Sunday, November 25, 2012

The End of the Couponer

I made a decision today that now changes a nearly lifelong habit.

As a little boy - after my parents' divorce - we were poor. We had lost our house (well, I had lost my house - since what ever little bit of equity might have been in a two-year old newly built home was divvied up in a divorce settlement). After about four or five months of living at my grandparents', we moved into a townhouse apartment.  A few years later, it was time to start giving me an allowance. Chores was one way (emptying the dishwasher, helping with laundry, taking out the trash, etc.). Another way was ingenious and began a long-lived habit.

My mother decided - most likely in an effort to teach me the value of money in addition to helping our grocery bill - that I could make additional allowance money but cutting out coupons for her to use at the market... but only for things that she was going to buy anyway.  I received the face value of the coupon as part of my allowance.

While today that would mean minimally 35 cents here or 50 cents there. Sometimes a 75 cent-ers or a $1 as well.  Until recently, Ralph's would offer double coupons - which I'm sure I would have benefitted from!  But back in my allowance days, coupons were only 5 cents or 7 cents.  I think 10 cents was the max. I don't recall any higher, but there may have been.  I could sometimes persuade my Mom to buy a more expensive brand if my coupon reduced it to the same or less than her normal brand.

When I moved out on my own, coupons became the norm for me.  I would cut them and save them in a envelope that I would bring to the store with me. 

When I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago, it turned into such a big thing for me.  I upgraded to a 5x8 file box with section dividers. My Mom would mail me coupons from the Philadelphia area as I had discovered that oft times they would be higher amounts than my LA versions. 50/75 Cents were the norm. $1 coupons were frequent. Double coupons was the norm - along with occasional Triple Coupon days! - and I could increase savings by only buying itms when they were on sale AND with a coupon. I could save over 60% off my total grocery bill on each trip.

There were times when Ralph's (my store of choice due mainly to their Double-Coupons Everyday policy) would have store coupons in their circulars or mailers - and their policy allowed for use of both store coupons and manufacturer coupons at the same time! 

Sometimes the use of my coupons resulted in me saving more than the cost of the item. I'd actually make money by taking an item home!   I'd go through the store circulars and figure out where to shop for the best savings. I'd go between Von's and Ralph's and a produce market.  Mambo Sprouts was coupon booklet that I received in the mail with lots of healthy and natural and organic brands.  These were added to my arsenal of savings as well.

These were truly halcyon days for grocery savings.

It all began to crumble during a major five-month long supermarket strike during the Winter of 2003/4. My couponing was curtailed and I ended up shopping at Trader Joe's (a non-striking market) most of the time. I fell in love with them, but with few national brands, coupons had no place.

When the strike ended, things were never quite the same.

Ralph's quietly altered their Double-Coupon Policy to limit savings to no more than $1 savings per coupon. A 75 cents off coupon would only 'double' an additional 25 cents to cap it at $1. Huge change that they simply added as fine print, while still advertising Double Coupons Everyday!

I got healthier and started eating better. Gone were most national brands giving Trader Joe's more of my business and leaving fewer and fewer coupons worth being cut by me.

Flash forward to today.  I shop at Ralph's less than once a month - except for a quick trip in for their store brand Non-Dairy Creamer.  The Mambo Sprouts mailer has ceased production.  Ralph's Double-Coupon Policy has quietly disappeared altogether.  To add insult to injury, coupon face values have dropped down into 25/35/50 Cent ranges again.

This morning's Sunday paper yielded no new coupons being cut out. A look through my (now 18-year old) coupon box revealed a handful of expired coupons from last month and a total of about 12 left - all due to expire by December 31, 2012.

There is no reason to continue. 

So, mark the date. After nearly four decades - 80% of my life - the Couponer that began as a young boy, is putting his scissors away, stashing the old beige box in the back room, and calling it a day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Two Planes of Existence


Time to break a 10-month silence.
"Being seen and not heard is really not something I do well.  On the contrary, it's something I vehemently rebel against!" - LDW 2012

That quote of mine is what triggered this.  I firmly believe that there are three types of humans on this planet.

One type consists of the vast majority of the human race which keeps itself in a self-created rat race.  They wake, eat, work, chores, relax and sleep.  It is ultimately a mundane routine that due to the structures of society, we are mostly all forced to adhere to.

Within this "average day" we encounter petty politics, peons clambering over other peons to simply be higher on the pile of shit we've created for ourselves.  We cling to ancient ideas and concepts that are ultimately meaningless... some created to give comfort to the masses, but most created to control the masses by those same higher-shit pile peons we battle everyday.


Go to the supermarket and - if you can - take a step back from your cereal buying or melon thumping and WATCH.  Look around and you will see it.  Like ants in a farm or fish in a tank... dozens of people mindlessly going about their business.  Hamsters on a wheel blindly following guidelines set forth for them eons ago.  Blissfully ignorant of any other way.  Oblivious to the world around round.

For most people, this is Life.  This is all there is.  They live, they die.  If they are lucky, they make a ripple or two in their immediate circle pond, but their impact on the planet is that of a grain of sand on a vast beach.  Meaningless in the big picture.

Sadly, this group is where ALL criminals dwell.  All bullies live and thrive here.  All dictators and despots.  Everyone who needs to control others to support their own lives.

How do we avoid getting sucked into the whirlpool of mundane or worse, into a life controlled by others?  How do we reside on the higher plane?

For those who can ascend and dwell on the higher plane, they would make up the second group.  A very small group who are looked up to and revered - and rightly so. Think Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa. 

They personally have no need for laws or even your average societal structure, they see each other for who they are and they live on a tenet of mutual respect.   They follow their hearts, know what is right, and do not succumb to early primal norms.  There is no higher power for them (regardless of what they might outwardly profess).  They and their brethren are supreme.  They sometimes live alone as a small group.  On a mountaintop perhaps.  Tibet anyone?

Being able to live like this would be true Utopia.

Sadly, to interact with society, the vast majority can only visit this plane in short intervals.  They have to come back down, lowing themselves again to average human levels.  These are the straddlers - the third group.

A small group of beings on this spinning rock that actually comprehend this on a regular basis but cannot seem to separate themselves fully - or chose not to.  They can take a step back and watch as this endless cycle of life continues - unbeknownst to the humans in the first group actually engaged in it, but then rejoin to masses to work their magic.

Some have done this better than others... Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs.  Their ripples affect a great many ponds and they have a lasting effect on society for a very many generations to come.

Humbly I state that this is the group I find myself in.  It saddens me and truly upsets me to realize that.  It annoys me to have to step back and it perturbs me - for the most part - to interact with the rest of society who just don't get it; who don't truly understand - who continue to dwell in their primitive lives clinging to their primitive ideals.

For those of us who can step back... who recognize this... we know existence can be so much more.

The trick is how do we step back and stay back for extended periods of time?

Besides living alone or on that mountain in Tibet, we can do our own form of meditation.  I've traveled alone to Peru and hiked the Inca Trail for four days - dwelling in my own head for most of the trip.  It was fabulous.  I sometimes wish I could chuck my life as it is and do something singular like hike around the world.

So what can we do?

Try to step-back more times than not.  Think before you speak - understand what you're responding to before you respond to it (something I wish I was better at!).  Don't point out how meaningless peoples lives are to them... they won't believe you and just think you're being mean - you cannot force someone out of their primitive closet, they have to first experience self-realization and then they can decide to step into the light on their own.

The world is not what it seems... and the more people realize this and can join the few of us who get it, the better this life will be for everyone.