Several years ago, I remember watching an intriguing TV segment revealing the secrets of a couponing queen. This lady had mastered the couponing system and was essentially getting free groceries. I watched in amazement as she strolled through the grocery store, picked out her items, and revealed how each one either cost her nothing, or the store was paying her to take it. One couldn’t help but marvel when at least $100 worth of groceries was through the checkout line and the total amounted to about the cost of a Kleenex box.
My wonder was heightened by the fact that, at the time, I was on a crusade of frugality, determined to be so thrifty I could squeeze cents out of a piece of trash. I learned some crazy cost-saving techniques- everything from the ultimate guide of gaming a yard sale to how to make my own soap. I was addicted to saving money, with the fix often coming in the form of saving 37 cents on Speed Stick.
So when I saw extreme couponing in action, I was hooked. I printed and cut out e-coupons. saved junk mail and cut out those coupons, and even got my in-law’s Sunday paper so I could cut out those coupons. My life was consumed by paper clips and bar codes.
And then I enlisted my wife, our resident grocery shopper, to pioneer our clipping craze. What a delightful task to throw upon someone.
If only couponing was as simple as getting super-cheap food. What I learned early on was to be a true coupon ninja, you had to collect super cheap crappy food, and lots of it. The way to “hit it big” is getting BOGO deals with coupons on top of double coupons day on top of super sweeps on top of scheduling life around trips to the damn grocery store. And then, when it’s all said and done, you have scored seven tubes of toothpaste and a third-world-country supply of Kraft Mac-n-cheese.
Sure, the surplus is kind of nice, but where do you put it all? Your home isn’t a food bank, and unless you’ve knocked out a wall to extend your pantry, all that extra crap is going into the garage. Forever. You might go grab a tube of paste in like four months, but chances are you’ll have obtained 17 more by then from another insane coupon expedition.
Yet, the most important aspect to couponing is not the effect it has on your wallet or your garage, but your time. Great couponing requires great effort. If you are willing to watch TV every night with a pair of scissors or keep a grocery price log with you at all times, then you are fully committed to the cause.
But at what cost? The problem with couponing is that it produces nothing. And if there is something you like to do more than couponing (dear goodness let’s hope so) or something you do that you’re particularly good at, have you wondered why you’re forsaking that for $2.35 off a can of baked beans?
It’s not that couponing in itself is bad. Thriftiness is an admirable trait and is a good way to be a worthy steward of resources. But when we are hyper-focused on being consumers and taking what we can get, we rob the world of what it really needs from us; something only we can give.
Maybe it’s the piano. Or blogging. Or embroidery. It doesn’t matter. It’s whatever you can create and give to someone that they would’ve never received otherwise.
That’s worth much more than whatever you can save at the grocery store. In fact, it’s priceless.