Every Sunday afternoon I sit at the dining room table and my wife stifles a smirk as she comes into the vicinity. I no longer look up to see her expression because I can hear the faint, suppressed snort of the unspoken: “Oh look, there he is going at it again. Isn’t that just adorable?“ But just so we’re clear here, she doesn’t actually mean “adorable.” We’re talking mockery here of significant dimensions.
I am a Sunday newspaper coupon cutter. It is a routine that I’ve had since I moved into my first post-roommate-era apartment when I was in my twenties. For years it was my little secret. But I was compelled, as with so many of one’s private addictions, to reveal it in now two marriages. Depending on how you look at it, this is perhaps not the most masculine of activities in which I could be engaged. But I choose to see it as an important fiscal moment of my weekly activities.
For many years wife #1 slowly took the joy out of my routine because she saw herself as a smarter shopper than me. With the introduction of warehouse shopping clubs in the nineties, she began to bring home massive-sized bundles of certain products that had an ostensibly lower unit cost than what regular stores would charge. Suddenly we were spending the same amount on laundry detergent that it would cost for a steak dinner, salad, and dessert at the neighborhood grill. I finally gave up, waved the white flag in surrender, and curtailed my Sunday supplement activity solely to salivating over the latest unaffordable electronic gadgetry at Best Buy.
Speaking of which, do you recall when Best Buy was a place where you could actually find bargains? That place is expensive!
I restarted coupon-cutting during my return to bachelorhood. I have my routine down pat: With a laser-like focus, I go through all of the coupons and select only those products which I truly buy — the coupon for a jar of Nutella that always ends up becoming expired? I don’t even bother with it (does anyone really eat that stuff?). Then, with my small pad of paper next to me, I study the circulars for Walgreens and CVS — my go-to joints for savings during the week.¹ From there I match up whatever coupons I have of the current week’s offering or from those leftover from previous weeks that are in a white envelope actually labeled — ready for this? — “unused coupons.” I then write my shopping lists for both stores (two pieces of paper each) and attach the coupons with paperclips. The two lists are placed on my desk near my keys and wallet, where they will eventually be transferred to the car.
It is this protocol of grouping, alignment, and usage that my wife finds so amusing.
Am I saving any money? I honestly don’t know. When Walgreen’s features a sale on paper towels in its circular and then suggests that I find the associated coupon for it in the Sunday paper, my spidey senses are telling me that there’s a bit of collusion going on between the manufacturer and the store. Probably not enough to get the Federal Trade Commission interested, though. And truth be told, I really don’t care. I apparently find fulfillment in coming home with the nine-count package of toilet paper that is normally priced at $7.99, but I bought it on sale for $4.99, and then got an additional $1.00 off because of my precious coupon. Isn’t that on some basic, organic level exactly what we’re all searching for? I’m speaking metaphorically of fulfillment here, not toilet paper.
Speaking of toilet paper, I lived for many years in Washington, DC, a city that really loves its toilet paper. In the DC metropolitan area, they suffer from an acute case of winter weather fear. At the mere rumor of a snow forecast, the grocery stores become packed with anxious shoppers looking to stock up for the impending doom. The two aisles that are cleaned out in minutes are the ones containing bread and toilet paper. Local news anchor Gordon Peterson used to shake his head at this when a reporter would toss it back to him from the scene of the grocery mayhem. Gordon used to rhetorically ask, “I can understand bread, but why toilet paper?” Fortunately for those of us watching, we were never told the answer. Sometimes it is best to just let the mystery be.
Many years ago a friend of mine told me about visiting his retired father. He said that the man’s kitchen pantry was absolutely full of tuna fish. Tuna cans were piled on shelves up to ten deep. When he asked his dad why there was so much tuna he answered,“because it was on sale.” This is not a retirement behavior I wish to emulate.
During a visit to Michigan last year we stopped in to see my oldest sister. As she proudly showed us her beautiful new condo, she took us into a huge laundry and storage area. My wife noticed what appeared to be a very impressive reserve of paper products, specifically napkins and paper towels. “Ah, ha!,” Gorgeous exclaimed, “now I see that this is hereditary!”
At the moment we are quite well stocked with toilet paper, thank you very much. But we could stand to get some laundry detergent, fabric softener, and napkins. And tomorrow is Sunday. How adorable.
¹ For personal reasons of a social and political reasoning that I try to avoid in this blog, I do not shop at Wal-Mart. I have no idea if they even accept coupons there.