I’ve never been a coupon clipper. Every now and then, I’ll ride of a wave of enthusiasm and tear out coupons for cat litter, cereal, granola bars, only to find them years later with an expiration date of the previous decade.

So what happened yesterday was partly a result of inexperience and partly the fault of the shameless power ofmedia. There’s been a prevalence of stories lately about coupons due to the recession and such. Not just saving 35 cents on Land O’Lakes butter, but people (usually women), who have saved hundreds of dollars. Who have walked away with bags of groceries for which they paid 3.23! I admit it. I was suckered. I started subscribing to a weekly email from CouponMom. I started reading the Friday coupon tips in the “ladies’ section” of our local newspaper on Fridays. And so when I saw that our local grocery store was having TRIPLE COUPON days this week, I made my move.

The first problem was that I had few, if any, coupons. So my sister and I did some research and found a website that had dozens of manufacturer coupons. All you had to do was pick your coupons. Oh, and register first. And install some software. And reinstall the software when it froze the first time. And select and print your coupons. Except that you could only print once per IP address and when our printer malfunctioned, it wouldn’t let us print them again. Which meant that Tasha had to print them at work, in the middle of her busiest season of the year. And she had to also register first, install software, and select coupons.

We should have seen the signs then and there. We should have said, recession be damned, and pushed back from the coupon table.

But we forged ahead, invested more now than ever. We’d come so far. Armed with stacks of coupons, we organized them into the respective aisles of the grocery store so as to make our shopping effortless. We read the fine print which said “Only 20 coupons per person per day.” We made a plan. Each of us would take a cart – one carrying the baby in it – and we would each check out with our respective 20 items, then go back the next day to complete the job. All in all, we figured we would have at least $150 in savings.

Orderly coupons in hand, baby in carseat, off we went!

Shopping was slower than we expected. Partly the fault of the baby who insisted that we look after him. Amy would hand me a coupon; I would find the item, put it in her cart, and put the coupon in a special pile. Items we couldn’t find, I’d hand her back the coupon. Different pile. 

In Aisle #3, we hit a snag. “Oh no, this coupon says no doubling or tripling,” I read.
“What? Do other ones say that?”
“Probably.” I started sorting through the coupons in the keeper pile. “Here’s one, here’s one. Here’s another one.”
“Well, we need to pull those items and put them back on the shelf.”
“Let’s just push them to the side.”
“They’ll take up too much room.”

I started pulling items out of the cart to match the no-good coupons and ran around the store putting them back while Amy tried to play with the increasingly fussy baby for whom we’d brought no bottle, no burp rag, no pacifier, nothing. Because we would be so efficient.

Sweaty in spite of the artificial grocery store chill, I made it back to our carts.

“Okay, no more mistakes like that.”

We continued our slow plod through the store. Amy would hand me a coupon. I’d read it, find the item. Velveeta, check. Hamburger Helper, check. Chef Boyardee ravioli in a can, check. Jello, check.

“You know it’s funny. I’ve never seen you buy these things before,” said Amy.
“Well, I don’t. Except that they’re free. I mean, free or like 10 cents. It’ll be good for hurricane season.” And secretly, I was excited about the Hamburger Helper.

I kept loading items. Cool whip, jello pudding, jello powder, French’s golden mustard, French’s honey mustard, French’s horseradish mustard.

“That’s a lot of mustard.”

French’s dijon mustard.

About 1.5 hours later, we made it to the register.

“Okay, you go first,” I said to Amy.
“I’ve got to get my 20 items,” she said and began counting coupons.
I smiled apologetically at the cashier.
“…18, 19, 20. Oh wait. These are the ones above 20 items, so we need to pull those out of the cart and put into yours.”

Someone behind me in line coughed under their breath. “I’m sorry. You might want to be in another line. We’ve got a coupon thingy going on. Sorry again,” I said after them as they pushed their carts to another line. My underarms were starting to break out into a prickly sweat, the kind that smells. 

The cashier rang out up our items, then scooped up the pile of coupons. “Ma’am, you can’t use these coupons for $1 because we only triple coupons up to 99 cents.”

“But we assumed that they would be worth $2.97 then. You know, up to a dollar.”

“No, ma’am. We don’t triple them at all.”

“So the dollar coupons aren’t worth $3, but $1.”

“That’s right.”

“But the whole reason we bought these things, Amanda,” hissed Amy, “is because they were free.”

“Right. I know.” I smelled my sweat more strongly. “See, some of these things we really don’t need,” I explained to the cashier. 

“It’s up to you, ma’am. They’re your groceries.”

“Yes, that’s right. They are.”

“How about I refund the whole order, then you can go through them and pick out what you’d like?”

Amy started pulling our groceries out of their bags and putting them to the side. Meanwhile, I still had a cart of groceries to buy or not buy depending on the coupons.

I pulled out the useless coupons worth $1 or more, found those items, put those to the side in Amy’s pile, then the cashier rang up what was left. 

“That’ll be $61.23,” she said. 

“How much is my savings?”


Amy started reloading the groceries that had coupons worth less than $1 back into my cart. Eskimo bars were melting, and the frozen pizza was fogging up. Hugh had spit up all over his onesie, and his face was shiny with drool.

I scanned my grocery card, pushed the groceries forward, handed over my coupons and scanned my credit card for the second time.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said the cashier. “But you can only use triple coupons one per household per day.”

“But I used a different credit card this time,” I said.

“Yes, but you scanned your grocery card both times, so these groceries won’t count as triple coupons.”

Just then, someone I knew – and secretly think is really cool and would like to know better – appeared in line behind me with her two year-old daughter. “Amanda, hi!” she said enthusiastically. 

“Hi,” I muttered, wondering if she could smell me. Hugh stopped crying and reached over her pulled her daughter’s hair.

“It’s fine,” I told the cashier. “I’ll pay for it. I want all of it.”

“But Amanda, the coupons don’t triple,” said Amy.

“It’s fine. I want all these things.”

“That’ll be $73.47.”

I scanned my card, grabbed my groceries, plopped sticky Hugh back in his carseat, and waved a peppy goodbye to my woman who would probably now never be my friend.

Amy and I didn’t talk on the way home. It had been two and a half hours since we’d left the house. When I walked in the door, my stepson asked cheerfully me what we were having for dinner.

“Mustard,” I said.