My Coupons

coupon“You did it again.”

I probably did.

I always do.

I just didn’t know what I did, so I had to ask.


“You bought generic,” my wife said, holding up a store brand can of soup as evidence.  She hates the very notion of generic, for her it is a synonym for poor quality.

“Weren’t you planning to retire this year?” I asked.

“What does that have to do with it?”

“It means we need to economize.”

“We have coupons for that.”

We do.

You wouldn’t believe how many we have. Coupons litter the kitchen island and clutter the counters. They scatter like leaves across the living room floor and poise a hazard to cats running through the dining room.

My wife loves to collects coupons – so that I can ignore them.

The thing is, she is not particularly thrifty.

Face it; few people really are. We often manage money the same way we diet. After ordering a salad off the senior menu, we chase it with a big piece of cheese cake.

Life is full of mixed messages.

I remember once when we were traveling with her parents and my father-in-law chastised me for buying a newspaper at a drug store counter rather than at the news box outside.

“It’s 50 cents either way,” I told him.

He held his tongue for a few moments, perhaps to reconsider whether I indeed was worthy of his daughter, then spoke like a parent to a child, “At the register, you pay sales tax – but not at the box. Everyone knows that.”

I hadn’t thought about it.

Nor did I care.

We then got back into his $200,000 RV and motored away.

The story may reek of absurdity, but I respected his penny pinching ways because he earned his quirks the hard way. He grew up dirt poor during the depression, yet amassed a fortune by eyeing every penny the way a hungry hawk watches gophers.

Most of his generation did.

A friend of mine had parents like that too.

After they had returned from a trip to Las Vegas, he told me how they had walked over a mile in 110° heat.  They couldn’t find a bridge over a freeway, so they hopped the fence, dodged four lanes of traffic, scrambled over the median, dodged four more lanes of traffic, hopped another fence and hiked another mile – all to get a free bowl of soup.

They were in their mid-80’s at the time – and oh, did I forget to mention they flew to Las Vegas to gamble?

So is it really about thrift? I think not.

Rather for that generation, pinching pennies was more about waging an endless war against demons long since vanquished – but who were always lurking just around the corner.

Or perhaps, it was nothing more than a coping mechanism to excuse extravagances.

Or just the love of getting a deal.

Who knows?

“When you retire,” I reminded her, “you will have all day to clip coupons and chase deals.”

“Until then,” she said, scooping up a wad of coupons, “at least use these.”

I looked them over.

“Uh, hon?”


“These are all for store brand items.”

I thought I had her.

“I know,” she said, “but who can pass up a deal like that?”

Author: Almost Iowa

51 thoughts on “My Coupons”

  1. There is no explaining someone else’s fiduciary quirks. That people will continue to buy the self-expiring newest tech gadget with built-in annual obsolescence, floors me. Then again, I hang on to my iPhone 6 because it’s paid for even though I’m reduced to carrying a charger everywhere I go because the battery is a piece of shinola. Sigh.

  2. I know what you mean about the scrimping and saving routine, my folks had it in spades and I suppose a bit of it rubbed off. I suspect that sometimes the false economy is just old habits that will not die, even when they’re not needed anymore. At least I don’t have to deal with coupons, my wife is a highly trained specialist that knows nuances I wouldn’t dream of.

  3. Oh, this is so true! My in-laws also came from impoverished backgrounds and worked their way into the solid middle class. But they never lost their values when it came to money. My father-in-law used to haul all of our aluminum cans back home (to Iowa) with him after a visit in which many beers were consumed. I would remind him that in Missouri, we didn’t have the nickel per can refund. He knew that. Which is why he would put the Missouri cans in the middle of the box he was turning in for recycling, so he could get the full sixty cents per twelve pack her turned in……. And yes, he owned tens of thousands of dollars worth of cars, trucks, and machinery.

    1. One is always amazed at how crafty those old farmers were. I hear tales of what they are pulling these days – and gosh, I don’t want to repeat them, least they get around. 🙂

  4. Being brought up by parents who weathered the Great Depression in their youth, I know what it is to save a penny. I, too, usually pick up the store brand because I know what is inside is the last of the storage of a name brand. If I discover the generic is bad or awful in some way, for instance, it’s all grapes when it is supposed to be fruit cocktail, I start looking for coupons to use so I can buy the name brand. My guess is your wife is a little hung up on being as good as the Jones down the street.

