Reinventing My Coupon Self

A funny thing has happened in the process of writing my book this past year; the book chronicling both the  history and my history  of extreme couponing and refunding.

I’ve started using less coupons and missing more sales and good deals.  In the process of delving deep into the minds of other couponers, I probed my own psyche a bit too much for comfort.

Had my obsession with coupons and refunds always been a healthy one? What had it been like for my children to grow up with a mother who raided the garbage cans at every park, walked the alleys for diaper proofs of purchases, whose idea of “family fun” was to hit the recycling center three times a week? My children wore clothes with Hershey and Kool-Aid logos, played with toys that were advertising premiums.  Every ball they owned was an advertising premium, every stuffed animal they hugged, the same. Not only did I have to be at every Target 75% off after-Christmas sale, I had to be waiting at the doors when the store opened, first in line.

My cupboards occasionally sag with the weight of the free shampoo or body wash I accumulate from combining sale prices with coupons. Copious amounts of cereal boxes overflow from my filled cabinets onto shelves on the back porch. Perhaps seeing the huge stockpiles of the couponers featured on the Extreme Couponing television program has prompted me to re-evaluate my own couponing and stockpiling.  1500 deodorants? Ten years worth of toilet paper? At what point does stockpiling become hoarding? In watching a couple of the programs I felt slightly sick.  Was that me beaming out from the television screen, gloating over my haul of the day? Did I sound that excited over free toothbrushes or a year’s worth of cereal? Not quite, but too close for comfort.

I was thinking about this kind of thing as I took a bike ride with my 17-year-old son Sunday night.  He was the last toddler that was ever lowered gently into a recycling bin to retrieve stray coupon inserts for me. There has been no easily accessible recycling center available to us since late 1995, no alleys with enticing garbage.  The last four children have never experienced the roaming of the alleys, nor have they enjoyed the fruits of my refunding labor in free gifts for Christmas.  Gone are the days of the Energizer Bunny, Lipton, Marlboro and Del Monte premium refunds available in the 80’s and early 90’s.  What they have experienced is a mother who hits clearance sales like other mothers hit the gym, a mother who won’t buy a certain brand of cereal unless it is on sale and she have a coupon, a mother who stows away free band-aids and toothbrushes like a squirrel stowing away nuts.

I do my best thinking while riding a bike.

And, unlike my 7-year-old who can’t stop jabbering even while riding bikes, my son was companionably silent for most of the ride.

I had plenty of quiet reflection. Time to wonder if I’d done my children a disservice in foisting my obsessions on them throughout their childhood.

I’d just about convinced myself I should give up couponing altogether. After all, I wasn’t standing in line at Target stores anymore. I don’t rush to double coupon at Pamida every month.I don’t even take my coupon box into the grocery store with me every time.

And I’m almost out of toothpaste in my cupboard.

Maybe I should just abandon the practice of using coupons completely and see what it is like to walk on the “wild side,” a life without coupons.

And then we rode past an empty laundromat and I glanced in the window.

At the stop light a few seconds later I told Matt to wait for me.  I had to go back.

He circled on his bike aimlessly while waiting the few minutes it took for me to ride back, enter the laundromat, snatch something off the table, leave, get back on my bike and catch up to him.  He glanced down at what I had clutched in my hand, and shook his head.

And I heard the low chuckle deep in his throat that signalled he knew me very well, perhaps even better than I knew myself.

I wasn’t going to be giving up coupons anytime soon.  I’d just interrupted a perfectly good bike ride with my son to snitch some coupon inserts I’d seen abandoned on a table in a laundromat.  The same son I used to gently lower into a recycling bin so he could grab the shiny coupon inserts I couldn’t reach. The son who squealed with delight when his actions brought joy to his beloved mother’s face. The son who now asks for razors I get free with coupons., and who seems perfectly satisfied to rely on my shopping skills for cheap deodorant and shaving cream.

Then I remembered the black case I’d picked up at Goodwill a couple of weeks ago.  I’d found a few books and was checking out when I spotted this black case, with a genuine leather feel to it, a handle,  files in one section and binder clips in a zippered section, to hold….what? Papers?  Organized files for my writing?


Coupon binders seem to be the newest method of storing and organizing coupons. They make using coupons look so organized, so business-like.  So hip.

I, on the other hand, have used this same coupon box for over 25 years.

I bought the binder.

Maybe I won’t be giving up on couponing, after all.

Instead, I’ll reinvent myself a little.  Organize this nice black binder with my coupons.

I won’t give up couponing.

I’ll make couponing look cool.


Buy plastic card organizers of different sizes to hold the coupons.  Clip them in the binder section.


2 thoughts on “Reinventing My Coupon Self

  1. Beth says:

    Mary, since starting back to work part time I have let couponing go a little myself. I too have missed some good deals and have noticed that my stash of mens shaving cream is low. I have re-evaluated my couponing. I only stockpile things that we really will use. I usually have my garage sale once a year when our church has a rummage sale so that people can hit two sales in one. That time has come and next week will be my sale. You know what? I dont have as much to sell this year. Yes, I still have household items and some of my coupon items that I will sell, but I now know that I also still have my sanity. There were times that I drove myself nuts because I “didn’t want to miss that great deal”. I still use coupons but not to the extent that I did. I am actually teaching some of my coworkers how to use them and how to save money in other areas as well. I do think that once you start couponing it is in the blood and you really never can get away from it completely.

  2. says:

    Great post! I love reading everything you write!! I just moved my own coupons from a small accordian file to a full size binder and I’m loving it. So much easier to find what you want.

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