Thursday, February 17, 2011

Unemployment Diary: Should Have Charged for Product Placement

My mother never really spent much time drilling the old Don't talk to strangers thing into our heads. For one thing, our town was so small, there weren't any strangers and for another, Mom had plenty of other things for us to be afraid of like Republicans winning elections and perceptions that we were anything less than solidly Middle Class.

So without this ingrained wariness of people I don't know, I'm apt to have forty-five minute long conversations about unemployment and wage stagnation with strangers in Staples or ten minute long convos in the frozen food section of Publix with a woman who offered me a coupon and ended up walking away with some frozen garlic bread and a coupon I gave her in exchange.

It's all in a day's work now that I'm accepting the fact that I might never have a traditional job again and I better jolly well figure out how we're going to manage in the future. As I've mentioned before, looking for a job has gotten so ridiculous, it is now sublime. But as any rule following collector of unemployment checks does, I continue the hunt like a technology-enhanced Elmer Fudd stalking Bugs Bunny. My gun is a laptop loaded with seventeen different mutations of my resume like interview-repelling viruses. Just like in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, the rabbit is winning and I'm still talking funny.

So despite the magical thinking of supply side economics, revenue numbers stay down, John Boehner, so what gets cut?

Again? My subconscious is skeptical. Haven't we gone through this already? We have. We've nailed down every fixed cost as best we can. While I continue to seek new income streams, we must get serious about cutting our variable costs even more.

As a result, I've been away from my usual corner of the blogosphere as I trolled the frugal living websites for ideas and attended a class (free, of course, at the library) on how to save using coupons. First, let me say that there is a wealth of information out there and second let me say that I've been feeling physically ill about how much money we've wasted over the years for the sake of convenience or due to sheer ignorance and laziness.

Implementing these money saving strategies has been time consuming because I'm either a slow learner or a perfectionist or both, but I assure you, they've been worth it. See, I'd assumed that cutting back equaled deprivation. Not so. Sure, you can buy an awful lot of convenience, but if you watch your pennies, you can have enough and the peace of mind that comes with not running out of stuff like food and toilet paper or money. Man, that sounds like ad copy for an infomercial, but bear with me, because there is a dark side to all this. And we're all about the dark side, aren't we?

For example, the couponing world is cut throat. Yesterday at the CVS, I had to settle for the Colgate Total (.75 off one coupon) instead of the Colgate Sensitive ($1 off one coupon) because some hoarder had cleared the shelves of the Sensitive. Same thing happened a couple of weeks ago at the Rite Aid. Some selfish hoarders had snatched up all the Prevacid 40ct. $24.99 with $10 +UP reward so I had to go across the street to the CVS and get the Prilosec 40ct $24.99 with $7 Extra Care Bucks instead. But that's okay. I got two boxes, used my $8 off 2 coupon and got a $24.99 rebate form to boot.  So those hoarders can suck it.

Which leads me to my second example - name calling. Now I haven't seen any verbal assaults at the store, but at home, they're calling me names behind my back. They still haven't figured out the Mom Bionic Hearing thing apparently.

"Have you seen the laundry room?" Nate and Sophie were in the living room watching TV and assumed I couldn't hear them from the dining room where I sat skimming and printing coupons like a fiend.

"I know," Sophie said. "How many cans of diced tomatoes does one family need?" (They were buy one, get one free and I had four .50 off 2 coupons that Publix doubles plus two store coupons. That's called stacking.)

Nate aimed the remote at the TV and switched the channel to A&E. "And what? Does she think we'll be living on just cereal and soup?"

Sophie snorted. "Don't forget the olive oil. There's like seven bottles down there." (She exaggerates. There are four bottles down there. B1G1 with store and manufacturer coupons!) Her voice grew grave. "Hey, you don't think she's becoming one of those hoarders, do you?" Ah. There's that word. Hoarder. I prefer stockpiler.

Nate thought about it for a second. "Nah, she's too much of a neat freak to be a real hoarder. She's like a cross between a stockpiler and a homesteader.What's with her making her own laundry detergent?"

