February 19, 2009

Illiteracy Saves HappyChyck Money

Would you believe that a woman who could not read saved me $85?

It's true!

Something my three readers may not know is that I clip coupons. I mean, seriously clip coupons. I've always done it, as my mother did, too, but last summer I made it a hobby. Now I'm one of those women who has stories about how I went to the store and purchased $130 worth of groceries for $30. That was my very best, and it happened a few weeks ago, but usually my savings are closer to 40-50% when I use coupons.

It takes a little work to do this, and it often involves shopping different stores when prices are rock bottom and then using the coupons. I had time in the summer go to different stores on a weekly basis, but now I keep it to Smith's (a Kroger store), CVS, and Walgreens--and only when it's a great deal and I can make it during my schedule.

(Part of this whole couponing thing is that I have a stockpile, so except for basics, like fruits, veggies, and bread, we are rarely desperate for me to get to the grocery store when I am up to my ears in work and grad school.)

If I need to go to Target or Wal-Mart, I will check out the deals they have there, but both of those stores are known throughout the the Internet coupon networks as wildcards when it comes to coupons. Sometimes you'll be hassled, and sometimes you won't. I've experienced this, so it's not worth my time to take a gamble unless I'm going there anyway.

With that background, I needed to get a water filter for our faucet-mounted purifier, so we planned little trip to Wal-Mart. (We have such exciting plans on the weekends, don't we?) I made a list of things I could use while I was going, including, but not limited to, things I could buy for hardly anything with coupons. We were in the store for about an hour, leisurely shopping, and of course, doing price comparisons.

And then there was the checkout. The checker rang up my order, and I handed her my coupons. She immediately started scrutinizing every single one. With the very first coupon, not even an Internet printable one, which often freaks people out, she started questioning. She printed off a copy of the receipt to compare items. Then she wanted to see the item that had already been bagged. The coupon said, "Save $1 off any StarKist Creations or StarKist pouch," but the there was a picture on the coupon that showed two packages of tuna, which basically indicated options. She tried to tell me that I needed two packages of tuna to use the coupon.

I was a little surprised by the situation as it was unfolding because I am used to visiting my local grocery store where I hand over thick stacks of coupons, and they don't even blink an eye. Seriously, you've got to know that to save as much as I do, sometimes I have a coupon for every single thing in my basket, and the cashiers even commend me on my savings, but here I was in this giant chain store with a mere 10 coupons, and she couldn't even push through a basic coupon. I didn't lose my patience, though.

"Oh, ma'am, it's not the picture on the coupon. It's what the words say!" I pointed out what the words said.

And then about 2 seconds later, I realized she couldn't read, and I suspected she didn't understand spoken English very well either, and with 5 people waiting in line behind me, I didn't have time to teach her about singular and plural.

Fortunately, she realized this, too, so she turned on her light to call for a customer service manager to assist. (Maybe her realization was not quite the same as mine, but pretty darn close, I'd imagine.)

Unfortunately, in the next 5 minutes no manager came, even after trying to call someone on the phone, and she continued to scrutinize the coupons by asking us to unpack items from the basket. Nothing met her approval! They were all pretty straightforward: purchase a particular item, get money off! This concept has been around for over a 100 years!

Rather than strangling the woman, I told her to forget it, to cancel my order. I had lost my patience by then--I was, in fact, IRATE--and it was all I could do scream the obscenities that were rattling around in my head. Of course, I had already swiped by card, and a manager had to cancel the order, so I had to continue to wait for someone to come.

I have no doubt that the manager would have been able to resolve the situation had I not lost my temper and given up on the whole thing, but when the manager came and didn't even ask what the problem was--why I wanted my transanction cancelled, why I was an angry customer leaving behind $100 worth of items spread across the checkstand--that sealed the deal. Frankly, I was surprised by that, too. The last time I had coupons problems at Wal-Mart, it was because the coupons were complicated (like buy 3 of a certain product and get a different product free), and the register wasn't taking them despite the fact I met the conditions, and it took 2 managers, including the assistant store manager, who were more than happy to make me happy. Obviously, nobody cared if I left and bought my damn tuna at Smith's because someone can't read a coupon.

So, that's how illiteracy saved me money.

I'm thinking since coupons are so hard to read, maybe I should make a real-life reading lesson out of it.

I stopped at another Wal-Mart on the way home to purchased the much-needed water filter, but I decided that the other things weren't crucial. Kind of. All week long I've thought of things I almost purchased that day...I wish I had some ketchup...I really did need that bottle vinegar to clean the coffee pot...new hand towels for the bathroom would have been nice...I'm tired of banging the lotion bottle on the counter to get out every ounce...

Sigh. If only the woman had been able to read, she would have seen that I was not doing anything wrong. Maybe I would have inspired her to use them, too. Apparently, it's quite trendy to save money these days.

Just as every serious couponer has stories of success, we all have horror stories about how we were made to feel like criminals by simply using the marketing strategies manufacturers intend for us to use, and those of us who are savvy use to its fullest benefit--honestly. This is one of mine, with an educator's slant.

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