The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Super Couponing – Unmasked

Did you watch that new show, Extreme Couponers on TLC last week? The one that should be subtitled: Slightly More Functional Hoarders Whose Families Have Yet to Stage an Intervention? I watched it. I mostly felt compelled to tune in because my husband has apparently been telling his coworkers, “My wife totally does that.” I think it’s cute that he pays enough attention to notice that we have coupons in the house, but not enough to realize we don’t have 1/3 of our living space devoted to a stockpile of free or nearly free items.

So just to set the record straight (especially if you’re one of Jason’s coworkers); extreme couponer, I am not. I do, however, have a small collection of things we use regularly like toothpaste, broth, tuna fish, hair dye, etc. Yes, that’s right, I have 15 boxes of dark brown hair dye of various brands upstairs in my master linen closet. I know what you’re thinking: She dyes her hair? But it looks so natural. I would never imagine that someone would make their hair look like that on purpose. I always just assumed she was born folicularly challenged… Hey. That’s not nice. And all over brown is better than, Hey, do you have dandruff? Oh, no wait, that’s just your embarrassing premature grey problem.

Now that we’re on the same page about my hair color, you’re thinking she’s a wack-a-do who has a two year stash of hair dye squirreled away so when the apocalypse occurs she’ll still have nice brown roots in her fallout shelter underground, aren’t you?

Let me break it down for you:

At the salon I get my hair cut from, a dye job plus a tip = $65. So 15 dye jobs over two years = $975

If I purchased the dye every six weeks or so when I need it (when it’s not likely on sale) = $10/box = $150

Purchased in bulk when hair dye is on special and I have coupons for it = $2.50/box = $37.50 for two years of lovely brown roots.

See there, now you get it. Now you don’t think I’m a wacko; you understand that my hair dye squirreling away leaves me with tons of extra cash for boxed wine and fancy gardening gloves. I’m not going to detail out my home bikini waxing system, but suffice it to say it’s also a financial boon for our family.

I do have a bone to pick with that couponing show (besides the fact that it feeds the OCD nature of people who should really be institutionalized for their own health and safety). It completely over-simplifies the coupon shopping process. It makes it all seem so easy you start to wonder why you’re the only sucker who pays $213 for $213 worth of groceries.

Take for instance, a typical shopping trip as evidenced on the show:

  • Crazy woman in her mid-30s with nothing to live for but her children and family obsessively checks the internet for things she can get for free.
  • Crazy woman dumpster dives and miraculously comes up with unused coupon inserts that are not smeared with moldy Chinese takeout.
  • CW uses a paper cutter and gigantic binder system to catalog her billions of coupons.
  • CW goes to ONE unnamed grocery store with her henpecked and/or inebriated husband in tow.
  • CW dumps fully stocked shelves of mustard and pasta into her cart.
  • CW carefully organizes her purchases on the conveyor belt at the checkout line into several different transactions in order to circumvent the store policy of a maximum number of items purchased at the sale price.
  • Entire store cheers as CW’s total drops from $1273 to 37 cents.
  • Friendly store employees help CW and henpecked husband out to their car with their purchases (AKA: practically stolen merchandise).
  • CW lines up all of her practically free things with labels facing the same direction and lays down to cuddle with the love of her life, The Stockpile.

Now compare it to a typical shopping day at my house:

  • I make a list of all of the meals we will eat for the next week.
  • I make a list of all of the ingredients we will need to purchase to make all of these meals.
  • I ask Jason if there’s anything he needs me to add to the shopping lists. He responds with, “We’re low on toilet paper and paper towels. But I swear to Allah if you buy that cheap single-ply crap again I’m going to go to the grocery store and pick out the most expensive toilet paper I can find and pay retail! Don’t tempt me, Woman!”
  • I add ‘high quality toilet paper’ to my list.
  • I use an online database to cross-reference the stuff we need with what’s on sale and what I have coupons for. I discover the only things super on sale this week are laundry detergent, Rice a Roni (which we already have 43 boxes of) and processed cheese slices (which none of us will eat).
  • I clip my coupons and organize them by the 6 different stores I’ll have to go to get the best prices on everything.
  • I start at Walgreens.
  • As I’m pushing my cart into the door I plan my attack. I need Revlon hair dye, Aussie shampoo and conditioner, Swanson chicken broth and Purex laundry detergent. The Walgreens circular says there is a limit of 3 for the hair dye and detergent, and 4 for the broth (I can apparently buy as much shampoo and condition as I damn well please). I have enough coupons for 6 of the detergent and they’re super cheap, so I really want to maximize my savings there. I also need to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, so I could possibly buy one set at the pharmacy and then the second at the front checkout to avoid having to ask if I can do separate transactions. But then I’ll still look like a weirdo. Is the risk of humiliation worth the potential savings? Um… $1 X 6 + $2.50 X 5… and subtract the… carry the 4… Maybe?
  • I decide to attempt the double set and start off in the food section looking for chicken broth. There are only 5 cans, instead of the 8 I need. Stupid. Moving on to the hair dye and shampoo and condition. Plenty there. Finally over to the laundry detergent aisle where I find an empty shelf. The cheap detergent’s been totally raided already. The humiliation risk has now officially outweighed the savings potential. I remove the extra can of chicken broth and the 3 extra hair dyes and place them on the empty detergent shelf, because the idea of tramping back around the store replacing them correctly when I still have 5 stores to go of this nonsense makes me want to drink the bleach conveniently located next to the detergent.
  • I check out with my meager savings.
  • I decide the cheap laundry detergent is worth a trip to a second Walgreens. Five miles away I find another Walgreens and hit pay dirt in the detergent aisle. I take my 6 detergents to the front checkout lady and ask her if I can do two transactions. She responds, “No, I really can’t do that. I’ll get in big trouble.” I say, “OK, well I’ll put them back and come right back…” and she takes them out of my hands and says (to me and the 3 other women waiting in line behind me), “No, it’s OK, I’ll do it for you. Hey listen, do you watch the news? My son was killed in an altercation at a bar two weeks ago. I found out when I was watching Young and the Restless and I saw him on the news…” I say, “I’m so sorry,” and sneak out awkwardly while the women behind me hug her.
  • Next stop is CVS. At CVS I’m only getting contact solution. The awesome deal here involves ‘extra bucks’, which are coupons for money that can be used toward anything in the store on your next trip. With my coupon and the extra bucks on this item, it will be totally free. But that’s only if I remember to come back in the next two weeks and spend my extra bucks. Chances of this occurring: 45%
  • In the car after CVS I reevaluate my list. I have four stores left and 1 hour until I need to be home to start making dinner. The deal at Safeway was only bacon for $3.99 and Diet Coke for $3, neither of which are screaming deals. At Bashas I’m only getting milk (which is also cheap at Fry’s) and Albertsons just has yogurt and chicken, neither of which I desperately need. I decide to scrap it all and buy everything else at Fry’s.
  • At Fry’s I’m so exhausted and frustrated I just throw shit into the cart without really checking prices. I buy 6 bell peppers for $12 and hate myself a little bit. My total before savings is $338. After coupons and store savings it’s $212. Not bad, but no one from Extreme Couponing will be calling me anytime soon.

So I’m calling foul on the show. If it really goes like that, I need someone to come teach me how to make it work. Clearly I’m failing.

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