Coupons R <not> us
First, welcome back to my intermittent log. I have to address this issue, again, for my own sake. I love having a blog, I love practicing self-promotion in the form of shouting into echoing hollow chambers. I actually sorta like that no one is looking. I feel like I can, you know, get away with stuff. So here I am, talking about how I don’t blog, to be honest. It’s one of those really good things I want to improve on. I am starting to have time and energy. Priorities are their own balancing act. I intend to do this my way. Blogging is one of those creative endeavors that I prefer to, say, noncreative maintenance like scrubbing something that is dirty. I also like that I have cleaned off my back porch and arranged it, with my daughter’s help, into a new shape, so to speak. We look forward to hanging up all our white sheets around the perimeter and setting up a table and laying out a table cloth. Then we set the table with napkins, tea service, and tea with yummy nibbles. It is a wonderfully creative measure of life- physical, calming, cheap, beautiful, and vaguely Regency or Victorian British. We slow down and connect. Not much of this experience will translate well to the internet. So, yeah, the blog has some serious competition in good things that hold my attention. But that’s ok. I’ll just keep plugging along.
So now to the main topic: couponing. I love coupons. I love discounts. I love using a discount coupon at a second hand store and getting ten percent off a dollar book. I am just that bad. When I used store coupons, I loved getting $20- $40- even $60 off my grocery bill. It felt like I was beating the system. I was playing the game. I was getting ahead. My neighbor and I competed with each other, finding the best values, cheering each other on, going out and finding the deals again. It felt great.
Things started to change for me because I valued my time as much as I valued those deals. I didn’t want to spend my time running from store to store for the deals that ate up my day. Then I started noticing that most coupons were for the more expensive items- say, I could cut the high-cost item down to the price of store brand, maybe even better. It required carrying a little plastic satchel of coupons, running through the numbers, squinting at newspaper ads, doing the math for each item in the aisles, keeping track of my grocery list as well as kids, taking the stuff out of the cart that someone else had slipped in, and so on. It started getting on my nerves. I have not yet discovered hypoallergenic numbers that I could easily handle without breaking out in a sweat, or irritability, or just a bad case of internal jitters. It didn’t help that stores started adding television screens with continuously running ads. Nor did it help that many coupons came with detailed restrictions on how you could even begin to attempt to refund them: ‘buy three of this product and two of this to get a dollar off the first thing you bought’. I only wanted one of product number one, otherwise we ate it all in one weekend because there seemed to be so much of it. And then our income started going down, and it kept going down. I eventually cut nearly five hundred dollars from our food budget.
Then I had some warning signs at the doctor’s office. Those pesky blood tests had resulted in some elevated numbers. My husband started attending Weight Watchers (paid for by his work). My girlfriend went vegetarian. My other girlfriend was on a weight loss lifestyle change (notice I did not call it a diet) with her husband. A lot of conversations started being about stuff like calories, fat, appetite, aging, exercise, portions, budgets, and so on.
What it comes down to is that I rarely use coupons anymore. I make so much stuff from scratch that buying the brand name is ridiculous. I need a break from time to time, because one of the things I discovered is that there’s this thing called ‘washer-woman’s thumb’, or in more modern terms, ‘gamer’s thumb’, where tendons get sore and hands must rest. But we eat more fresh foods than we ever did before, and we eat a lot of home- made as well. We rarely eat out. I spend a LOT less time in the grocery store with less of that troublesome mental maneuvering between list and coupons and cart and kids and wait, where’d I leave my purse? I have started losing weight. I have organized my meals better, because on the whole we can’t just throw something prepackaged into the microwave or oven. And then there’s this side effect: when I get sick, my kids can make a healthy meal with minimal instruction from me. And then there’s this other, perhaps more significant side effect: those aching joints that the doctor could hear creaking when he bent a knee or turned a shoulder? Nearly all of that pain is gone. The glucosamine that I swore by, because it really did work, is gone as well.
So what do I do about food? I make it. I keep the meals simple. I use fresh foods. I rethink the whole Irish-meat-n-potatoes. I make my own pizzas. I make taco salads. Chicken soup is easy. I make my own bread, bread sticks, pita bread, bagels, English muffins, corn bread, and so much more. I make baked French fries, mashed cauliflower, home- made enchiladas, etc. Sometimes we just have what we call a ‘Farmer lunch’: boiled egg, fresh tomato, apple, fresh bread. Other times we have glorious breakfast wraps; my favorite has egg, garlic, spinach, chick peas, maybe a bit of leftover potato, a bit of milk or sprinkle of cheese, and some turkey bacon, wrapped in a tortilla from the store. Because as easy as tortillas are to make, they cost so little that I can afford to value my time instead.
I have two gardens now- not just the veggie garden we’ve had for years, but now a side garden next to the house with herbs and salad fixings in it. Some of those fixings are strange to the consumer-oriented ear: chickweed and purselane, for instance. Try them. They’re crisp and so full of nutrition. I think we’ve gone back in time and now maintain a kitchen garden. I love it. I absolutely love knowing where my food comes from, how it was processed, or not processed, and that I can adjust it to exactly my own liking that day. Do we want something sweet? I make oatmeal bars, a good compromise between sweet and nutritious. Do we want something salty? I just pop some popcorn on the stove. We eat a great deal less meat, we enjoy the variety of these news meals I try, and we feel as though we are living a fuller life rather than having fuller stomachs. My awareness of taste and smell has increased. My self- interest has shifted from indulgence to a deeper satisfaction. I think I might live longer; I will at least enjoy my time here more.
Coupons are handy things. We cut those Weight Watcher coupons out and buy my husband their microwave meals for his lunches. I have this Yogi tea coupon I carry around in my purse, hoping that in some store, some day, I will find the tea my daughter asked for. It’s cool that I know what coupons I have, because so few are so easy to keep track of. I remember the Velveeta boxes my mom stored all her coupons in. There was a little pyramid of them stacked on the kitchen counter. I examined them one day and discovered that many had expired years before. I started slipping one box from the bottom once or twice a week and rearranging the stack, and then throwing away the boxful of carefully clipped coupons from another decade. Coupons have their place, they have their use, and they have their problems. They are undeniably connected in my worldview with fatty, processed, unhealthy foods. Not to mention a more complicated life with more math in it. I thrive on words, not numbers. Coupons just don’t meet our needs at this time. I’ll go see what is growing in its prime outside: is it early spring? Chickweed. Is it later in the season? Purselane. How are those blue berries coming along? That heirloom lettuce? Or the new one, for us: sugar snap peas. I’m at least as excited about the garden as I ever was about coupon deals. Coupons got me something; the garden I made myself. Life feels more glorious than I could have imagined! So I have to shout it out to my occasional reader: Hey, you! Whatcha growin’?