If you know what OYNO, MIR and BOGO means, you are dangerously close to what I would call an extreme couponer. Couponing has evolved from a frugal art into a smart shopping mantra. And to the frugal immigrant there is no better way to save an extra buck than shopping with coupons.
When my mother visited the US for the first time, we took her to a major retail chain to get her a winter coat. Of course everything was on Sale and we also had 20% off coupons. She refused to pick up a coat thinking they were either defective or we had taken her to the Indian equivalent of Mega mart. Before she could grasp the fact that every clothing item we purchased was either on sale or in an outlet mall, we had an earful about the pauper like lifestyle we lead here. Since then some things have changed. She has graduated to collecting coupons and deal flyers for Williams Sonoma and we have started buying some stuff at regular price - occasionally.
My maternal aunts were experts at bargaining. They even haggled with the vegetable vendor. If they did not get a rupee or two reduced for a kilo of potatoes they would not have a good night’s sleep. No matter how hard they tried, this art of bargaining was lost on their niece. Which is why in India, I would never have bothered to plan my grocery shopping. We used to do it on our way back from work or if all else fails, run to the store at the street corner to get last minute necessities. Deals? What deals? Getting ready for your bath and realizing that you shower gel is all squeezed out or having a store in arm’s reach with your stove on is deal enough. But here we never do grocery shopping on weekday evenings because of the crowd. So I offer to go during the day time or on weekend mornings. Little did I know that there was another crowd waiting to smack me.
I’m usually amazed at how people fill their carts without a care about letting stuff rot in their fridge or storing them at home, but I have long since learned not to stare at them with an open mouth. It really is rude. So when the lady before me had two carts full and the store clerk was happily ringing his register, it was daytime soap opera material. I was waiting for her to run out of cash or make a fuss about leaving out some of the items. None of it happened. She opened her bag and there were a stack of coupons and I stood behind her for what seemed like eternity. Even as the store clerk braved himself for the onslaught, he was ill-prepared. She seemed to talk in Greek and Latin when she handed him a wad of manufacturer coupons and some were pinned with store coupons. The clerk wanted to bury himself and as he rang for the manager, the lady candidly brought out a neat file which was labeled as “Store Coupon Policy”. I know this was a clear sign for me to switch lines, but somehow my legs betrayed me and I stood rooted to the spot. (Besides I did not want to miss out reading about the Kardashians in the trashy magazines lined up near the checkout counter). By the time, the manager and the coupon lady sorted out the details and she paid her bill, the whole store was in rapt applause. For all that she bought she paid a measly $5. When my turn came, I dramatically opened my bag and thought the clerk would faint. But we both grinned sheepishly as I swiped my card for a reasonable amount. Out in the parking lot, when I saw the coupon lady struggling to load her loot, I felt redeemed. Instead of zooming past her, I was walking towards her in the hopes of rubbing on some supermarket stardom. I wanted to get into her bubble of saving even when shopping for broccoli. My aunts would be so proud.
It is exciting when we use coupons for the stuff we really want but with Groupon and Living Social offering us deals from Massages to Miss Maude’s Meals, we are spoilt for choice. One of my friends thought she was striking a deal when she used Groupon to get her portraits done. When the shoot was over, she was stuck with multiple prints of the same picture and every other shot was drilling a hole in her pocket. The fine print with some deals leaves you like a deer caught in the headlights. When we visited our friends and I opened their closet door thinking it to be the restroom, I was caught off-guard by the mountain of toilet tissues starring at me. Apparently they had found a good deal and bought a year’s worth. Their garage, oven and car trunk, all double up as storage spaces. And when pure vegetarians are stuck with cans of tuna because they couldn’t resist a steal, you know they have turned the common sense of using coupons on its head.
As immigrants, it takes us a while to stop converting every purchase to its Indian value. Although India has had a sharp rise in its standard of living, we are still stuck in the 90s retail value. So coupons and deals are a great way to save money and ease our currency confused state but when you end up buying what you will use 6 months hence or stuff you will never use, you know you are in need of intervention. Otherwise bring on the retail nirvana.
P.S: OYNO – On Your Next Order, BOGO – Buy One Get One, MIR – Mail-In Rebate.
Photo credit: vator.tv
February 18, 2012
Coupons have become the smart shopping mantra, another reason to rejoice for the frugal immigrant.