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Hardcore coupon clipping is Fight Club for moms

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Nashville is full of mom cliques. There are the gym moms, who meet for gossip each morning over the elliptical trainers once little Kayleigh and Hunter have been dropped off at school. There's the Green Hills MOMS Club, a sort of mommy sorority, with dues and scheduled bonding time. There are the lactivists and the scrapbookers, the attachment parents and the pageant moms. And then there are the coupon clippers. Maybe you've noticed them at the grocery, surrounded by kids and toting baseball card binders that contain clear plastic pages filled with coupons. Or perhaps you've stumbled across one of their online blogs, offering scripture alongside helpful links to all the best coupon sites on the web. They're a tight-knit group, almost cult-like in their quest to save more on groceries than they spend.

I've watched them for a few years now, and I've come to the conclusion that no matter how many coupons I manage to use, I will always be relegated to the minor leagues of their coupon-clipping game. I just don't have what it takes to be a savings superstar.

My suspicions were confirmed not long ago, when I met a mom whose claim to fame is spending just $50 dollars a week on groceries for her family of four.

"How is that even possible?" I asked her.

"Well, I do all the usual stuff—cut coupons, print out online coupons, shop store deals," she told me excitedly, "but even with all that, you can't really save big on fresh produce. So I barter."

"You... barter?" I asked, confused. She nodded. "I buy the 10-for-$10 deals at the grocery and trade my extras with local farmers for their fruits and vegetables."

"Whoa," I said weakly. This was hardcore.

With that in mind, I tried to warn my friend Suzie when she told me a few weeks later that she planned to infiltrate the cult of coupon clippers, with the goal of saving a few hundred dollars a month. I could picture Suzie bartering for a pair of gently worn True Religion jeans, maybe—but produce? No freaking way.

Despite my dire predictions, Suzie went right out and bought herself a trading card binder, filled it with coupons (which she clipped with a group of moms who each buy three Sunday papers and then swap the coupons between themselves every week), and went to Kroger on one of its rare triple coupon days. When I called her a few days after her inaugural shopping trip, she was still recovering.

"I couldn't even believe what I saw when I got there," she gulped.

"Do tell," I replied.

"Well, there were women everywhere with, like, 20 rolls of toilet paper in their carts, or 20 bottles of Soft Scrub. And I'm telling you, it was intense," she said. "Those women were sweating."

"Really?" I asked. This kind of sight was new to me, but then again, I had never made it to Kroger on a triple coupon day.

"They weren't very friendly, either," Suzie continued, "but I just had to know what was going on, so I asked one of them. And it turns out that they had all caravanned to our Kroger from an hour away, because apparently only the Krogers near a Harris Teeter do the triple coupon thing."

"Wow," I said.

"Yeah, and they only allow 20 coupons per person on triple coupon days," Suzie said. "So they had all divided up and one of them was in charge of cleaning supplies and one was in charge of paper goods, and so on."

"You're not going to start doing that, are you?" I asked Suzie. "Oh no!" she said. "But I do love my binder! And when I see another woman shopping with a binder, we're like, 'High five!' It's like a secret club! And the binder women are a lot nicer than the caravanners. They have all kinds of advice."

I shook my head in dismay on the other end of the line, imagining that Suzie's eyes had been replaced with swirling, hypnotic black-and-white circles. "So how much did you save?" I asked her.

"Fifty dollars!" she said proudly. Then she paused.

"Was there a problem?" I asked.

"Well," she sighed despondently, "I ended up with a lot of tuna."

I wondered aloud whether Suzie still wanted to be a member of the cult of coupon clippers. She laughed. "Honestly?" she said. "I'd rather pay the $20 dollars and save my sanity."

Welcome to the minors, Suz.

The good news is that there's hope, even for those of us who will never haggle with a farmer over how many Lean Cuisines his tomatoes are worth. While I was writing this column, one mom mentioned that I should check out a grocery savings site called SouthernSavers.com. I did that, used a couple of tips I found there, and ended up saving 25 percent on my grocery bill for the week.

Even the Nashville Sounds hit one out of the park every once in a while.

Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.

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