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FAMILY LIFE

Mary Worth Will Sneer, but for Many, Coupons Clip Much Off Food Bill

October 12, 1989|MIKE SPENCER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Writing anything for publication is like putting a note in a bottle and hurling it into the ocean; unless someone tells you they found it, for all you know it's still out there bobbing around somewhere.

And, of course, there's always the danger the bottle will sink.

Well, a couple of notes we cast adrift recently were picked up, mostly on friendly shores, judging from the mail. But there were some rocky shoals, too.

The piece on grocery coupon clippers, for instance, found some rough seas in Fountain Valley, of all places, where Pat Shaw took exceptional exception to my defense of their use.

Shaw contends that coupons promote prices, not savings, that they "keep prices up, up, up!"

"The corn flakes you ate (when you were) 10 years old are the same as today," she writes, "but the public pays four times as much for them. It's outrageous!

"When a food item is 'on coupon,' take note that the price goes up for about 60 or 90 days--about the life of the coupon."

She maintains that coupons are just a "gimmick" to keep the public's ire down while food manufacturers quietly and steadily escalate prices.

She also took me to task for mentioning specific brands on which I had saved money, convinced that I would receive in the mail tons of "coupons (from them) for all that free advertising."

She concluded that I was--contrary to what I had written--indeed a "parsimonious pinhead" and signed herself "Mary Worth's sister." (I had based the column on a segment of the comic strip in which Mary Worth sneers at a woman using coupons.)

For a parting shot, Shaw accuses me of being a yuppie ("It's easy to tell," she writes) and assumes I was a child in the '60s.

For starters, while not boring you with my birth date, I will say that when I was a child I thought Franklin D. Roosevelt would always be President, Joe Louis would always be heavyweight champion of the world and Pius XII would always be Pope (I figured as long as they had always been those things, there was no reason for them to change jobs).

And unless you're one of those college seniors polled by the Gallup people recently, you can figure that was long before the '60s. (Half of those students didn't know when FDR was President and as many didn't know in which half-century the Civil War was fought.)

As to the use of brand names, I cited them to show there were savings possible on nationally recognized items, that they weren't offbeat items produced in someone's garage.

If I am deluged with coupons from them, I promise to pass them on to Pat Shaw.

I, too, am alarmed by the cost of food, but until the revolution or whatever it takes to bring prices down, I will continue to use coupons.

So apparently will such people as William M. Timlin of Cypress, who wonders if the Mary Worths of the world "would ignore real dollar bills (if they were) printed in the paper?"

"I still get kidded about going through the paper with a pair of scissors," he writes, "but not for very long.

"The easiest response (to those people) is to agree that it's a bother and then go on to complain that even with the coupons I'm clipping, I still have to pay 3 cents for shampoo, 9 cents for a box of corn flakes, 28 cents for a six-pack of soft drinks, etc.

"Or to tell them on my last trip to the store, I actually had to pay $12.47 in cash on a $51 'shopping spree.' "

We also heard from Don Hull, whose Costa Mesa marketing firm handles Family magazine, a publication fairly bursting with coupons that is distributed free to military families around the world.

Hull wanted us to know about Beth Whitman, a Pensacola, Fla., resident who set some sort of world record--for the number of coupons used if not for total savings--during one shopping trip earlier this year at a Navy commissary.

Whitman redeemed 1,376 coupons worth $601.31, reducing the price from $1,515.60 to $914.29. A bonus for winning was enough cash to cover the final tab.

The cash register tape, incidentally, was 13 feet long.

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