Hannah Steinberg has donated more than $100,000 in goods to charity thanks to a skill she learned on reality TV.
As a teen in Scarsdale, New York, Steinberg saw an episode of a series about extreme couponing – the practice of making extensive use of coupons and promotions to save serious money by buying products in bulk. She liked the concept, but was left with a burning question: What would one person do with so much of one product?
“I saw all of these people had these stockpiles of stuff and I was shocked they would keep it for themselves and they wouldn’t do anything with it,” Steinberg, now 20, tells PEOPLE. “They’d have like 50 cans of tomato sauce and they’d never be able to use all of it.”
Inspired by the techniques she saw depicted by people on the show, Steinberg resolved to make extreme couponing work for a cause. To date, the Tufts University junior has donated more than $100,000 in food, toiletries and school supplies to family shelters, children’s hospitals and international aid organizations.
Steinberg began collecting items while still in high school as part of her school’s community service requirement, and quickly learned that keeping track of all of those newspapers inserts, deadlines and promotions was harder than it looked. Still, she did her best and her parents drove her first donation to a nearby family shelter.
“There’s definitely a learning curve,” she says. “I think the first delivery I gave them three toothbrushes and a few yogurts. It was so bad I honestly probably didn’t save that much money because I had no clue what I was doing.”
Still, she was determined. She poured $500 she had saved from babysitting into the endeavor and set up a spreadsheet to track promotions. Increasing her investment and upping her game paid off in a big way, as she was able to donate much needed food and school supplies to her local shelter.
Feeling inspired, she sent her parents’ coworkers a photo of her first big donation along with a message. “I said, ‘If you donate $500 to another charity that’s amazing, but that $500 is only $500 – look what I was able to get for that amount.’ ”
Her pitch worked. A family friend even helped her set up a 501c3 so that donations to the charity she named Our Coupons Care would be tax-deductible.
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Now, what started on a whim one lazy day in high school has become a huge part of Steinberg’s life.
“If you would’ve told me three years ago that in college I would still be doing this I would’ve been like, ‘Nope, that’s absolutely impossible,’ ” she says with a laugh. “But I think I just missed it so much so I definitely think that as long as there are funds to keep going up I will definitely be doing it.”
Steinberg says her secret to balancing her busy school schedule – including a double major in psychology and child development – and her passion project is a combination of an Excel spreadsheet, time off for holidays and help from friends.
“I’m really lucky to have such supportive friends that will come and help me and do the trips with me, so it’s really fun,” she says.
Her ultimate hope is that more people will learn about what she’s accomplished and be inspired to try it out themselves.
“It’s definitely something that I can teach people and that’s the ultimate goal,” she says. “If everybody could realize that coupons can really save you a lot of money it could really change a lot of lives.”