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Becky does Xtreme sports (well, if shopping is a sport)

January 25, 2012

Earlier today I had a conversation with a friend about extreme couponing.  I don’t know what you think of when you hear the term “extreme couponing,”  but I kinda imagine a perky snowboarder with a Kroger ad decoupaged on her board:

This lame graphic took me about 30 minutes of precious State of the Union watching time and it still looks like crud. My imagination, however, is high-res and better than Photoshop, so boom.

My friend was talking about how women at her church got really into couponing.  (I swear, WordPress spellchecker, it’s a VERB now.)  I told her half the time you end up buying food you would never even eat.  Or just too much of a sorta-good thing.  “What do you even do with some of that stuff?  The buy ‘3 get 1 frees?  All that random food!”  ‘She quipped in character, “I feed my kids PowerAde popsicles and Butterfinger casserole.”

People are getting crazy out there about couponing.  There’s a reality show now.  Every other day there’s someone on the Today show waving their 6-packs of free yogurts in our faces and telling us we should be working the system, too.  Now, I love a good deal.  And I love me some free stuff.  Also the blue dot dollar bins at Target (undying affection).  But it can get out of hand.

I saw an Oprah show once where her audience passed a table of left shoes marked “free” on their way into the studio.  Almost everyone took one.  Just the one left shoe.  No promise of a right shoe.  Just because it was free.  She asked the audience members why they did it.  They were there.  They were free.  While I’m a fan of repurposing odd objects, I’d be hard-pressed to find a way to upcycle a navy pump.  Maybe Etsy or Pinterest…But I digress.

One of those times I was involved in MOPS, we had a professional extreme couponer (-or?) come to speak.  She was hard. core.  I think she told us she had, like, 12 kids or something epically maternal.  She had a two folding-church-tables display of groceries set out.  Women getting their brunch just walked by and marveled at the thing.  Look at all that Zatarain’s. Like Mardi Gras in a box. Or four.

She began her talk that morning with a question for the crowd (said in my memory with the panache and enunciation of that soccer announcer guy): “How much do you think I paid for that whooooole table of food?”

I looked at the table of “food.” About 1/3 of it was cleaning products (1/3 of that was Cascade alone).  The rest of the actual[-ish] food came from that perilous “middle of the store” zone that Michael Pollan warned us about.  Thanks, by the way, Mr. Pollan.  Every time I need to get some pasta I’m tempted to break into a belly crawl for fear that the Hamburger Helper will poison me for just looking at it.

That hand is up to somethin'. Where's the thumb, anyway?

But I digress…

I surveyed the table and found very little there I’d actually buy.  It was all name-brand things, and all the priciest brands to boot.  Every item judging me for my Malt-o-Meal moments of weakness (it’s an entire bag of cereal for, like, 8 cents.  C’mon!).  But the Dutchess of Discounts had thrown down her gauntlet and, like a sucker, I took the bait.  I began wondering about her grocery tab.

Suddenly, women started shouting out prices.  “20 dollars!” “18!” “32!” and the more nuanced, “7.50!”  I jumped in with my guess, feeling a little like that last Price is Right contestant called down the aisle to bid on a China hutch she didn’t even want.  But I wanted to prove myself the riskiest and most clever pricer, so in that great PiR tradition, I hollered, “ONE DOLLAR!”

“Nope.  All wrong,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.  “I was paid $20 for these groceries.” Paid?!!  What. Game-changer.  The crowd was riveted.  No one was leaving the room to check on their kid.  Not a muffin was moving on our plates.  “And I’ll give you some tips today on how to get started couponing like this.  For anyone who’s interested, I have a flyer for the class I teach on couponing.  The fee is reasonable considering all you learn and all you’ll save with my…”

My interest fell off sharply at that point.  Clearly this wasn’t The Price is Right, but some kind of housewife Ponzi scheme.  Like all those “parties” we throw to get a free piece of stoneware.  The rest of the morning went thusly: we’d get a teeny bit of information “categorize your coupons” and then a pitch to learn more at the couponing workshop, “I tell my students what my categories are…in my class.”

Look, like I said, I love a good deal.  Coupons are great.  Some people make a game out of it.  A few manage to turn it into a nearly-shady career.  Some use them to feed their growing family, or fend on a single person’s budget.  Others use coupons to stock up so they can share food with their community.  But make no mistake, coupons (like the Dutchess’ “lesson” that day) are essentially promotions.  Coupons are a way for them to get us to buy their stuff.  We can’t all game the system.  A few of us might get away with it, but by-and-large, coupon-clipping probably shouldn’t be your job.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
-Proverbs 23:4-5

You don’t need 40 gallons of PowerAde.  Or 9 family-sized bags of Cheetos (3 will do just fine.  Glutton.).  You don’t need that much macaroni and no one in your immediate family (or all of America) likes Butterfingers enough to eat 14 bars of them.  There’s a point where our attempt to control our budget makes us lose control of all reason.  And if that happens, who knows what kind of monosodium-glutamated freakshow will take the opportunity to sneak in:

Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.
-Proverbs 25:28

We shouldn’t seize every “deal” that crosses our path.  And I don’t care if Kroger gave me $20 to buy all the bagged, boxed, and bulk-packed crap above.  You couldn’t pay me to eat a Butterfinger casserole.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. TCF permalink
    January 26, 2012 1:43 am

    The photo alone would make this post an epic win, but then you threw in Zatarain’s. Excellent.

    Also, couldn’t agree more.

  2. claudia permalink
    January 26, 2012 7:46 pm

    Can I have THIRTY gallons of PowerAde?

    Seriously, this is a great post. So much of our bargain-hunting is actually greed. I will try to remember that.

    • bnbecky permalink*
      January 27, 2012 10:04 pm

      Can you and should you are two different things. 😉 I have the same question about Cheetos, personally.

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