(Just to warn you, there’s not much spiritual application here, but Proverbs 17:22 does say, “A merry heart does good, like medicine…” With this in mind, I hope this far-fetched, tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted spoof about a make-believe affliction/addiction I call Coupon Mania Stress Syndrome will make you smile a little. Though the story is mostly fictitious (especially the part about the coupon lady), the flashbacks are real, and I believe the story is riddled with just enough truth to help some shoppers identify. Though I’m poking fun at myself, during the stress of Christmas shopping, after-Christmas sales, and other high-volume sale events, you too may have felt the symptoms. I wrote this a few years ago as a writing assignment, and the focus is grocery shopping with coupons, but, I could easily take it to a new level by including experiences with department store and retail coupons that leave customers roaming around like zombies looking for something to buy that is not excluded from the coupon list–and before the early-bird or night-owl deadlines.)
Crossroads take many forms and sometimes occur at the most unsuspected places. Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I imagine one awaited me on Aisle 4 of my local supermarket during Triple Coupon Week. That’s where my love/hate obsession with coupons and my basic disorganization gene came face to face with one who has her coupon act perfected to an art form. I call her the Coupon Lady, and our nearly disastrous collision proved to be a turning point in my life. That fateful day I finally admitted that I have a coupon problem.
Despite the never-ending saga of my coupon struggles, the clip and save mantra of marketing, along with a compelling inner voice of frugality, coaxes me onward. Clipping is no problem, but locating and actually using the pesky little vouchers is another story. That fateful day I multitasked, awkwardly fumbling through a handful of them, with a list buried somewhere in the middle, while searching for my reading glasses in order to verify that the prospective product was labeled exactly as indicated by the fine print on the coupon.
That’s when I encountered the Coupon Lady in all her organizational splendor. Oblivious to me or my fumbling, she confidently flipped through the pages of a large black notebook that rested in the child seat section of her shopping cart. I marveled at the rows of coupons encased in plastic and watched in awe as she, pen in hand and reading glasses perfectly positioned, examined her list, the coupon, and the product.
Immediately putting two and two together, my erratic mind raced. I’d seen her picture in the newspaper. She was the one who used coupons to buy over $200.00 worth of groceries for less than $10.00!
I’m still attempting to rationalize what happened next. Suddenly years of frustration with organizational struggles, especially the coupon battle, flashed before my eyes, culminating in the face of this unsuspecting woman in her all-togetherness. A very out-of-character train of thought threatened to derail my normally, mild-mannered temperament.
What if I ran her down with my rickety cart, raced away with her coupon notebook, and left her defenseless in this marketing jungle? Before my apprehension and arrest, would she, without her coupons, also lose composure? Perhaps she would frantically stack items back on the shelf or even abandon her cart and flee the scene. Maybe she would limp to the checkout counter, shrieking hysterically when faced with paying full price for her purchases.
Luckily, at that moment the Coupon Lady’s eyes met mine. Crisis averted, we exchanged polite smiles and proceeded to Aisle 5, she with her coupons intact, and me with my misguided, unsettling thoughts, at least for now, in check.
It’s said the first step to recovery is admitting the problem, and my chance meeting with the Coupon Lady brought me to that crossroad. As I pondered the question: “What could transform an even-keeled, fairly sane woman into a would-be shopping cart assailant?” I acknowledged the depths of my dementedness and knew I needed help.
Could it be that what began as a mild preoccupation with saving money with coupons, when coupled with my organizational shortcomings, had escalated into a dreadful affliction? For want of a better term, could I have Coupon Mania Stress Syndrome? Furthermore, is there a cure?
Needless to say, physicians for this disorder (if they exist) are not around every corner and would certainly not be covered by my insurance plan. I realized it was up to me to resolve the problem and that perhaps telling my story might be both therapeutic and helpful to others.
Flashback after flashback, I relived the progression. Time and space does not allow full disclosure, but a few watershed incidents are worth recounting.
The first one occurred in my younger, more lucid days when the nearest supermarket was twelve miles away, and grocery shopping was a once a week, Saturday event. Even then, coupons were making headway. That day I made a list and shrewdly assembled my coupons before making the journey. Just before entering the market, I performed a routine checklist: coupons: yes; grocery list: yes; checkbook: NO. The painful drive home without any groceries is my first memory of a stressful, coupon-related incident, but it certainly would not be the last.
