Coffee heat rising

Coupons

So I make a run on the Safeway on the way home from work, neatly combining a shopping trip with the commute. As I’m forking over $68 and thinking the prices have gone through the roof since my last visit, several weeks ago, the cashier hands me a coupon book.

Excellent, I think. This will be my introduction to couponing, a feature of my month of (not-quite-)extreme frugality.

Other bloggers sing the praises of coupons and swear you can get out of CVS with free products by combining cents-off coupons with sales. The purse-stuffing little pieces of paper evidently save costs in many stores, such as Safeway. I’ve never made a habit of using them, mostly because I think they’re a nuisance-I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks-and also because I rarely find a coupon for anything I want. To get the cents off, you either have to buy a product you ordinarily would not buy or switch brands. And when I select a brand, it’s usually for a reason.

Home at last, the groceries put away, and a glass of orange juice poured. Let’s take a look at what we have in the coupon book:

  • Spend fifty bucks at Safeway and you get a free reusable, environmentally friendly shopping bag, advertising Safeway. Unclear whether it’s canvas or just heavy-duty paper. If the former, sure; I’d buy $50 worth of groceries at Safeway for the privilege of carrying around its billboard. If the latter: I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks.
  • Two bucks off O Organics salad mix. Okay, I use that stuff and would be happy to…you have to buy a pound of it? Who do they think they are, Costco? If I buy a pound of cut-up lettuce, half of it will spoil before I can eat it. Penny-wise, pound-foolish.
  • Three bucks off a foliage plant. That’s nice. But my house is full of plants. They’re the only part of the clutter I didn’t get rid of during the Late Great Decluttering Campaign, because I can’t bring myself to do in a living thing. So I have enough houseplants to water, thanks.
  • One dollah off two Contessa Green Cuisine Meals. I don’t eat processed, prepackaged food. So this one doesn’t count. Two of them don’t count times two.
  • A dollar off two 12-packs of Diet Pepsi. Ick!!! Wonder if they have a coupon for orange juice?
  • A dollar off a bag of cheddar-flavored or vinegar-flavored potato chips. Uhm…I don’t suppose I could just have the cheddar cheese (real cheddar cheese, OK? not a “flavor”) or a nice bottle of vinegar? I don’t eat potato chips, unless forced to it by famine.
  • Two bucks off Yuban canned coffee. I don’t care for preground canned coffee. They put the cheapest, ickiest, most muddy-tasting coffee beans they can find in that stuff. Moving on…
  • A buck off two SunChips snacks. “Snacks”? No clue what the stuff is, but apparently it’s made at a factory where they use solar energy. There’s a good reason to buy it. Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be food.
  • A dollar off Miracle Whip. Ecchhh! What is the appeal of that stuff? I’ve never been able to figure it out.
  • A dollar off Back to Nature Granola. Why? Why would anybody buy granola? I make my own for a tiny fraction of the cost. It tastes better (a lot better), I control the ingredients, and it’s way, way lower in fat.
  • A dollar off four Campbell’s condensed salt licks…oh, sorry, condensed canned soup. Here’s a Warholesque image of a can of tomato soup. Campbell’s soup is another of those processed products that palely imitate real food. And the stuff is absurdly expensive, especially considering that many varieties are little more than “flavored” flour paste. Swanson’s is significantly better and that company offers low-salt chicken and beef broth. It’s mighty easy to make your own tomato soup with a can of tomatoes and half an onion. The stuff tastes ten times better and doesn’t leave your mouth puckered up.
  • Speaking of thirst, you get a buck off two six-packs of Nestle’s bottled water, in The Eco-Shape Bottle. Thirty percent less plastic than the average half-liter. “A little natural does a lot of good.” Haw haw haw haw haw! Funniest darn thing I’ve read in weeks. A plastic bottle is a plastic bottle, dear Nestle’s. Water is water. Most bottled water is tap water. Bottling it in plastic does nothing to improve it. Water sold in any plastic bottles still dumps zillions of unnecessary plastic bottles into the land fills, there to stay for all eternity, until the earth is a frigid cinder circling a burnt-out dwarf star. “A little natural does a lot of good,” eh? A little natural what?
  • Speaking of salt, as we were a moment ago, you can get another dollah off Annie Chun’s Soup Bowl or Noodle Bowl. Yum. To assuage the resulting thirst, pick up a 24-pack of Coca-Cola, rotting your teeth and fattening your belly for a buck off.
  • If you like your sugar intake organic, get yourself two 12-ounce jars of organic fruit “spreads” (and what would that be? we’re not allowed to call it jam or jelly?) or 16 ounces of natural (as opposed to “unnatural”) or organic (as opposed, one figures, to “inorganic”) peanut butter. Could be worse, I suppose. Could be the salted soup or noodle bowls.
  • Buy some “pure goodness”TM for a buck off two packages of Cascadian Farm products. Several strange-looking boxes are pictured, labeled “strawberry,” “oats and honey,” and “organic” somethingorother. Whatever it is, I don’t think I want to put it in my mouth.
  • Fifty-five cents off 64 or more ounces of Silk soymilk. Well, OK, if you think it helps your menopausal symptoms, more power to you. Me, I’ll take a glass of nice, cold water. Tap water. Hold the plastic, please.
  • Fifty cents off Clif, Luna, or Builder’s Bar. “Moving toward Sustainability” is this manufacturer’s motto: we’re told this outfit uses 70% organic ingredients (as opposed to inorganic ingredients), 30% to 50% less fossil fuels than conventional farming (but where does it say here that the company is a farm? it makes candy bars!), 450,000 pounds of shrink-wrap eliminated through redesign of packaging (good, good), 20,000 miles of shipping using bio-diesel fuel (oh, please, please, please smarten up, dear corporate executives!). Bars. It’s bars. Bars of what, we don’t know, but whatever it is, 30% of it ain’t organic. One of them has chocolate chips. Your kids can wash them down with some of that Coke and Pepsi you saved on above.
  • Make your soy Westsoy!” A dollar off four Westsoy, soy, or rice drinks. Urp!

