Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Confessions of the World's Worst Couponing Mom

So recently Dan and I have come upon some of those "extreme couponing" and "world's biggest cheapskate" shows. At first I could barely contain my snickering. Walking up to restaurant patrons and asking for their leftovers? Digging in the trash for your spouse's anniversary gift? Buying 200 tubes of toothpaste to get a huge bargain? These people seemed off the deep end.

Then, as I kept watching, this little voice whispered that while yes, these people seem to have no dignity and are more than a wee bit obsessed, they are saving money. And: Am I?

I am the word's worst couponer. (Is couponer even a word?). I know there must be something I'm missing, something I'm not doing, but my efforts to save money usually end up swirling down the drain.

Why? I've tried to figure that out for years. The allure of big box stores has alluded me. We have little storage space, no pantry, no extra freezer, limited shelving or closets in our 1940s Cape. There's nowhere to put a package of 40 paper towels or an industrial size box of oatmeal. Once I bought a huge bottle of aspirin only to see it expired in two months. People around the house got tired of the gargantuan jars of pickles or peanut butter before we got close to finishing them.

I've attempted testing out our local grocery stores to see which one will save me the most money. I feel like I'm dating. Stop & Shop and I will spend some time together, until they let me down and I break it off and run back to Big Y. Or I get adventurous with Price Chopper but quickly disillusioned. Aldi and Price Rite just don't have the whole package. I can't find everything I'm looking for. And Wal-Mart continues to let me down with sub-par quality.

Every time I think of "playing the field" and hitting each of these stores up for their individual best deals, I get exhausted. With the price of gas being what it is, how is that saving money? And what about my sanity?

Coupons get me every time. Maybe it's subconscious. Maybe I've convinced myself that I just don't know how to use them properly, because despite various systems I've attempted, I consistently experience a big FAIL. I'll put them in envelopes, separated by category. Then when I go looking, I don't have one for what I really need. Or I'll see the deal at the store for a better similar product that actually saves me more money. Sometimes I'll actually find a coupon I can use and remind myself over and over to bring it with me...only to somehow leave it at home at the last minute. I've even managed to lose coupons in the store before I can pay. Or I'll finally remember one and it will have expired two days before.

Some of this is definitely related to me wanting what I like rather than wanting a good deal. I've always been impressed by people who thrive off the thrill of the hunt more than anything. Who cares if the mouthwash they bought tastes like gasoline, or they never really eat avocados? It was a steal! I look at coupons and think, "But I don't LIKE that product. Why do I want to save money on it?" This especially happens with those darned Entertainment Books the kids are always selling. We buy one every year and it just sits there. I flip through the pages and try to justify: Who cares about a free McDonalds sandwich if I have to buy fries and a drink? Why not just get a value meal? I don't want just the sandwich. I'm hungry! Or: Most of these restaurants are 20 miles away and I've never heard of them. Why do I want to drive all the way there just to find out they're terrible?

Recently we had a member of a moms group I attend share a very humbling experience about her family getting into debt big-time and how they got out of it. She was phenomenal. I felt inspired. I kept thinking about her reminding us that all of the little things do add up, whether it's saving or spending. With starting a new business and me taking a break from freelancing for a bit with the baby, finances are a challenge. Down deep I know I'll never be an extreme couponer, but I know I could save more money. So I've tried taking little steps. I've tried to put more thought into things.

Saturday for the first time I decided to take all three kids to the grocery store. This was a quick trip for items to get us through the next week while people are kindly still bringing us meals; stuff for lunches, milk and juice, etc. In my head I told myself to try to keep things under a certain dollar amount. I was going to pay with cash. I was going to master my finances rather than let them run away from me.

In the store I thought Anna and Ethan could be my "helpers," holding onto baskets while I put a few extra items under Chloe's stroller. I didn't know that Ethan would want to relinquish his job as helper after about 45 seconds.

"I'm soooo tired," he whined. "I need to put this down." His basket contained a total of one bag of chips. The store was a mass of people shopping for their Super Bowl parties. What was I thinking, coming on a Saturday afternoon? Everywhere we turned, people jostled us. My saving grace is that little Sweet Pea was sleeping blissfully. Ethan was in a state far from bliss. "I don't want to be here in this store," he kept whining. He sat down and refused to get up for a moment. He whined. He cried. He was mad that I bought Coke instead of Pepsi. Every time I headed for a different item he whined louder.

My head, carefully trying to calculate what I was spending, started to get jumbled. Ethan insisted on helping with the stroller and kept almost steering us into people. His basket continued to bash my legs. Meanwhile, I kept thinking, "Which would be cheaper? Should I get these cookies or try to make some?" while continually being interrupted by Ethan's cries. Every little bit adds up, I could hear my mom friend admonishing, punctuated by more of Ethan's complaining.

The longer we took, the more I began just throwing things into the baskets to get the heck out of there. In the checkout line (almost free!) the cashier gave me the total and I blanched. I was at least 20 dollars over where I wanted to be. I handed her my bank card, chagrined.

Our few moments of peace now that we were out of the store were interrupted when we realized a car had parked about three inches from Ethan's door and that he would need to climb in the other side.

"But I don't WANT to get in that side," he protested. "Nooooo, I don't LIKE that side!"

"Ethan, you're going to bash into those peoples' door. Please -- get over there now." More tears, more crying, more head pounding on my part. He stomped his feet and started to refuse. I used the "Do I need to call daddy and give him a bad report?" warning and he finally got in.

I leaned over to pick up bags from the pavement, and my phone fell out of the diaper bag I was using as a purse. My Galaxy S3 I've had only a year shattered onto the pavement. Completely unoperational.

Now I was the one crying, throwing bags with apparently too much food in them into the back of the car and shoving my broken phone into my purse. Had I really just thrown a couple hundred dollars down the drain? As I drove the tears kept coming, wondering how it was possible to fail so miserably. Was I possibly the world's worst at saving money? Would this ever get any better? I couldn't stop sniffling, even as I realized how pathetic I sounded.

At home we ate some Cadbury mini-eggs that I really shouldn't have spent money on. But they were good. I took a deep breath and realized I had to keep trying. That if there was anything I could learn from this, the experience wasn't wasted. There was nothing to do but get back on the proverbial horse. Somehow, I will get this. Or at least get better. The way I see things, I can't get much worse.

No comments: