Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Coupon Queen

When I was a little girl, I loved playing paper dolls. Do little girls still do that? It took lots of time and concentration to cut the doll out just right. (Fingers and feet where so easy to snip through). And then the clothes, pages and pages of clothes with those paper tabs that held the outfits in place.

So what happens to little girls who cut out paper dolls when they grow up and get married? They turn into Coupon Queens, trading paper bike shorts and evening gowns for fifty-cents off on a bottle of mayonnaise and a dollar fifty off on cases of diapers.

With the recession hitting so many of us below the belt, coupon clipping has become all the rage. Here in my county, the local newspaper has embraced this fad by hiring a coupon clipping expert to help guide her readers through the always confusing, but sometimes profitable world of cut out money. She instructs her readers to purchase binders and fill them with plastic sheets used to organize trading cards and load them with the coupons they collect. It is not an unusual sight on a Saturday morning to see a focused shopper with a binder full of coupons open in her cart and more coupons fanned out in her hand analyzing the volume of a box of cereal to make sure the product and the coupons match.

Never one to be left out of the current craze, I decided to jump into the coupon madness with both feet. I signed up to receive FIVE Sunday newspapers, each the size of a large chunk of firewood. The purpose of the FIVE Sunday papers is, of course, to have five times the coupons to choose from, but there are other benefits as well - everyone gets their own copy of the comics, and there's even an extra copy to leave in the bathroom for those who need entertainment while using the facilities.

Once the papers have arrived and are hauled into the house and dumped on the kitchen table, the real fun begins. Among the colored ads for popular clothing, hardware and office supply stores are hidden the real treasures. The coupon booklets - one, two sometimes three different ones. It's better than an Easter egg hunt.

Once the coveted booklets are found, we get to scan through them, searching for prizes beyond our wildest imagination. Like a dollar off of the bathroom cleaner with the tiny bubbles that cleans a toilet while singing Just A Spoon Full of Sugar. You've seen the commercials. Even as you watch, they makes quick work of the grossest stains.

"Can we really get it?" ask my children in wide eyed wonderment?

Normally, I stick with the bargain brand of toilet cleaner myself. It doesn't actually clean, but it makes the water so blue that you don't even notice how the bowl is still dirty. But with a dollar off coupon, the sky is the limit.

There are other coupons as well. Shampoos of every color, scent and bottle size just waiting to be purchased at forty cents off when you buy two. And frozen foods you wouln't give a second glance in the store, but are suddenly irresistible when you can buy one and get a bag of frozen french fries free.

And the dog food. You know, I have a hard enought time coming up with meals that my kids like beyond the basic Mac and Cheese and Hot Dogs in a bun. Why would I worry about variety in my dogs meals? But there must be people out there who thrive on purchasing little cans of gourment meat chunks seasoned with oregano in a red whine sauce (whine... dogs... get it? But I digress).

So after a lengthy conversation with my family, the coupons we want are chosen and the cutting begins. Hours of cutting, piles of newsprint tossed into the garbage and the painstaking process of finding just the right place in my coupon binder for each coupon. Do cookies go in Breads and Grains or in Misc? And if I have a catagory called Junk Food, can I ever save enough money on it to make the purchase worthwhile? These are the philosophical questions I face each week. It's no wonder I never have time to actually read any of the FIVE Sunday newspapers.

But at last, the coupon are filed away and the newspapers are in the recycle bin (the least I can do after killing all those trees to save a few cents on yogurt that comes in a rainbow of colors and can be used as finger paint). Then the real work begins.

Sure you can save forty cents on a bag of hamburger buns, but the big money comes when you combine your coupon with a sale!!! This is where the true coupon queens really shine. You get an ad from a grocery store that is selling its Marshmallow and Chocolate Sugar Crispi Cereal for $1.50, a 50% savings off retail. Then you add your forty cent coupon on top of that. Well, I don't have to spell it out for you. Big BIG savings!

(Disclaimer - Savings does not take into account the cost of the dental bill incurred from your children eating too many bowls of Marshmallow and Chocolate Sugar Crispi Cereal.)

You may be laughing out there, but truthfully, this stuff is addicting. (The coupon clipping not the sugary cereal). I actually embarrassed the life out of my son by picking up coupons that someone had dropped in the grocery store parking lot, and yelling, "Eureka, I struck Gold!"

Granted it's not always feasible to use coupons, and sometimes, no matter what, the bargain brand is just a better deal. But other times, despite all the craziness involved, coupons can actually save you money.

My son got tired of his electric razor and wanted a closer shave so he decided to buy a straight edge razor.

"Don't go yet," I called to him as he headed out to his car. "I think I have a coupon for that."

Sure enough, I did. Four dollars off, in fact.

An hour later I got a call from him."So the razor was normally ten ninety-nine and the store had it market down to six. After the four dollar coupon I only paid two bucks. Is that great or what?"

I could only smile. My son's a coupon queen.

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