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Couponing: Let's make a deal

There is a reason they call it extreme couponing. A few moments ago I found myself pondering the feasibility of having another baby because, as a new on-line couponer registered at five websites, I am now awash in coupons for diapers, formula and teething biscuits.

Sure, we've been empty nesters for three years. And, sure, having another baby would require extensive surgery and be completely ridiculous -- but you wouldn't believe the money we could save.

Extreme couponing has awakened my inner shopper. Not that it took much.

I have long carried a separate wallet for in-store discounts and coupons. I can shuffle the Macy's discount cards with a speed and flair that makes clerks ask if I ever worked a blackjack table.

Other mothers always told their kids to wear nice underwear in case they found themselves in an accident, I always told mine to carry a Bed, Bath and Beyond 20 percent off coupon in case they found themselves at a strip mall.

And it is true, I might have once told the family to engrave "Never paid full retail" on my tombstone.

But extreme couponing takes bargain shopping to a new level. The couponing websites read like spread sheets. They list the normal price of a product, the store's sale price, less the manufacturer's coupon, plus loyalty points earned, the final sale price with your combined discounts and the total percentage of savings. It's like tracking the stock market, only with immediate rewards. When did the Dow last give you $2 off a jar of spaghetti sauce?

One minor drawback to extreme couponing is that a lot of the coupons are for foods in the middle of the store -- the processed foods with a lot of salt, sugar and fat. Sure, we could find a way to live on mayonnaise, canned corn, Hamburger Helper and sweetened condensed milk, but is the savings really worth a high cholesterol count that would warrant going on statins? Ten boxes of mac 'n cheese versus coronary heart disease.

Still, I am mesmerized by the women who pose for pictures in their kitchens, surrounded by mountains of groceries, holding receipts 50 feet long, proclaiming something like, "I only paid $2.97 for all of this, earned enough loyalty points to get braces for Donnie and buy a new car!"

In one such picture the shopper was surrounded by juice boxes, cartons of Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, Mug Root Beer, two-liter bottles of Orange Crush and big bottles of vegetable juice. There also tends to be a lot of dish soap, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies and paper towels in these pictures. We can deduce that extreme couponers are very clean and well hydrated.

I spent Sunday evening surfing coupon websites and organizing circulars. Monday I found myself distracted by the constant e-mail arrival of new coupons.

Tuesday I mailed two coupons for baby products to our daughter with twins. The coupons were for a buck. The stamp cost 44 cents.

On Wednesday I landed a 70-cent off coupon for peppers. Getting to, and back from, the store that the offer was good at would have burned a gallon in gasoline.

I only hope I can realize some decent savings without having to quit my day job.

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