Soylent Green is people!

  • Well, here we have the opiate of the masses: yes, yes, yes!!!!!! FREE (with coupon) BEN & JERRY’S MINI CUP. Yes. Three-point-six ounces of Ben & Jerry’s! I knew these coupons were good for something. We will be dropping by the Safeway on th’way home from work tomorrow.
  • “Organic Herbal Teas for Self Care”” a buck off a couple of ersatz nutraceuticals, teas that allege to sooth your sore throat and stimulate your bowels. For a buck off, you, too, can start a practice as your own snake-oil quack! No nuisancey medical school required!
  • A dollar off two packages of “Nature’s Balance Bath Tissue.” Ah! I used “nature’s balance bath tissue” during that time SDXB and I spent three months sleeping on the ground in the outback of Alaska and Canada. It was called “leaves.” Didn’t cost anything, so we didn’t need to ask for cents off.
  • Fifty cents off a bottle of astronomically expensive Tide high-efficiency detergent. Every penny counts, I guess.
  • A buck off Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent. Take that, Tide!
  • A buck off any Green Works item. Hm. I’ve heard this stuff actually functions. I might try that. Now we have two reasons to go back to Safeway, the Ben & Jerry’s and…waitminit. The stuff is made by Clorox? Clorox is making “natural” cleaners (as though any household cleansers were not unnatural)? Well. No wonder it works. “Made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients.” That explains why it “contains no harsh chemical fumes or residue.” Heaven only knows mineral-based ingredients like petroleum products are gentle, and so are plant-based ingredients like, oh…cocaine.
  • A buck off Purex Natural Elements Liquid Detergent. To their credit, Purex’s ad designers refrain from ridiculous sloganeering, double-talk, and empty phrases.
  • A dollar off All Small & Mighty Laundry Detergent. It’s concentrated. According to the ad copy in the front of the coupon book, concentrated is good. Very good. But I have a lifetime supply of Kirkland out by the washer.
  • Suave has also cooked up a design alleged to use less plastic: 13,863,828 fewer plastic bottles each year! Dang! Could we see the math on that, please? And how do the stockholders feel about your selling that much less shampoo?
  • Method handwash chemical-gel, creamy, or foaming: 75 cents off. Personally, I prefer bar soap. It has less wetting agent, so when you wash your face with ordinary soap, it doesn’t flow right straight into your eyes. Is there a reason we need different products to wash our faces and our hands? What is it?
  • Free box of o.b. tampons. Thank God I’ll never have to use those little gems again.
  • Oh, jeez! FIVE DOLLAH OFF A BRITA PITCHER OR THREE-PACK FILTER! Sold!
  • And finally, two bucks off a package of Duracell rechrgeable batteries, or a charger. Duracell has figured out that “rechargeable” justifies printing the word on the batteries in a green label. Green, rechargeable. Rechargeble, green. What’s inside one of those things, anyway?

