Clipping Coupons Wings

August 6th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Coop-ons, q-pons…regardless of pronunciation, they are useless as I knew them. From childhood, until a couple of years ago, they were integral. Now, alas, they almost all exceed my choke point. Grocery makers want too much from me for too little.

A typical Sunday Boston Globe has two to four booklets of grocery and non-food coupons.  While I still look at them, I find more amusement than thrills there.

Let’s make it plain:

  • I don’t want to buy four boxes of a cereal to save $2.
  • I don’t want to buy 10 cans of kids’ pasta or 6 yogurts to save a dime off each unit.
  • I don’t want to buy two $8 shampoos to save $1 on each.
  • I don’t want to buy five of anything to get one free.

If these coupons work for enough people to keep the manufacturers happy, this new model works. It doesn’t for me.

I used to edit a grocery magazine and am sympathetic to stores with tiny profit margins, more like 5% instead of a software vendor’s 60%. They have to look for expensive items and non-foods, like HABA (health and beauty aids) for big markups. They figure rightly that you’re there for your groceries and likely to buy the toiletries rather than plan a separate trip to save a bit on them.

The old coupon model plucked several consumer strings.  First, it introduced you to new products. Then, particularly for the many commodities like laundry soap or hot dogs, it inspired you to favor their brands. Until recently too, with most grocers doubling coupon value through 99¢, you’d get serious percentage savings with a doubled 75¢.

The new model largely does away with the advantage of doubling. There’s the $1 trick that exceeds the limit. Getting $1 off on four is far worse than 50¢ off on one, and no doubling.

They want you go stock up on absurd amounts to get any discount too often. One or two of something is possible, but a half dozen or 10? When needs four boxes of the same cereal at one time? I have two teens at home and these multiples are dumb even here.

Every Thursday, I still give the three grocery filers in the paper a drilling. Between specials and now the occasional coupon, I figure I save at last $40 a week and buy absolutely nothing I don’t want.

That does not compare to a friend’s father in high school. They were Jewish and Arthur used Sunday as his grocery-sport day. He had his coupons and would use the grocery fliers in the Sunday papers there to plan his runs. It was $1 for ten cans of OJ at Grand Union and so forth. He’d run to multiple stores, gathering the bargains at each. Their freezer and pantry were jammed with deals.

My late mother-in-law used to discuss my couponing with a tone of awe. She found it confusing first to evaluate the advertised specials and then to link them with stored coupons. Once in the supermarket, finding the specific items were tough for her. Pattern recognition is one of my innate abilities, so those are naturally easy for me, but I can sympathize. (I hope the musical can feel for my poor singing.)

Now when I scan the coupon booklets, I usually clip one or two out of maybe 100 choices. It used to be a cheap (literally) thrill to flourish a dozen or two dozen coupons at the register. I apologize if you were annoyed at the extra two minutes cashiers would take with me. Now, the grocers claim their savings are built right in, that there’s no need for coupons.

I’m still a careful shopper and still bring home what we want and need with savings. So, there’s some truth to the grocers’ claims. However, they know they are not doubling coupons and that their margins are better for it.

Importantly though, my game is over. There’s less sport in marking up store fliers and creating a shopping list for one or two stores than there was in coupons when the were COUPONS. The oh-boy moment is gone. I miss it.

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