"I know," Sophie laughed. "I came home from school the other day and asked if the dryer was broken because she had wash hanging all over the place. Plus she cleans with vinegar and baking soda now instead of Windex and bleach. Weird."

"Next thing you know, she'll be sewing herself some long skirts and wearing bonnets like those homesteaders."

I'd heard enough. "Hey, you ingrates! The money I'm saving is how we can afford to get satellite so you even know the difference between a hoarder and a stockpiler."

They turned to look at me. I expected a little chagrin from them. Instead they burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" I sputtered.

Nate pointed and I looked down at my shirt. A coupon dangled from my sweatered breast. Stupid static cling. I'd have to remember to add a bit more vinegar to the laundry rinse cycle until the Georgia humidity came back.

I admit, I'm experimenting with money saving ideas. Hang drying the clothes and using the dryer to fluff them for ten minutes or less will result in savings. Making my own laundry detergent is a no brainer. $10.99 for a big box of Surf or about $3.10 for the same amount of washes by mixing washing soda, borax and a bar of castile soap that I've grated. Even I can do that math.

Air drying the dishes in the dishwasher instead of using the heated dry setting = success. Turning off the high heat wash, not so much. It's trial and error. I'm still waiting to fall in love with Dr. Bronner and his amazing castile soaps, but if I remember my time in France correctly, that's where I learned that lots of lather = clean is an American notion and not necessarily true so I suspect Dr. B. and I will be BFFs soon.

Dialing the thermostat way down will be much easier to appreciate now that the worst of winter is behind us. Typing in gloves is a bitch, but typing with frozen fingers is an even bigger bitch.

Like any new interest, it's easy for me to go overboard. I start conversations with "Hey, did you see that Publix has Louis Jadot Beaujolais on sale for $10.99?" The cats don't care about Beaujolais. They want to know when I'm going to uncork the next can of Nine Lives (Box of 24 for $10.49 at Publix, still less per can than the box of 32 Friskies with a coupon).

I'd mentioned that this is time consuming. Preparing for the shopping trips is just the beginning. The trips themselves are an endurance exercise. It's as if my time is worth nothing which, according to most employers these days, is true. Yesterday, as I snailed my way through Publix calculating whether I should come back a second time so I could use my second $5 off any $30 bill (excluding the Beaujolais, naturally) an assistant manager approached me.

"I'm sorry, m'am, but we have a policy against loitering," she whispered.

I held up my hand as I finished counting the Pillsbury, Hunts, Green Giant and Progresso items in my basket (buy 20, save $5 with coupon of which I had two, but could use only one per trip hence the complicated math). "Loitering? I'm counting. And now I have to start over because I don't remember if I have six or eight cans of green beans. Say, while you're here, can you reach that jar of Mt. Olive sweet pickle relish that's on sale? Thank you."

She handed me the jar and as I placed it in the cart I said something about what a pain it is to be so short, but when I turned she was already rounding the aisle's end cap at a full run.

The grocery trips are long, too, because I inevitably end up chatting with other customers. It's funny what will spark a conversation. Like the woman who, like me, is new to using coupons in earnest. She gave me her extra Bertolli's and I gave her a New York brand garlic bread. Could I have used the extra fifty cents off another box of garlicky Texas Toast? Of course! But we're not savages,  you know. Give and take, people. Give and take.

I also find that I have to restrain myself from telling other shoppers to stop wasting their money, go home, get online and look at some Youtube videos about stockpiling and batch cooking, buy a few Sunday papers (be sure some hoarder hasn't swiped the coupon sections) and plan out their trips. They'll be amazed at what they save.

I've become such a convert. You know that line from A Christmas Story where Jean Shepard says "Some men are Baptists, others Catholics; my father was an Oldsmobile man." Well, I am now a Smart Source and Red Plum chick.

I will have to reign it in eventually. Chloe will be home for Spring Break in a couple of weeks and I don't think she'll appreciate having her room serve as a warehouse. There is a good chance that MathMan will clip my coupon wings before long.

