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A Coupon Clipper Gets Last Laugh

September 28, 1989|MIKE SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

Mary Worth has put my teeth on edge since I was a child. I could never understand what qualified her to be in the funny papers in the first place, she not being exactly in a league with the Far Side.

I am not an avid Mary Worth reader. It's just that she has the same effect on me as freeway accidents: I don't want to look, but some perverse fascination forces me to.

To her credit, though, she has never offended me. . . .

. . . Until last week, when I caught her sneering at grocery coupon clippers, of which I am adamantly one.

In the strip, Mrs. Worth is stunned and obviously appalled when a woman who drives a fancy car gathers up her cents-off coupons before heading to the market. Mary makes some pointed remarks to the woman and later about her.

Mary, dear, these aren't food stamps, for goodness' sake. They're one of the few ways left for average Americans to trim their food bills. And if you don't want yours, send them to me.

Let me ask you something, Mary. How often since Harry Truman left office have you paid 80 cents for a quart of Kraft mayonnaise or 99 cents for a pound of Folgers coffee? Or 60 cents for a six-pack of Coca-Cola or 2 cents for a box of Tide detergent? I made all of those buys within the past several weeks--thanks to my local supermarket's practice of doubling the value of the coupons I clipped from the newspaper.

Apparently Mary Worth isn't the only one who looks on me and my fellow coupon clippers as parsimonious pinheads.

According to the Manufacturers Coupon Control Center in Clinton, Iowa, most coupons go unused--by a wide margin. Of more than 200 billion distributed last year, 193 billion were discarded. But catch this: The 7 billion that were redeemed represented $3 billion in savings to consumers.

The potential, however, is nearly $50 billion, and that's a lot of tuition, cousin.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not bubble-headed enough to run out and buy a product just because I can save a few cents on it. I'm quite selective, saving only those for items I normally use, particularly such staples as coffee, soft drinks, laundry detergent and pet food.

Although I did hear of an altruistic woman who does buy couponed items for which she has no personal use. Health considerations don't allow her to eat certain foods, but she will buy them anyway--to donate to a local food bank for the homeless.

Because of coupons, the cost of doing the laundry for myself and my two boys is limited to what I pay for electricity and gas. Most detergent coupons say they are "good on any size," so I buy the small size, the one I can usually find on sale for about $1. Double a 50-cent coupon, Mary, and go figure.

And when there's an especially good coupon in the paper, I'll often go out and buy extra copies, figuring that a 25-cent investment to save $8 is sensible economics. This past summer, one market had such a great deal on cases of soft drinks that I picked up 20 copies of the paper and 20 cases of soft drinks (leading one of the boys to suggest that next I'll be building a bomb shelter).

In the same edition of the paper was a zinger of a coupon for potato chips (9 cents, rather than the normal $1.59) and, hey, I already had 20 copies. . . .

Storage sometimes presents a problem, but not for long. My very hospitable sons have many friends.

What seemed to stick in Mrs. Worth's wicker basket was the fact that her friend was affluent and didn't need to be penny-pinching.

Well, that's one of the odd things about the whole coupon phenomenon, according to a poll conducted for the Food Marketing Institute by the Lou Harris organization. It found that the use of coupons clearly increases as household income goes up.

And a U.S. Department of Agriculture report points out that those in our society who most need the savings--the poor--don't have access to coupons because they don't buy the newspapers and magazines that carry them.

Meanwhile, the Mary Worths of the world who don't use coupons are subsidizing those of us who do.

So she has earned my gratitude, I suppose . . . along with a little free advice: Lighten up, Mary.

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