Sunday, August 24, 2008 By Aaron Brown
By Aaron J. Brown
Economic woes introduce many people to the world of couponing. It’s not that our current economy is oppressively bad; no one is selling apples on street corners or loading family possessions into cars to go pick peaches in California. It’s just that today’s food and gas prices pinch the family budgets of everyday folks. Coupons bridge the gaps, especially if you’ve never used them before.
Don’t take my word for it. That’s an order. I’m not the coupon expert in my house. My wife Christina is a coupon junkie. I don’t mean that she just clips out the Sunday coupons for products we normally buy the way a lot of people do. It’s much more than that. She hunts down hard-to-find coupons: Coupons you can only find in rare Ukrainian newspapers sold in black market newsstands deep beneath the surface of the earth. The products associated with these coupons are not from your so-called “name brands.” Indeed, they are often packaged in burlap sacks and advertised as “Bag O’ Food Stuff.” But you wouldn’t believe how cheap this food is. It feeds the family for a month, tastes good with the free tater tots she got from another coupon, and, most of all, has another coupon on the side of the sack. This coupon will secure a free college education for one moderately intelligent child if you buy 150 bags of frozen corn before the year 2012.
I’m kidding. A little bit. While I have lately been “the writer” in the family, Christina has achieved sudden success as The Northern Cheapskate (http://www.northerncheapskate.com/). She writes and edits a free blog that features coupons and deals focused on family budgets. I’m not writing this to promote her blog. I’m writing this to explain why, when you see my cart at Super One, I have 56 boxes of graham crackers, half a beef and a mitt full of tiny coupons allowing me to buy these things for $6.50.
Oh, but it’s not always a picnic. I am often the one dispatched to the store to make the final buys because we live far outside of town and my job is in town. When I go to the store to execute a coupon purchase, it’s not as simple as buying all the items on a prepared list. Christina’s lists often go like this:
1) Go to the back of the store and ask for Lenny. Lenny has a special book of coupons
that appear to be expired but that really aren’t, if you are wearing the color red.
2) Take this book of coupons and wash it in a blend of lemon juice and vinegar. This will reveal the real coupons.
3) Purchase six packs of blue pens, four packs of black pens, and 24 pounds of butter. Take them to Pens n’ Butter, that new store on the edge of town, and trade them for a free cereal voucher. OMG! Free cereal.
4) Trade the cereal with passing migrant workers. Try to barter for fine silks and steel tools.
5) Take the tools to a large local retail store and exchange them for diapers and a six-pound tube of toothpaste as part of a special promotion designed to attract migrant workers. Act like a migrant worker. Accept temporary employment if necessary. Put your wages in an envelope and bring it home with the diapers and toothpaste. Also, stop by the bread store for super saver Tuesday.
The experience is much like playing Nintendo’s old school “Legend of Zelda.” But, of course, there is no disputing the results. Christina runs a tight ship in the household budget and you wouldn’t believe the deals. What are we going to do with all this extra money? Well, that depends on the coupons in the Sunday paper. Maybe it’ll be a metric ton of Honey Nut Cheerios or a steamer trunk full of iPods. Either way, we’ll be living well.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more or contact him at his blog, MinnesotaBrown.com. His new book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is coming out this fall.