Last night he called to let me know that he and Nate were on their way home from baseball practice. That's my cue to race around and make this house look like I've done something besides watch fetish videos and lie around watching movies with the cats. Yesterday was different. I was in the middle of creating inventory sheets for the small grocery store that's sprouted in the basement. I'd spent most of my day chasing deals all over Cartersville and was tired, but happy with my haul versus savings ratio.

Sophie was occupied so I decided I'd wait for MathMan in our bedroom and surprise him with the new homemade shampoo recipe I'd found online. I'd offer to help him unwind with a shower and well, you know. It would be a nice change from the boring old Hi, Honey, how was your day conversation we have every evening as I close window after window of Adult Friend Finder pop up ads. I got comfortable on the bed wearing the most alluring thing I had.

When he opened the door, you should have seen the look on his face.

"Well, this is a nice surprise," he smiled.

I did a Vanna White hand sweep along my naked thigh and gave him my best come on, baby smile. "You like?"

His eyebrows went up a fraction and he licked his lips. "You know I do. How nice to come home to a naked wife."

I blushed a little. "I thought we might have a shower." I'd save the shampoo surprise for after we were wet.

"Sounds wonderful." He moved closer and I closed my eyes, preparing to be kissed. "Hey," his voice was already taking on that husky tone. Nice.

I opened my eyes. "Yes?"

"What's this?" He fingered the thing I had draped around my neck. It snaked down along the length of my body.

"Oh, I thought you'd like this. It's something I got today." I closed my eyes again waiting for that kiss.

He leaned closer and I could smell the fresh air from the baseball field in his long hair. I was so ready for that kiss. He pulled back and I felt my new apparel slip away from my body as he tugged it. I opened my eyes again and looked at his handsome face which was now intent on examining the thing he held in his hands.

"Lisa, my darling, why are you wearing the Publix receipt?"

Please tell me you get absorbed and obsessed. What sucks you in and steals your time, your heart, your imagination? Confess to me or I'll make you clip coupons for me.


  1. Years ago, I remember reading an article about the author Kaye Gibbons. (Like you, she writes and she clips a lot of coupons.) It was a whole new world to me; fascinating. It sounds like you have entered a whole new world, too.

    I'm not sure if there are coupons in England, but I can tell you that I grabbed four sticks of butter today when I noticed that they were 30p less than usual. (Did you know that you can freeze butter?) I feel evangelical about making food from scratch instead of getting take-out -- or eating out. SO MUCH CHEAPER.

    I guess that the good thing about unemployment is that it gives you more time to do a whole lot of things BETTER. No longer a wage-slave; although you may be a coupon slave.

  2. Do you have a basement? If so, then you can grow mushrooms - they go nicely with diced tomatoes and olive oil.

    Besides, since the Repugs are successfully bringing back serfdom, soon you're be buying bags of beans at a company store and coupons don't work there.

  3. Your blog is the best one I have read in a long time. Love it!

  4. Impressive!! Maybe you can write a book about this, and then the world will buy it, and you will be a gazillionaire!

  5. I so love this post. You are a woman after my own heart. Yesterday I made an inventory spreadsheet of my freezer! 12 FLANK STEAKS! I really think my food stockpiling is actually straight-up food hoarding. It's completely psychological. Costco and canning my own vegetables just feeds the cycle.

    Holy cats, you saved over $100! You are my hero! I've been clipping coupons since high school, when my mom would send me off to the store. No shame in saving on what you already buy.

  6. I try to do it, but I need to be more agressive.

    Love that you were wearing the reciept. :)

  7. I don't think I'd bother with a show called Stockpilers. It just hasn't got the same W.T. cache as Horders...

  8. I must admit trying to do coupons a few times but I'd usually forget to take them with me when I went shopping - or I'd remember and hand them over to the checkout person and learn they were outdated. After a while I just got into grabbing coupons the store supplied near items I was buying anyway. I'm a lazy shopper, and besides, it's impossible to shop with a man who's bored with the whole process and also try to save money. Can you imagine how much worse it was when he wandered off on his own to the deli at Whole Foods? Eventually, I decided it was cheaper to keep him close since he insisted on coming with me to help carry.