    1. It is less keeping up with the Jones and more not wanting to be looked down up. Small communities can be very judgmental and tongues can be sharp. Not so much in these days, but the reflex is an old habit.

    1. I always thought it odd that you have to have a token to redeem rather than just lowering the price. You have to imagine the token has magical qualities.

  5. Haha. Cute post, Greg. I love finding a good bargain. Since I’m the world’s worst athlete, that’s my idea of a sport or winning. LOL. But I gave up coupons pretty quick. They just had me buying more expensive stuff than usual, and there were rarely any for the things I buy.
    Then I moved to the Land of Pomposity. Use a coupon for a half price lunch for two and no one will be caught dead being the other half. Then you find yourself ostracized from lunch group society. So coupons are urban myths, wistfully whispered about in dark corners… 😉 Hugs!

  6. Classic line and I’m so guilty of it: “We often manage money the same way we diet. After ordering a salad off the senior menu, we chase it with a big piece of cheese cake.”

    1. But I should have explained how diets actually work.

      “Do you mind if I have a bite of that cheese cake?”
      “Go for it.”
      “That’s a pretty big bite.”
      “You said ‘a bite’, not three.”

  7. As far as I can determine, coupons are a way to get us to purchase things we’d otherwise not buy. Even if we manage to find one for a repetitive purchase, like dish soap or yogurt, getting us into the store probably means we’ll pick up a few other things that weren’t on the list.

    I’ve given up using those electronic store cards that promise savings, too. The last time I used one, I picked up a couple of things that were out of the ordinary for me. When I came home and turned on the computer, I was awash in ads for precisely those items. No, thank you. There’s a locally owned grocery that has slightly higher prices, but doesn’t accept coupons and doesn’t use those cards. They get my business now, especially since they employ high school kids as checkers, are polite and friendly, and have a spotlessly clean store. There’s a real bargain!

    1. They get my business now, especially since they employ high school kids as checkers, are polite and friendly, and have a spotlessly clean store. There’s a real bargain!


      The standard response to coupon clipping and sale chasing is: so you get 10% off something marked up 200%?

  8. I might be wrong, but “After they had returned from a trip to Las Vegas, he told me how they had walked over a mile in 110° heat. They couldn’t find a bridge over a freeway, so they hopped the fence, dodged four lanes of traffic, scrambled over the median, dodged four more lanes of traffic, hopped another fence and hiked another mile – all to get a free bowl of soup.” sounds a heck of a lot like gambling to me… with your life. 🙂

  9. I should pay attention to coupons more, but I just get so MAD when I go to CVS and they give me a receipt that’s taller than me! And half the time they are for things I don’t even use.

    1. If I hear they don’t have them in New Zealand, I’m moving. It is not that I don’t love Australia, I truly do – but there, everything is trying to kill you. Bugs, snakes, crocs, eels, boxies, it is a wonder anyone survives. Heck, they even got a big bird, the cassowary, that will take you down. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. I think I may have mentioned that I have been banned from shopping. In the same reading of the sentence, I was reminded to keep the coupon comments to myself. I now live the happy life of being totally unaware of inflows and outflows.

    1. When my wife retires, I am going full out male chauvinist and push all that to her. Of course, I will share cooking and cleaning details….but shopping? No way.

  11. AI – your entire post is abundant with irony. Maybe even more so than ordinary life. I will just pounce on one irony foolishly ignoring all the others. ‘Dirt Poor’ – what pray tell is that ? Garending here heavily involves compost. I had to rephrase that to avoid more irony. So I am mostly confused by the dirt poor phrase. It is mostly and always dirt rich. Then again I am old and might have fallen on my head… frequently and repeatedly… fortunately soil mixed with compost is mostly soft… so I try to stay in the garden… until it gets too cold.

    1. I see where you are coming from but out here in farm country, the phrase is common. It speaks to the struggle of making a living off of commodity farming in an age of increasingly mechanized and capital intensive agriculture. While some people are turning back to old techniques while incorporating some new ones to make a living, they are more of a niche market.

      I always wondered about that dirt poor or poor dirt thing because my land is rich, wet, peat.

