Wednesday 2 March 2016

Adventures in Couponing (PT 1 of 4)

Years ago, I remember watching reality TV featuring extreme couponers and thinking to myself that those people were crazy. Now, I'm married to one and yes, she's crazy, but that has little to do with coupons, and damn! but we save a lot of money.

If you are ever in a cash register lineup in Victoria, BC, Canada and see a cute Japanese woman with a cartful of groceries and a fistful of coupons in deep discussion with the cashier, best to move to another line. That's probably my wife, and she is a serious couponer who firmly believes that schooling cashiers and store managers is time well spent.

Looking at a single coupon, you might not think that the savings could be significant, but the trick is in combining it with other coupons, and in-store specials. Many manufacturers offer brand-wide discounts which can be combined with their other, product-specific coupons. If the store's shelf-price is particularly low, you can save more than 100 percent on your purchases! On occasion, we've bought groceries and been paid in cash at the till for our trouble. More often, we pay a small amount and later receive a rebate cheque, by mail.

Basic requirements...
To really make a dent with couponing, there are three basic requirements:
• time enough to search flyers and the internet for deals,
• money enough to purchase things ahead of your needs, and
• space enough to stockpile.

An internet connection is becoming essential as more and more manufacturers have stopped printing paper coupons, now offering them online. There are also apps you can download to your smartphone which can help you find deals on items you run across while you are shopping.

Technically not an essential item, but something that will definitely improve the experience, is
a loving and understanding family who are flexible regarding the products they consume, and patient while you shop.

In Japan, coupons are not common; the Japanese prefer points cards. So my wife, Junko (Juneko), was shocked, ten years ago, when she got her first taste of couponing. It was shortly after the birth of our son and we were going through so much formula that I was close to initiating a frank discussion about just how tall a child really needs to grow.

Junko was shopping, one day, and noticed a pallet of baby formula at a discounted price. The deal was made even more attractive by a brand-wide, percentage-off coupon she had spotted in a flyer. I'm sure that she was skeptical that they would allow the combined discounts on the entire batch, but she read the coupon over carefully and could find no limitations. She must also have been scared, pitting her second-language skills against a native-English-speaking cashier. But curiosity and greed, won out. She called me and asked if it was ok for her to spend a few hundred dollars to purchase the entire pallet load. I was shocked by the total amount and laid down the Imperial Husbandly Law: "Absolutely not!" Three days later, I came across a pallet of baby formula in storage at the catering company which is our family business. I should not have been surprised. My wife has a rather lengthy criminal career, in the eyes of Husbandly Law.

At the time, I was pretty upset and rehashed it in my mind, every time I fed the baby. It's a testament to Junko's calculating ability that we ran out of formula about one month before the last baby bottle. Much later, during a discussion with other parents, I finally came to appreciate what Junko had accomplished with that bulk purchase. I was shocked to learn that a can of powdered baby formula was so expensive. While other families spent $25/can (Cdn.), or more, Junko got ours for five dollars each.

By the time that initial supply ran low, Junko was a seasoned couponer, able to purchase more at a similar rate. Raising two babies requires about two years of bottle feedings: That's at least 160 cans. On this product, alone, she saved our family a minimum of three thousand dollars!

Meanwhile, Junko had moved on to diapers. At one point, our attic was filled with boxes of Pampers; $35-boxes that she'd managed to get for under seven. Junko never bought a single diaper at full retail and accrued enough that we ended up giving away the last few boxes. Online, I found some statistics on typical diaper usage and calculate that couponing saved us about $1600—not to mention possible savings on our heating bill, with a hundred boxes of pampers insulating the attic.

When the Zellers chain went out of business, Junko used coupons on their already deeply discounted items. My wife is a curious mixture of demure and bold, and calmly created a huge traffic jam at the cash registers manned by a newly trained and frenzied liquidation sales clerk. Applying her coupons she bought a $100 stroller and a $150 highchair at 70%-off, and left permanent creases in the foreheads of two managers. These items lasted us through both children. Junko was diligent in keeping them clean and in good operating condition so that, once our children outgrew them, we were able to recoup the entire investment during our annual garage sale.

Because of her, we raised our babies to toddler stage, practically for free. I tell my second-born that if we hadn't got a discount on the first child, we wouldn't have been able to afford to have a second. It's funny because she thinks I'm joking.

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