend a lot of time collecting them and coordinating use with sales in their regions. They also must work to keep their coupons organized. These days, a lot of websites are available to help avid couponers — everything from clipping services from which coupons can be purchased, either singly or entire inserts.
Both Robinson and Hearst declare serving others is well worth the time and energy.