Coupon trip brightens family’s holiday — and beyondWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In these tough economic times, holidays like Christmas can be especially difficult for financially struggling families. This holiday, at least one family will have an easier time not only in the short term, but for the foreseeable future.
Toledo resident Heidi Krueger Middlebrooks was chosen from nearly 100 nominated families to spend Dec. 20 shopping with Toledo’s “Extreme Couponer” Joni Meyer-Crothers, who with her family has been featured on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.” Middlebrooks went home with about $1,750 worth of groceries from the shopping trip and a donation from Meyer-Crothers’ stockpile.
“It was really cool and a lot of fun,” Middlebrooks said. “I was glad to learn from her. I learned a lot of information. It’s nice because now we have a head start.”
Meyer-Crothers partnered with Toledo Free Press to provide a better Christmas to a citizen in need, and to teach them how to shop the way she does, saving the family money in the long run.
Meyer-Crothers said she hasn’t spent $200 on groceries during a month’s time in the past three years, despite the fact she buys about $5,000-$6,000 worth of groceries each month. She donates an estimated 80 percent to organizations such as Sylvania Area Family Services.
“Just looking at what she does and what she gives [to food shelters], she is just an awesome person,” Middlebrooks said. “I was in tears for days thinking, ‘How can I accept this help?’ I am working and I am grateful to have a job, but with seven kids it doesn’t really take care of what we need to take care of. I will pay this forward 100 times over. It’s so appreciated and I will continue to be able to coupon and provide for the family with this [knowledge].”
As part of the Toledo Free Press promotion, Columbia Gas of Ohio and FirstEnergy will cover the cost of the family’s January utility bills. Columbia Gas also donated a programmable thermostat, combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector and energy-efficient showerheads, which, once installed, will save Middlebrooks an estimated $180 on her bill each year. FirstEnergy also supplied Middlebrooks with energy-efficient light bulbs and tips on how save money.
It’s neat to have that opportunity to help somebody out,” said Columbia Gas of Ohio Communications and Community Relations Manager Chris Kozak. “To help somebody start off the new year is just exciting. It’s important to be involved and we are very appreciative that Toledo Free Press asked us.”
“We thought it was a great program,” said FirstEnergy External Affairs Manager Meg Adams. “It’s the community coming together. It’s very exciting.”
FOX Toledo provided television coverage for the promotion.
Christmas is a time for kids to be able to open presents from beneath the tree and Middlebrooks has received some help making that happen. A private philanthropy group donated $250 in gift cards to Target $200 to Toys ‘R’ Us. Kroger donated a turkey for a Christmas day meal.
“That was more than we expected,” Middlebrooks said. “I was really excited to learn about the couponing process, but when you add in all the extras — we were more than grateful.”
Challenges at home
Middlebrooks is no stranger to couponing. Albeit nowhere near the level of Meyer-Crothers, she tries to save money whenever she can. At one point, she was told she didn’t qualify for food stamps because she made $14 over the cutoff. Instances like these inspired her to experiment with coupons to look for savings.
“I knew a little bit about couponing,” Middlebrooks said. “My friends always called me the ‘Coupon Queen’ too. I probably saved 20 or 30 percent — now I will save a lot more. Joni taught me how she was doing it so that I will be able to do it and continue doing it.”
Middlebrooks was a mother of two when she met boyfriend Brad Perry. The two, who have dated for six years, moved in together, bringing Perry’s four children into the home. They later had a son together, giving the home a total of nine occupants.
Living with so many people has been further complicated with the struggles Perry, a self-employed brick mason, has faced seeking work. He stays home to take care of the kids, some of whom have health challenges. That leaves the family dependent on Middlebrooks’ salary as a parent educational case worker at Lucas County Children Services.
“Unfortunately, the way the economy is there’s not as many people doing building or repairing to their homes,” Middlebrooks said. “This year he has not worked hardly at all, so it’s my income that’s trying to support seven kids and two adults. Bills have got us behind a little bit so it’s nice to know that we have some help with those.”
“I’m just grateful,” Perry said. “Everything else will fall into place. Money will get better, we will be able to help pay bills back.”
Those struggles would have impacted Christmas this year for Middlebrooks and her family. Before being chosen for the promotion, she said she had told her children, who range in age from 4 to 19, that there would not be presents this year.
“We told the kids, especially the older ones, that this year was not a good year for us,” Middlebrooks said. “We said, ‘You are going to be without [presents] … We really just can’t do as much as we want to for you.’”
The shopping experience
For as positive of an experience as the trip was, it was not without its drama. A shipment of coupons scheduled to be delivered to Meyer-Crother’s home were lost in the mail.
“I was very sad my coupons didn’t come in,” Meyer-Crothers said. “I overnighted them but all the post office could say was, ‘I’m sorry.’ We were going to do about $600 and it was only going to be about 50 cents.”
As a result, Meyer-Crothers wasn’t able to quite replicate the success she usually has, but the “Extreme Couponer” still provided outstanding results at Kroger on King Road.
Middlebrooks left with $256.08 worth of products for a total of $41.58, which was paid for by Toledo Free Press. She also received an estimated $1,500 worth of products from Meyer-Crothers’ personal stockpile at home.
Middlebrooks will receive a special order of 100 boxes of rice delivered to the store to use with 100 coupons Meyer-Crothers provided. With the coupons, the rice will cost just $9, or nine cents per box.
Despite saving nearly 84 percent on the grocery bill, Meyer-Crothers wasn’t satisfied. She informed Middlebrooks that she would take her shopping again in the future, this time with her full arsenal of coupons.
“I’m going to take her again once the coupons come,” Meyer-Crothers said. “We will wait for a better sale than the one this week, but we got them a good Christmas basket and gave almost $1,500 from our stockpile.”
More than a one-time gift
Meyer-Crothers made sure that this wouldn’t be just a single boost for Middlebrooks and her family. Meyer-Crothers, who teaches an extreme couponing class at her church, talked her through the experience, giving her tips to save on groceries.
“She was able to see what’s going on,” said Meyer-Crothers’ husband, Jamie. “That’s what was good about this. She learned how to do it.”
Some strategies include saving the coupon until the item goes on sale and ordering coupons from services in Florida and Texas, which offer more of a discount.
Not only does Middlebrooks want to continue to coupon, she wants to pass along the knowledge to others. She plans on teaching extreme couponing to her classes at Lucas County Children Services.
“My main thing from the beginning was to be able to help other people too, not only for myself but to be able to teach other people to do it,” Middlebrooks said. “I can’t wait to teach that to some of our parents. We know their dollars aren’t that great and to be able to teach them how to stretch their dollars and make things last is going to be wonderful.”
“That’s passing the blessing on,” Jamie said. “We helped her and she is in turn going to help other people in her situation.
“That’s all we can ask for.”