One family’s junk mail is another family’s saving grace. I can’t remember the last time every surface in my home wasn’t covered in coupon booklets. But the coupons are brand new every week. The ones before each new cycles go through an incredible journey the newcomers can only begin to imagine. What happens in my house is the stuff of coupon fairy tales, told to coupon babies by their coupon mommies before bed every night. Coupons dream of coming to my house. My mom is the coupon Jesus.
Every Wednesday evening, my mother and uncle sit on the floor around the coffee table, armed with the sharpest scissors in the house (the “coupon clippers”, as they’ve been christened), precisely clipping and categorizing the small slips until midnight. Zip-lock bags (purchased in bulk with a coupon, most likely) full of coupons and labeled with chipping sharpie litter the kitchen cabinets and drawers. Our weekly grocery list hangs on the refrigerator, and always right next to it are the corresponding coupons, paper-clipped and magnetized.
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Shopping day (usually Saturday) is marked by a road trip across the entire city. My mom takes her car, my uncle takes his car, and his partner takes the public transportation. We all take coupons. We hit Costco (“a membership is like an infinite coupon”), all the generic brand grocery stores, and Whole Foods if there was treasure in this week’s mail pile. My mom keeps the loose coupons pressed to her chest with one hand as she pushes the cart through the cold freezer section. How many bags of frozen peas do we need? Can’t ever have too many. How fast can we eat four loaves of bread? We’ll all have two sandwiches a day, on Sunday we’ll have toast. Does anyone like Mango lasagna? We do now, they’re two for one. Everything thrown into the cart must be matched with a justification. This, of course, doesn’t mean that if we can’t find one, we put the thing back. It just means we stand there until we figure one out.
The last leg of the relay: the check out line. The woman in lane 8 sees us coming and hands her apron off to another attendant for a long bathroom break. The air thickens as my mom reaches the conveyor belt. She takes the stance of a marathon runner ready to launch. I swear I hear the snorting of aggravated race horses as we line the non-breakable items up on the metal belt at the end. I eye magazines longingly, wishing I was having a shocking divorce scandal instead of standing in this line behind my mother/warrior queen. The lucky patron in front of us grabs his receipt and hurries out the door. The attendant, growing suspicious, begins to scan our mound of unreasonable perishables. Why do they have so many jugs of milk?
As the total-somewhere around $300-settles on the screen, my mom holds up a finger, visibly shaking with excitement, and slides the bestseller-size stack of coupons onto the counter. “I have a few of these.” An audible groan is heard from the line behind us. The woman at the end buying the six pack of toilet paper escapes to another line. But my mom’s in the zone now, and the attendant has reluctantly fallen into the role of her relay partner. Mom passes a slip of paper, attendant scans (*beep*), a red deduction appears on the screen. After twenty minutes and little speaking, my mom is covered in sweat and the value of our overflowing cart has reached an awe-inspiring $63.47. A few members of our audience (the patient patrons of lane 8) clap and cheer. My mom opens one of our four jugs of milk and chugs the entire thing.
Back home, it’s a race against time to reorganize the deep freezer to accommodate all 10 pork butts purchased throughout the day. The Tupperware cabinet is reorganized to also house chips and crackers. Our home has collectively fed all of India for less than $200.00. We will make it through the winter.