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Friday, October 14, 2011

Extreme Couponer or Desperate Housewife?

When I was a kid, my mom was the crazy Coupon Lady. It was well-known on post, and in the base housing neighborhood where we lived, my mom made it clear that if you didn't want your coupons, she was happy to take them. I would come home from school and there would be coupons in a little bin that my mom left on our back porch just for that reason. We were the coupon clearing house of the naval air station. One of my after-school chores, after homework of course, was to sit at the table and clip coupons and sort them into piles. My mom would then file them into shoeboxes. Yes, that's plural; shoesboxES. I hated it. It embarrassed me.

The embarrassment escalated as she carried those boxes into the commissary. I walked many paces behind her from the car to the store. I tried to distance myself from her obsession. To no avail, because we lived on a small base and everyone knew everyone. Grocery shopping took hours as she sifted through her boxes and pulled her coupons. Part of my job was to carry the coupons we would use. She'd hand them to me and say; "Don't lose these, Babe. These are money!" I'd roll my eyes and hide behind the stacked cartons of Quaker Oats when I'd see someone I knew. God forbid Candy Evans, the Captain's daughter should walk in. Not that she would. I mean, I don't think I EVER saw her or her mom at the PX or commissary, but..you know, it could happen and if it did, I'd be mortified.

Then came the ultimate disgrace; checkout. My mom would carefully empty her cart and at this point, I was required to stand next to her. Why? Because as she unloaded her cart, item by item, she would have me put the coupon for each item on top of that item. I don't know if this is because it was the way the cashier wanted it to be done, but that's definitely the way my mom wanted it to be done. This process was also tedious and took some time. The kind of time that makes the people behind you cringe. When you're a kid, this kind of attention is unwanted. I couldn't shrink small enough. However, I began to notice that curious onlookers would gather at the end of our line, watching as my mom simultaneously kept watch over the items on the conveyor, the checker as she entered the items (remember, back then, the cash registers had TONS of rows of buttons that had to be manually pushed), and the bag boy as he bagged the groceries.

Not the least of her concerns, she kept an eagle-eye to make sure the checker discounted each one of her coupons. I remember distinctly the clickety-clack sound as the checker punched away at the numbers. Our small audience now holding their breath to see how much she actually saved, and then the applause and mouth-agape disbelief as the checker announced that on her $115.00 bill (that was a BIG grocery bill in 1969), she owed $1.02. On some trips, the checker actually paid my mother.

This was a ritual my whole life while I lived at home. My embarrassment never waivered. It never stopped bothering me. I never appreciated my mother's tenaciousness, her efforts, or her obsession. Now, I'm embarrassed that I never told her. More than that, I wish I had really learned and absorbed what she knew. Instead, I went the complete opposite direction. I threw coupons away, I NEVER used coupons. Ever. I was "too good" to use coupons. Coupon shopping was beneath me. Times have changed. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Or maybe, just smarter living.

I have recently announced to my family that I am going to pick up my mother's torch. For the two weeks I was away from home, taking care of my friend's home and dog, I had lots of time to reflect. I haven't been able to find a job, and despite the number of interviews I've been on and resumes I've submitted, I've still come up empty-handed. We've really had to cut corners. I can see the worry building up in my husband's face. He doesn't complain, but it's pretty evident. I've tried to be creative and stretch meal recipes. Neither one of us has bought a new item of clothing in many, many months. I got rid of my Android, and we cut our cell service to the very basic. We're about to get rid of cable. We both drive very, very old vehicles that have seen better days. No A/C, no frills..that's not easy in the SoCal heat. The one thing we've kept is "date night". It's the one thing in our 31 years together that we have never, nor will be ever get rid of. That's not negotiable. Other than that, we are looking at things that we really don't NEED and dispensing of those things.

I don't envision myself going "extreme" or being as good as my mother was at this. But I'm going to give it my best effort. If I can save as much as I was making working part-time at the flower shop, it will be worth it. The money I made at the flower shop went straight to tuition expenses. If I can recoup that in another way, and if that way is by couponing, I'll do it. I'm not going the shoebox route, but I have invested in a binder, and I'm using the Grommet's old hockey card collection inserts as coupon holders. I've also put the word out to friends and family that I'm couponing and recycling. When I mentioned this to Charlie, Caris, and Bryson, they were thrilled. I expected a reaction much like the 1969 Pua. I didn't get that. I got complete and utter support. Everyone was completely on-board. In fact, Caris gave me some very good money-saving ideas that I implemented, and have already paid off.

Last night, I envisioned my mother looking down from heaven and laughing her ass off in that "I told you so" kind of way. I deserve it. She's entitled. Better late than never, Mom. Better late than never.

*Postscript: Yesterday, after my very first couponing trip to the grocery store, and saving $152.91 (43% savings on our total bill), Charlie just couldn't wait to tell everyone he talked to about it. He kept saying: "Man, if that's just after your FIRST time couponing, I can hardly wait to see what happens on future trips!" He made me feel so terrific and kept thanking me for my hard work. I'm feeling very appreciated. :)