I recalled a more recent Triple Coupon Event. That day I spent an hour clipping coupons and assembling them in a newly purchased folder. I verified the ready accessibility of my in-store card, which one must have at most stores these days to take advantage of their specials. I had my reading glasses. Yes, I was armed to bargain shop with the best.
But, alas, upon my arrival, the coupon folder with the list enclosed was nowhere to be found. After grudgingly buying groceries anyway, I pulled into my driveway only to be greeted by a smiling, well-meaning neighbor as she waved, of all things, my coupon folder. “You dropped something,” she sweetly chimed. Did she sense my despair as she obligingly returned the tidy packet? I hope not.
Another such incident almost took me to the edge. That day I made a list, clipped coupons, and stuffed them into my jeans pocket so I wouldn’t lose them. Arriving at the market, I simultaneously reached for the shopping cart and checked my pockets. Imagine the panic when I detected no coupons or list. How in the world could they have gotten out of that tight place?
Have you ever thought you knew exactly where you parked your car but when you returned for it, it wasn’t there? As you searched in disbelief (and embarrassment), for an instant you actually suspect someone has played a cruel joke by moving it. Well, that’s the way I felt, until a vague memory of changing jeans at the last minute penetrated my delusion. With the mixed emotions of disgust and relief, I aimlessly roamed the aisles once again, coupon-less, with only the sketchy memory of a list.
The marketing world only adds fuel to the fire of this affliction. Is it just me, or has the coupon gimmick practically assumed a life of its own during the past few years? We see coupons in newspapers, coupons in the mail, coupons on the internet, coupons with cash register receipts–coupons, coupons, coupons. It seems wasteful, foolish, and almost sinful not to use them. So what is a discombobulated coupon junkie to do?
Allow me to summarize some humble observations gleaned from my Triple Coupon Week Crossroad:
I have concluded that coupon shopping has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. Unfortunately, my ravings are a prime example of the latter.
Further, I believe shoppers might rightly be divided into categories. Although the degrees may vary and some may waffle at times, most will fall into one of three groups.
First, there are the organized ones, such as the Coupon Lady. They eagerly embrace the challenge of Triple Coupon Week and are at their best as they adorn themselves in their organizational strong suits, amass their armory of well-sorted coupons, fine tune their ongoing lists, and hit the stores early and running.
Next, are the indifferent ones. These shoppers, for whatever reason, do not play the coupon game. Triple Coupon Week means nothing to them. They calmly shop as usual, feel no pressure, and will probably outlive those in the other two categories.
Last, is the category of which I am a sad member–the disorganized bargain-seekers. We, too, clip coupons and occasionally make lists, but where are they when we need them? Even with coupon in hand, the shelf is usually empty, the product already taken by the early-bird, organized shopper. Taking a rain check is out of the question; one trip to the market is all our coupons can handle. They will never be seen again, or at least not until after the expiration date. Indeed, Triple Coupon Week is the ultimate stress test for this group.
How can this unconventional knowledge benefit me or others who may succumb to the Syndrome? I’ll close by offering my highly unprofessional, but common-sense ABC prescription:
Acceptance: Accept limitations. Even though my hat is off to the Coupon Lady and those of her ranks, I will probably never join them. Likewise, my basic frugality and excitement in finding a bargain will always set me apart from the indifferent category.
Balance: Seek Balance within the parameters of your own nature. Even the disorganized can find a method to the madness. A tiny step in the right direction often brings a sense of accomplishment that lessens stress. For example, those with bifocal issues might invest in a necklace to keep track of reading glasses, or, better yet, wear real glasses when grocery shopping. Even I can do this.
Cope: Learn to Cope with the Syndrome by keeping it in proper perspective. In the scheme of things, how much does it really matter? Does it merit worry, stress, and, worst of all, obsessive, compulsive thought patterns? I think not.
An occasional spoonful of this simple concoction should minimize outbreaks and hopefully keep the affliction/addiction in remission. Although the condition may not be entirely curable, it need not be debilitating.
Who knows, perhaps I will even make friends with the Coupon Lady?* After all, I know where she shops, she has a nice smile, and I could certainly use some pointers.
*Any resemblance to an actual coupon lady living in my vicinity or assaulted by a shopping cart is purely coincidental.