    This is a very cool post and I liked the bit at the end where a slip of the typing finger would have made that receipt a Pubix one.

    There are two kinds of stores where I do become obsessed and absorbed - art supply stores and book stores. I can (and sometimes do) spend hours in either.

  9. first, have your read The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio? (by terry ryan) the movie's good too (has julianna moore) but read the book first.

    second, the rest i'm sending you in an email.

  10. I have to admit I'm more like susan. I don't want them (ie. our corporate overlords) telling me what I have to buy. Plus I never have the right combo. Like I have to buy two products rather than just one and where in the hell is the savings in that.

    It's 50 cents off two products! That's not saving anything. It's just making me buy your soon-to-be-outdated crap. See, I get a little testy.

    Hubby's mom was a professional housewife with five kids and she did aggressive couponing. She ended up on some local show here because of it--it was on channel 4 I think. She met Cowboy Bob. Remember Cowboy Bob?

    Nice writing here, and funny too.

  11. My aunt is a champ at using coupons and competitive shopping. I recall being with her once as she went to get a free bag of dog food. "But Aunt Mary," I said, "you don't have a dog." And she didn't, but it was free. In fairness, another aunt and uncle did, so it didn't go to waste.
    Good luck. And you may want to check out By the way, the woman who started this blog did it for herself as a sort of diary. Now she has a lot of followers and she got a book deal. Just saying.

  12. I can hardly bring myself to make a trip to the store for toilet paper, so clipping coupons is an exercise in, well, hoarding. But I'm glad you have found something that makes you (and MathMan) happy. ;-)

  13. " It's as if my time is worth nothing which, according to most employers these days, is true."

    It's the hooks like this, tossed off in the middle of a paragraph, that makes your writing so good!

    In this one sentence you manage to express so much of what is wrong with our world. If I really thought you believed this yourself, I'd be worried ... but, nah, not you!

  14. I feel your pain.

    This post made me think of my mother. She was a hoarder. She used to keep all the soy sauce packets from the Chinese restaurant. "Just in case," she would reply when asked why.

    That you are unemployed is a national tragedy. I've said it before and I'll say it again. David Sedaris pales in comparison.

  15. *dies* Is it wrong of me to be just a little jealous? I would so be you if it were me at home. Hubby SWEARS that the driving around costs more than the savings (because of course he doesn't GET IT and is definitely not the sort to get INTO it... erm... and he hates clutter) but MAN, i would totally get into it and i would do it WELL!

  16. I can get really into reading nonfiction, like really, really into it. I think having less time to read my nerdy books is the hardest part of raising young children for me.

    The whole stockpiling and coupon savings movement doesn't work for those of us with small houses and tiny, almost useless, pantries. What we spend on groceries, though, we save on housing, so I guess it evens out.

  17. Hilarious!

    I'd get rid of the satellite. We have zero cable...never have in 19 years of marriage...just think how much we've saved. And we still get like ten channels. :)

  18. I've gotten lazy about it, but I clipped coupons like crazy when I was unemployed.

  19. I was a coupon clipper way back when. Tell Sophie from me that there are never enough diced tomatoes. We go through several Costco cases per year!

  20. LOL! :) Oh Lisa, I can relate to the coupon clipping and "hoarding"...I am SO like that. I am often very sad that we don't have a Costco near us. :)

    And it does take tons of energy and concentration to save money like that--but don't forget to ditch the receipt afterwards! LOL! :)

  21. Are you kidding me?? My brilliant post just vanished into the ether?

    Well the gist was you are doing a good thing. You know the whole "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" philosophy.

    You have to stretch more month than money & you have lots of mouths to feed.

    You go girl!

  22. you are so fucking talented. you exploit 'misery loves company' in such a funny way, like you were born to do it. ..also, houses are full of underutilized storage space opportunities.

  23. It's not that the retailer is losing money on this(except when they double or triple the coupons, or when someone uses fake coupons, which is not the case, it seems). They're reimbursed for them by the manufacturer (I assume they're manufacturer's coupons).


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)