When you clip coupons in hopes of matching them up to a sale, you’ll inevitably end up with some coupons that expire without you using them. I try to go through my coupon organizer once a week, culling expired coupons and adding new ones to my inventory. I usually just recycle the expired ones, but I recently found out about a way to give them new life!

Apparently on military bases, coupons can be used up to 6 months past their expiration date. There’s an organization called the Overseas Coupon Program that gathers coupons from people like me and distributes them to families on base. I’ll warn you, their website is pretty ungainly, but it seems like a worthy enough cause that I persevered.

To begin the process, you choose an available base to “adopt.” It seems like you can send coupons without having done this, but they’d prefer to know where people are committed so that they can “close” certain bases if enough people have selected it. I chose a U. S. Marine Corps base in Japan, for the somewhat arbitrary reason that A.’s dad was in the Marines and they lived over there for a few years of his childhood. Once you fill out a short form to adopt the base, they ask that you report your totals, divided into food and non-food, so they can know what to expect. I ended up having around $34 worth of coupons to send! (My number of expired coupons was particularly high this time because many expired at the end of the year.)

You’re then supposed to bundle them up and take them to the post office to mail. The address where I was sending them is an FPO box, so it actually only requires domestic postage. The mailing instructions on the website made it sound like it might be pretty tedious getting the envelope out; they discuss at length what method is best to use and how to fill out the customs form. I decided not to mess with priority mail or anything and just used a regular envelope. Also, when I got to the post office to ask for help with customs, the clerk told me it was considered a letter and thus didn’t need a customs form! I’m not sure whether he led me astray or if the information on the website is outdated or overly cautious. Either way, my envelope cost $0.64 (because of its weight, not the international factor), and I just stuck 2 forever stamps on it and tossed it in the outgoing mail. That’s probably how I’ll do it next time, too, so I sure hope it gets there! You can request a confirmation email from the OCP, but otherwise I don’t think you have any way of tracking or following up on your coupons. They liken it to giving blood, where you won’t hear from the recipient of your donation and just have to trust in the system that it did its good work. I’m okay with that–for $0.64 and not too much skin off my back, if my expired coupons have even a chance at a second life it’s worth it.

I felt a little funny about doing this at first, because I’m not 100% sure how I feel about war, etc. But ultimately that’s not what this is about. It’s about families (who likely aren’t actively fighting) who are in a tough position away from family and friends. I’m picturing a young mother who probably doesn’t WANT to be in Japan and is struggling to make ends meet walking into the PX and seeing a stack of coupons and being able to breathe a sigh of relief that she can pay for her groceries. That’s why I’m giving this a shot. I won’t mail coupons every week–I’ll let them build up until I have a decent sized packet again, since the OCP only asks that you send them within 2 months of their expiration. I might also start clipping coupons for baby care items, since I would not be using those right now and I can imagine that’s an area that gets really expensive. My only fear is that for some reason my coupons won’t reach their destination, but I guess that’s a risk you take when mailing anything. All in all, I think this is a cool program that I’m glad to contribute to!

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman