It is twelve in the afternoon and I wave to the lady in the Postal Service van as she hands me a giant stack of mail. Upon closer inspection of what I had received, it appears that about ten percent of the bundle is actual mail. The other ninety percent is composed of mailings, flyers, and coupons. After dutifully separating the junk from the real mail, my mother and I proceed to skim through all of the coupons. We throw away the ridiculous mail orders of colorful checkbooks, miniature ceramic angel-babies, and satellite TV subscriptions. Finally, we are left with the real deal. This little scene at my home highlights the coupon-clipper culture that exists in my household. Being raised in a household that is careful in how it spends money has shaped my view of spending and capitalism.
Since I have grown up and am now living on my own in college, I realize how important it is to watch my spending. To say it plainly: paying for college has left me broke. Moreover, I feel bad for asking my parents for pocket money, because I know they work very hard to handle my tuition and fees. Because of this, I am very careful in how I spend every single penny. Is that meal really worth fifteen dollars? Do I have to buy another fancy lace top? These are the questions that I ask myself when I am out shopping. From my experiences in college, I have become even more reliant on coupons. However, they influence my purchasing decisions, both in positive and negative ways.
First, they allow me to try new things, with little to no risk. For example, I might see a coupon for free mascara from a brand that I do not typically use. Since I have nothing to lose in trying a new product for free, I go ahead and purchase the makeup. I might like the product so much that I will keep buying it in the future. This scenario has played out for me multiple times in different situations. It is not always makeup, but maybe food, clothes, or craft supplies. When I use coupons to try new products, both the business and I benefit. I get to find better things and the business can make a profit from my future spending. In this way, coupons have led a positive influence on my purchasing decisions. Yet, this is not always true.
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In the same way that I have benefited from coupons, I have also felt the negative effects of using them. For example, I might be tempted to buy a product simply because I have a coupon for it, not because I actually need it. I believe millions of people in first world countries are also guilty of this. Because we all have an abundance of resources and supplies, we feel the need to buy and hoard stuff that we do not really need. Coupons have greatly exacerbated this problem. People (with me being just as guilty of this) will assume that since a product is seemingly cheap, it should be purchased for the sake of buying it. This kind of “gluttony” is unsightly as it highlights some of the follies of capitalism. With massive spending and consumption, there are vast amounts of waste. For example, I once got a fifty percent off coupon to my favorite store. Mind you, this store sold moderately to high priced jewelry and accessories. At that time, I thought that half off meant go buy twice as much. Thus, I indulged myself in bracelets, and necklaces galore. Normally, I will only buy one or two pieces. Yet, this time, I bought about eight to ten. On average at this store, I spend about five to ten dollars, but I had now spent thirty. Even with the half off coupon, I still ended up paying more than I usually do. Thus, I had not really gained much from the deal. I ended up returning almost every piece of jewelry, because I realized that I did not need thirty of the same style of necklace and bracelet. It was such a waste.
Because of this, I believe that though coupons have great benefits for consumers and businesses at times, they are still a symbol of the ugly side of capitalism. Economic waste is a burden on any national economy. It is something that we as a nation have to grow out ourselves. It is crucial that we understand the difference between a good deal and another marketing ploy developed by companies to make us buy things that we do not really need. Coupons have been so helpful to me in my time at college, but I have seen how they can be a problem. So, I think the best way to go about using them is to be smart about what I want as opposed to what I need. In this way, I can help myself and help the economy.