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After her husband was laid off three years ago from his job in the automotive industry, Joni Meyer-Crothers needed a way to cut the family's budget.
One of the biggest expenses, the monthly mortgage, couldn't be cut, but she decided to try another way to save money, telling her husband and seven children, "Let's try couponing."
What began as a much-needed budget-saving effort has turned into a ministry.
Mrs. Meyer-Crothers of Sylvania said a friend helped her when she started out.
"She showed me two items that I could get for free," Mrs. Meyer-Crothers said. "I thought if I can get two, there has to be a lot of items I can get for free."
After realizing how much she could get for free, Mrs. Meyer-Crothers began donating some of the items as a ministry to help others in need. She said the family gives about 80 percent of the items they get through couponing to Sylvania Area Family Services.
Jason Robertson, executive director of Sylvania Area Family Services, said, "Joni has been a stroke of luck" to the organization.
"Her family has been so supportive of the community in general," Mr. Robertson said. "I can't say enough about her lifelong mission of giving back with the time and treasures that she has."
Mr. Robertson said the organization never has to worry about Mrs. Meyer-Crothers checking the dates on any of the items she donates, and they always trust that the products are good.
"A lot of what she donates are personal care items, which come in handy because those aren't covered by food stamps, so they become critical to the families we help."
On average, Mrs. Meyer-Crothers and her family spend no more than five hours a week couponing. This includes searching for some coupons, clipping them, and even shopping.
Mrs. Meyer-Crothers looks to blogs around the Internet and the Sunday newspaper to get a feel for which coupons are out there and to help compare sales. She orders other coupons through a clipping service.
Mrs. Meyer-Crothers and her family keep their grocery bill to $200 a month or less, spending about an even percentage on food items and others such as toiletries.
Depending on sales, the family can wind up going to the stores three or four times a week, but there are times when they go two weeks without setting foot inside a store at all.
Recently, Mrs. Meyer-Crothers was featured on the TLC cable channel show Extreme Couponing. Cameras followed her around at the Kroger store at 7545 Sylvania Ave. during her mission to purchase about $3,100 worth of items without spending over $100.
Thanks to her coupons, Mrs. Meyer-Crothers left the store with all the items on her list and spent only $45.
Although it was a little nerve-wracking having cameras in her face, Mrs. Meyer-Crothers said that her faith helped her get through it.
"We are very positive and spiritual people," Mrs. Meyer-Crothers said. "We prayed over it when it got taped that day and we knew God was going to take care of all the details."
She taught a couponing class at the Wood County Public Library in Bowling Green last weekend, sharing her couponing strategies with others.
Reference librarian Kristin Wetzel said more than 75 people signed up, and 10 of them were put on a waiting list because of limited space.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the economy," Ms. Wetzel said. "Any way to save money at this point."
Not everyone is a fan of extreme couponing, however.
John Morgan, executive of the Association of Coupon Professionals, said extreme couponers undermine the industry. "It upsets retailers and consumers," Mr. Morgan said. "A lot of things you see on those shows violate redemption policies of the manufacturers and retailers."
Mr. Morgan said people don't need to spend outrageous numbers of hours a week, but only minutes looking through the Sunday paper or through Internet coupon sites.
"Try some new brands that you haven't before. You can even find coupons in stores. Just have fun with it," he said "You don't have to spend 40 hours a week. You can spend 15 or 20 minutes and save 10 or 15 percent."
Mrs. Meyer-Crothers said a big reason she liked going on the TV show was to be able to spread her message and show how easy it is to give back.
"It is possible to give that much away. That's my mission in life: passing the blessing on," Mrs. Meyer-Crothers said. "I challenge everybody to pick up four items and donate them."
Contact Payton Willey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6065