I have since I graduated from college, moved into an apartment of my own and suddenly had to make a full rent payment without any roommate contributions.
With a first job that paid next-to-nothing (but one I loved anyway), I needed all the financial help I could get. I was grown, proudly independent and didn't want to place a dreaded long-distance call to the parents to ask for a few bucks to tide me over.
If I couldn't figure a way to pay rent, utilities and still afford the occasional gathering at The Depot for drinks with coworkers, then what was the point of life anyway?
So I started clipping coupons.
Back then, most were printed in the newspaper's weekday food section. A few glossy inserts showed up now and then, as did the occasional mailer packet with cents-off sheets, but the old newsprint variety was the mainstay. I cut until my hands were covered with newsprint.
At first I made the novice mistake of buying something because I had a coupon. Thankfully, I soon realized it was an evil marketing ploy and it was working. I was spending $1.50 for an item I normally wouldn't purchase just to save 15 cents. Better I should save the whole $1.65. Duh!
I also learned that coupons are more useful if they're accessible. So I emptied out the green plastic card box that was serving as my phone/address file -- I needed a real Rolodex anyway -- and typed up labels for things like "meats," "fruits and vegetables," "medicine" and "snacks" to stick over the A through Z tabs. This box started accompanying me on every grocery store visit.
The conversion to consummate couponer came when I realized that the scraps of paper are most useful when they haven't expired. So I took to spending an evening before the start of each month going through all the carefully categorized coupons in my box.
This monthly ritual survives today, as does the green box. I pull out all the coupons in each category that expire in the coming month and place them, still in the order they would be if behind the card dividers, in the front of the box. That way, they coupons that have the shortest life span are right there in front of me as I wander down the store aisles.
I'm happy to say that I don't really need the coupons anymore (knock wood!). It's been many years since I watched my bank account drift down to a mere 63 cents. That was so long ago that my bank back then didn't even charge a fee for falling below a certain balance amount. Plus, I have the hubby's income to depend on now!
But using coupons is a habit I can't quite break, and really don't want to.
Sunday afternoons, I flip through the inserts to see coupons for new products featured alongside favorite old goods that are getting a special manufacturer push. It's also a hoot to see Roger Clemens hawking SuperPretzels or those tacky elastic waistband slacks (two pair for $7.98!).
Most of all, though, there's that little thrill of victory when the cashier hands you the register tape and it reveals that you saved $6.84 that shopping trip. Heck, that's a Venti-and-a-half Frappuccino! Or, with a few more coupons, maybe some of those slacks.
My goal used to be to save enough with the coupons to pay for the newspaper subscription from which I got most of them. I usually accomplished that and more.
I still keep track of what I spend on groceries and how much I saved with coupons. But now I look at them as a way to cover some the sales taxes that seem to apply to more and more products.
Take, for example, the facial cleanser I bought yesterday. It's expensive but I like it and was thrilled that I had a $1-off coupon for it. It was about to expire, so I headed to the store.
Now Texas doesn't have an income tax, which is nice, but the state makes up a lot of that lost tax revenue through sky-high state and local sales taxes. Just how high hit home yesterday.
This one product included a $1.10 sales tax charge. When the young man who rang up my cleanser told me the price due, I reminded him I had a coupon, a dollar-off coupon, he needed to apply. He nicely told me he scanned it and I sheepishly handed over the money.
Wow! Doing math in my head is definitely not one of my talents, so I was doubly surprised by the tax amount. I casually checked the register tape as I walked out and the kid was right. $1.10 in sales tax. At least I only ended up paying 10 cents more than the shelf price!
No expiration date: I guess my experience with the coupon yesterday was sort of payback for my amusement a few weeks earlier at the expense of another young cashier.
As he was finishing ringing up my groceries, I handed him a handful of coupons and he dutifully starting running them across the scanner. Suddenly, we heard that annoying beep indicating that the machine wouldn't read one of them.
No, I wasn't trying to slip one past the kid or the store. The coupon simply had no bar code.
The cashier freaked out. "Whoa! What's this?" "A coupon." "It doesn't have code." "No, but it says 35 cents off and 'No Expiration Date' so it should be good."
Yes, it was one that had lived in my box for probably close to 20 years. I don't know why I hadn't used it before, or what prompted me to cash it in this trip.
"Jim, come look at this. No bar code!" So Jim, the bagger, and another young employee at the next register all came over to look at the relic from coupon days of yore (and, I imagined, the strange woman who carried such items around in a green plastic box). It was sort of an anti Bush pere moment.
After a bit more discussion of the bizarre old piece of paper, the small group dispersed -- Move along, people. Nothing but ancient shopping memorabilia here. The young man manually punched in the cents off amount and I was able to head home, leaving the whippersnappers with a story to tell and me 35 cents richer.
Yep, you just don't see coupons like that nowadays. But thanks to my coupon organization and utilization skills (some might say coupon OCD), I made sure that that manufacturer honored the now impossible-to-find coupon pledge of "No Expiration Date."
Celebrating frugal tendencies: Mighty Bargain Hunter hosts Festival of Frugality #12 this week. My blog entry about high housing prices, Getting and keeping, is part of the collection. Check out the full Festival for more low down from bloggers who love low prices.
More festival fun! The 13th edition of the Festival of Frugality, "a weekly compendium of the finest from the frugal blogger," is now up (March 7) and includes this confession of coupon clipping. This week's host is Simply Thrifty, so head on over there for some money saving tips.