  12. My grandparents were from the depression/war generations and their thrift was in terms of saving everything! And I mean everything! My folks picked up on a lot of that too. But it’s quirky, isn’t it? The choices don’t always add up in a consistent way. I say enjoy the low cal salad and the cheesecake. 🙂

      1. It is. My grandparents were in Indonesia during WWII under Japanese occupation. In the US, in their old age, they kept used baggies, empty bottles, styrofoam cheeseburger containers from McDonalds, you name it.

        1. A woman who lived in the old neighborhood was a Quaker missionary in China. She described how the upper class in her province enjoyed extravagant wealth but slept on beds of stone. It was to remind them that all they had could be lost and they would have to sleep on the ground. In 1949, they had to sleep on the ground as they fled China.

  13. Humans. We’re full of quirky contradictions like that.
    The husband has an uncle who thinks nothing of paying hundreds of dollars for an antique toy to add to his collection. But take him somewhere for lunch where the sandwiches are more than $5? He’ll squawk like a crow.
    I had an elderly aunt who had a stock portfolio Warren Buffet would be proud of. She wore the same pair of ratty old Keds sneakers until her toes popped through. She also gave me toilet paper and note pads for Christmas. Toilet paper and note pads she had swiped from hotel rooms. Ya gotta love it…

    1. Toilet paper and note pads she had swiped from hotel rooms.

      I know the type. Given the number of old farmers around here, we probably have a higher density of millionaires than Marin County, California.

      “So let me understand, you own two thousand acres of land valued at $7,000 an acre and you still pilfer shampoo and toilet paper from motels?”
      “Not anymore.”
      “That’s good to hear.”
      “Econolodge 86’d me.”

      1. I can top that. She used to fly a lot, and drink while she did. One Christmas? She wrapped up the little liquor bottles and gave them to me.
        Now that’s baaaaad.

  14. “I thought I had her.”

    I thought you were a pro – thinking that thought is an amateur husband mistake. I’ll give you a pass, because I know how cold it’s been.

  15. I love a deal, but I love my life more so no climbing fences in Vegas for a free bowl of soup. Now if it’d be baby shrimp… then I might have a different opinion.

      1. Hey, be it baby or jumbo, I’d go for the shrimp too.

        So here is a fun-fact for you. Despite winters in the upper Midwest hitting the occasional -30F. We are becoming a major source for shrimp. See Tru Shrimp . They started out in Minnesota but are moving some operations across the border to South Dakota.

        1. Farmed shrimp? From Minnesota and South Dakota? I’ll give them points for responsibility, sustainability, and so on — but I’ll bet they can’t replicate the taste of freshly caught shrimp from the Gulf and coastal bays.

          1. Your comment reminds me of a long conversation I had with an old commercial fisherman on the deck of the Alaska state ferry. He spoke about how farm raised salmon lacked texture and taste. Of course, he was right – but then I would hate to see the effect on the salmon population from satisfying a world full of salmon eaters. The same with shrimp, and pork and beef for that matter.

            While I sympathize with the complaints about the commodification and subsequent drop in quality of almost everything, there is a counter-argument that suggests that while it may be acceptable to charge a premium for quality, it is not acceptable to charge a premium for protein. 🙂

            1. Of course, it may be worth reminding ourselves that what’s considered a ‘serving’ of protein in this country is far beyond what’s needed to sustain life. Paying a premium for four ounces of high-quality whatever stays affordable a lot longer than sixteen ounces of the same.

  16. I don’t use coupons, Greg, but I still carry a tiny bit of guilt when I buy something that I could have saved 25 cents on if I’d only saved the darned coupon. And just when I think I’m making progress the coupon people come up with a new strategy – electronic coupons that you can’t leave in the junk drawer because they are right there on your phone. I give up! I’m going to enjoy a ‘poor’ retirement! Funny and very true to life essay!

    1. Always keep in mind, the purpose of coupons is to get you to spend more, not save. Remembering that pretty much eliminates the pangs of guilt. 🙂

      1. True! I was actually going to use a coupon the other day for a six pack of Poland Springs sparkling water, but then I noticed it was redeemable for TWO six packs. I’m at the age when I don’t like to stock up on too much, so I said nuts to that!

  17. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those coupons that “litter the kitchen island and clutter the counters” have expired. Next time she says “We have coupons for that,” you could reply, “Yes, and a few of them might still be good!” (If you make that point, let me know and I’ll send you a get well card for your resulting concussion and black eye.) 🙂

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