Coupon Culture

03 Jun

The Coupon: That lovely little slip of paper, carefully trimmed out of the weekend newspaper and preserved with an eye on the expiration date, covered in promises of grand savings on all sorts of useful household items. I can remember my mother clipping them and putting them in a special plastic recipe box that was kept on top of the refrigerator. The only store where we could use those coupons was an hour’s drive away, and we had to make a special trip to get there, which would inevitably include lunch at a fast food restaurant and a stop to the shopping mall where my teenaged older sister would look at designer jeans and I would bounce between the bookstore and standing outside the video arcade, too intimidated by the local kids to dare enter. I’m not sure I can even do the math, particularly as those trips occurred during the 1980s and I have no idea what money was worth from then to now, but I doubt those little slips of paper even covered the cost of our burgers.

Coupons are great in theory, and afternoon TV is full of people who manage to save enough money in a single shopping trip to send an entire mountain village in Tibet to Disneyland, as long as they have a half-price ticket coupon.

But, in reality, coupons are one of the major culprits in needless accumulation. Two for one sounds great if you were originally going to purchase two of whatever item. But, if you were only going to purchase one, all you have done is given yourself less space and more junk. Lets take a look at how this works:

Billy finds a coupon offer of 2 for 1 on store brand pasta sauce. This sounds good to Billy, as he is hungry for pasta, and just so happens to have some unused noodles in his cupboard. Off to the store goes Billy. He picks up the pasta sauce, but remembers that he only has enough pasta for one meal. Since he’s right there, Billy picks up a second box of pasta. All together, Billy spends about $6. When he gets home, Billy looks over his receipt:

1 Box Pasta      $2.99

1 Jar Sauce       $2.49

1 Jar Sauce       $0.00

Tax                   $0.33

Total                 $5.81

The only thing Billy wanted was a jar of sauce. If all he had bought was the one jar, his total would have been $2.64. He spent an additional $3.17 in order to make the coupon worthwhile. Now he has an extra jar of sauce and a box of pasta that he will have to store until he is in the mood again for them. 

Poor Billy. He now has items he doesn’t really want, but he has to store somewhere. Maybe he will use them. Maybe he will forget them.

The non-food items are even more insidious with their coupons and special offers. There is a certain discount shoe store chain that likes to make the offer of “buy one, get one half off” for their shoes. This is a great deal if you are intending to buy more than one pair of shoes at a time, such as that dreaded activity of school shopping for multiple kids. But, if you are just shopping for yourself, that second pair of shoes is nothing more than a space-taker.

I could go on. Instead, here is a handy checklist to use before you wield your scissor through the Sunday inserts.

1: Is this an item I would buy without a coupon? Yes, continue to #2; No, stop.

2: Is the specific store my usual shopping place? Yes, continue to #3; No, stop.

3: Is this an item I will use in a reasonable time? Yes, head to the store; No, go read a book.

This is not to say that all coupons are evil. A 2 for 1 offer on diapers may well bring a tear to the eye of a new parent, and a special price on pork-and-beans may make your next family gathering that much more entertaining. But, beware the price of saving money!


Next: Space Exchanges

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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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