"Coupon Crazy", couponing, refunding

Coupon Queen strikes again?

 

Anyone who has followed this blog since its inception in 2009 is well aware that I used to share a lot of stories about my couponing adventures. In fact, the posts up until late 2011 still exist in the archives of this blog. Later, as I worked on a book about the history of couponing and refunding, I began a separate blog, the Crazy Couponer. For three years, from late 2011 until early 2014, I also conducted couponing workshops and wrote a weekly coupon blog for the Telegraph Herald newspaper.

Couponing has been a huge part of my life.

mary coupon images.jpg

In fact, it has been such a big part of my life that if you’d told me even five years ago it wouldn’t always be, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d lived and breathed a couponing lifestyle for more than 30 years.

I’d gone from a purse-sized coupon holder in my early days of marriage, to a coupon box, and finally, a coupon binder.coupon-box

coupon-binder

 

 

 

 

My younger children were raised with a mother who roamed alleys and trash cans for stray labels. They knew the bounty underneath the Christmas tree was a direct result of their parent’s forays in recycling bins. While I was writing articles for refund and home business magazines, I didn’t think of it so much as a home business, but more of a way to save money.

This short column from an April 15, 1987 issue of the newspaper I now work for made me think about that old lifestyle again.

coupons manchester press.jpg Evidently, my couponing and refunding was a “cottage business.”

My last blog posting about couponing coincided with my last coupon workshop in April 2015. While I haven’t given up couponing entirely, I did finally become weary of writing the coupon column and conducting the workshops. I miss both, but I was also beginning to feel like an imposter. Who was I to hawk the benefits of extreme couponing when I wasn’t doing it myself? The loss of my shopping partner in March 2012 began the downward spiral. Being thrust into the workplace in late 2014 made coupon shopping sprees less feasible.

I briefly resurrected my couponing hobby and enthusiasm to be filmed for a documentary on couponing.

Clipped from Aleksandar Petakov on Vimeo.

By then my coupons had been moved from a binder into a simple white envelope I carried in my purse.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to doing couponing workshops. I had such a huge stockpile of extra health and beauty items back then, it was easy to fill baskets for the giveaway I’d do during every workshop. Now, while my cupboards aren’t bare, I no longer have the stockpiles. But I do have a two-hour power point workshop on my laptop and an awesome coupon tablecloth I’m not sure what to do with. (yes, my son Matt and I made an entire tablecloth out of old coupons)

coupon tablecloth.jpg

But I did get tired of paying full price (gasp!) for shampoo and deodorant. While I doubt I’ll ever return to the coupon binder days, I recently invested in a $6 coupon holder that I thought might help me jumpstart my coupon use.

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I was right. The day after the coupon holder arrived, I clipped the stack of coupons I had on hand, before checking out Coupons.com for coupons on products I already use. Then I encouraged my daughter Katie to drive us to our destination while I filed the coupons in the holder. That first shopping trip post-coupon-holder netted a whopping $35 in savings, for a little over one hour of clipping and filing.

That might not net me “Coupon Queen” status, but I do have to admit it felt good, even if I’ve lost my touch and forgot to set everything up, scan the receipt, and share my savings with readers.

 

David, death, death of a spouse, faith, grief, loss of a spouse, love, marriage, widows, writing

The Wind Beneath My Wings

There hasn’t been a July 4th since that rivals the memories I have of the holiday in 2009. What an amazing husband I was blessed with. He encouraged me that morning to begin the book that I had talked about for two years, a book about the hobby that had been a part of my life, our family’s life, for 30 years.

“The hardest part is getting started,” he said. It turned out he was right.

I sat down at the table in my pajamas, in front of a white legal pad and my favorite black pen. I began writing, and couldn’t stop. I wrote like a mad woman. The outline came easily, as did much of the first chapter, and pieces of the next.

David stood nearby, refilling my coffee cup, taking care of the children, making lunch. What it must have been for him to see the woman he loved completely immersed in two of her passions; writing and couponing. When I later began conducting coupon workshops in 2011 and writing a couponing column for a newspaper in 2012, David would tell me that it was my “time to fly, to soar,” and how much he loved seeing me that way. I’d replied that I couldn’t do it without him.

Later in the day of that particular July 4th, David gently interrupted me to ask if we were going to go to my mother’s house for the celebration we always shared with her. I looked up at the clock and was horrified to see that more than eight hours had passed since I’d sat down to write. We made it to my mother’s, but when my daughter Katie complained of a stomach ache, I was secretly glad to bring her home. I continued working on the book while she lay on the couch watching television.

The bones of the book were constructed that day, but for some reason, I set the manuscript aside for several months. Then on March 10, 2010, David heard on Good Morning America that the New York Times had a cover story calling couponing the next extreme sport.

“Where is that book you started on couponing?” he asked that morning. “You need to finish it.”

I pulled the rough draft out of my file cabinet, and read sections aloud. My dear husband alternately smiled, laughed, and made helpful comments as I got excited about my book project all over again. That morning I worked on the questionnaire I would use for interviewing other couponers throughout the United States. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer that summer, I lost some enthusiasm for the project, though I continued working on it. Like my husband, my mother encouraged my writing. After Mom’s death in November, I inherited some of her notebooks. I read them and the Memory Book in which she entreated her children to utilize their God-given talents. It was with those words echoing in my head I would pick up my pen with a renewed determination. Much of the rest of the book was written in my mother’s empty house that winter. David would hand me a travel mug of hot tea and shoo me out the door to “go write.” Once again, he took over childcare and cooking while I spent hours alone in the house of an extremely talented woman who was my creative muse.