Now we have three objects to get on the next shopping trip:

  • 1. 1 free 3.6-ounce container of Ben & Jerry’s (which I would never have thought about without this fine offer)
  • 2. 1 Clorox product, alleged to be, uhm, not unnatural
  • 3. 3 Brita filters. Or maybe a pitcher for the office.

Notice what’s happening here. Though we’ve rejected most of the blandishments, a few of which are come-ons for some truly noxious-sounding (and two or three proven noxious) products, we still propose a trip to the store for three new products, two of which we do not need. One is free. But after the free sample, how many of us will get out of the store without buying a pint (at least!) of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream? Or maybe that double-whammy chocolate stuff? I need the Brita filters, the better to make our tap water potable. But free calories? Another Clorox chemical? In any event, the coupons save six dollars, but I spend whatever the Clorox product costs and whatever the Brita filters cost (plenty, as I recall).

Because you have to buy the Clorox product before May 26 and I already own two gallon bottles of Simple Green, I’m required to buy a product that I don’t need and won’t need for many months…possibly not for a year or two. Come to think of it, three Brita filters are sitting in the kitchen cabinet.

With the exception of a few household products, most of this stuff is junk food or highly processed food “products” that are full of salt, sugar, and weird chemicals. Exactly one item of fresh food appears: prewashed, precut lettuce that a) costs more than a head of lettuce and b) is likely to spoil before one person (moi) can consume it all.

We’ve spent a quarter of an hour leafing through and contemplating this pack of coupons, only one of which really is worth anything. That is, at $30/hour, we’ve spent about $7.50 of my time to save $6 on products that I already have. And…why are these coupons are good for us again?

Seven ways to save money on clothes and cut shopping stress

Like a shot, it was out the door to the mall to buy some much-needed office togs on mega-sale. Talbot’s, my favorite vendor of grownup-appropriate clothing, provided two pairs of washable wool slacks – 40-freaking-PERCENT off! – plus a beautifully designed blouse and a very snazzy blazer at the same markdown. Chico’s sold me a very pretty gray sweater (also washable) at half price to go with the dressy gray Talbot’s slacks, and of course no trip to the Biltmore is complete without a stop at the Apple store. . . .

So smug do I feel about these little coups that I presume to offer my pointers for saving dough at the mall:

1. Shop the sales around major holidays, especially the post-Christmas season. Never pay full price for anything.

2. Reconnoitre your wardrobe before leaving the house. Have a clear idea of what items you need and in what colors. If more than two or three items are needed, make a list. Shop only for those things; don’t spend time window-shopping or browsing through racks of tempting but irrelevant items.

3. Go straight to stores where you have had success before. Avoid departments or shops whose clothes don’t fit well or aren’t your style, and stay away from stores where staff have been rude, pushy, or inattentive in the past.

4. Never shop when you’re feeling especially cheerful or blue; either cast of mind can lead you to overspend.

5. Shop alone. Shopping is a herd activity – you may find yourself buying things for no other reason than that your friend bought something.

6. If it fits and you really like it, get it. If it doesn’t quite fit right or you’re not so sure it’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever wrapped around your body, leave it.

7. Learn to embroider and appliqué. With a needle and some colored thread, you can make a $20 pair of Glorias from Costco look like a $200 pair of designer jeans.

How do you feel about shopping for clothes, and what do you do to minimize shopping angst? What are your strategies for getting the best value for your clothing dollars?