By early March 2012, David had shared in my struggle to find representation for the book I’d completed, observing two failed agent relationships and rejections from large publishers.

“Don’t worry. It will sell,” he’d encourage. “I believe in you. I believe in this book.”

Then he’d ask about the other manuscript I’d completed, the one about caring for him during his cancer. That book, relegated to a filing cabinet, detailed a caregiving journey that resulted in a revitalized marriage relationship, a relationship that allowed me to continue writing and left us with no doubt that we were truly loved by the other.

“It’s not really about cancer. It’s a love story,” he’d muse. “It will help people’s marriages.”

David didn’t live to see either book published. I signed a book contract for Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession seven months after his death in 2012, and the book was released the next year. I will never forget that July day, standing in front of a Barnes & Noble storefront with my book filling the front window. My daughters were jumping up and down with excitement. Me? I stared at the display, completely numb. My daughter Rachel took one look at my face and asked “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you happy?”

barnes and noble

I could barely choke out the words past the huge lump forming in the throat. “Dad’s not here.”

Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage was released in April 2014. Those first two books wouldn’t exist without my husband’s encouragement. Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace, released in October 2014, wouldn’t exist if it were not for the loss of him. I’m fully convinced that the fourth book contract, for the co-written Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, was a gift from God so that I could observe my co-writer, Mary Jedlicka Humston, and vicariously enjoy all the firsts and perks that come with a book release, and the incredible excitement I have been unable to actually experience myself.

“I couldn’t do it without you,” I’d informed the man who’d become the wind beneath my wings after his cancer experience in 2006.  In the end, I would have to.

I continue to write, now as a reporter for a newspaper, and essays and pieces I must work on without the benefit of the writing marathon sessions my husband had gifted me with. I also do workshops; mostly classes for aspiring writers. Except for newspaper coverage of meetings and events, every single piece of writing I undertake, each workshop, and all the public speaking engagements I do are in honor of the man who believed in me. I  am surprised as anyone to learn, not only has my love for David continued despite his absence in my life, somehow it has managed to grow.

 

“But my grief is a clean grief. I loved my husband for forty years. That love has not and does not end, and that is good … Hugh will always be part of me, go with me wherever I go, and that is good because, despite our faults and flaws and failures, what we gave each other was good.”
Madeleine L’Engle, in Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, page 230.

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Finding God in the Shadows

From Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage, Familius, April 2014:

“On the way home David leaned back in the passenger seat, glancing over at me as I drove. “Why would God allow a little boy to have cancer?” he asked quietly, and I just shook my head in response.

“If I could go, and Jacob could stay, I’d go in a minute.”

“I know you would,” I whispered hoarsely as I patted his leg. The ramifications of his declaration were too painful to ponder. David would die for that little boy he loved, I had no doubt, just as he would give his life for me or for any one of his children. That was the kind of person he was. I reached over to hold his hand and we rode in silence the rest of the way home.”

Sometime during that night, David’s heart stopped, and I thought mine had broken in two. I’d lost my best friend, the man who had become the wind beneath my wings.

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David didn’t live to see me sign a book contract for the book that had been his idea in the first place, Coupon Crazy, a book he encouraged me to write. He had to have been pulling some strings up there for Chemo-Therapist to also become an upcoming reality.

It was a bittersweet moment to approach a Barnes & Noble bookstore yesterday and spot this in their window:

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I wondered at the overwhelming sadness I felt as I wandered the aisles of the store that now displayed my book. The heaviness of grief still descends upon me at unexpected times, and in unexpected places. David did not live to see this.

He also did not live to hear the terminal diagnosis bestowed upon his beloved grandson, and for that I am grateful. Because now we are losing eight-year-old Jacob. Jacob is dying.

Each morning I wake up wondering if this will be the day we say good-bye. Some nights I can’t sleep and I drive past my daughter’s house at 3:00 am, looking to see if the lights are on and she needs me. I help where I can; baking the occasional loaf of banana bread, cleaning now and then, and taking the other grandchildren away for an afternoon so Jacob can sleep in peace. But there is so little I can do in the face of this. I cannot take the pain away from my daughter Elizabeth and the son-of-my-heart, Ben. I cannot help Jacob through this lone journey. With pain, with trouble breathing, it is his mother he asks for.

I rise early every morning and spend a good hour searching for answers to the hard questions. Questions like “Why would God allow a little child to suffer?” and “How can we bear to live a life without him?”  I pray. I read devotionals. I cry. I sit in silence and listen, and then I pray some more. Some mornings, I fall to my knees, only to return to them by nightfall. I am reminded of last July, when for a few weeks God took away my writing so that I would learn to be still, learn to hear HIM. I search for God in all of it.

I think about the little boy who has been a gift to us; his quiet demeanor, his giving spirit. I contemplate what he has brought into the world by his very being, despite his short time on earth. How his little body has fought this cancer for more than two and a half years. I think about the tremendous strength in those thin limbs that now tremble with weariness, that tiny heart that has stretched so many other hearts. One day a posting on his Facebook page reached 16,000 viewers. 16,000 people saw that posting, and nearly as many people were praying for him. 16,000 hearts were touched by a small child! Most of us will be lucky to touch that many people in our lifetime. Yes, I see God in all of this.

And I am writing. And writing. My work-in-progress is a chronicle of grief; Refined By Fire. By working my way back through that first year of widowhood, I can clearly see how God walked with me down the path of loss. My prayer today is that my daughter and her family feels HIM too.

“I have refined you but not in the way silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”  Isaiah 48:10