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Don't Discount Yourself This Christmas

Scott Hansen, expounds on Christmas shopping and it's effects on the human condition. See him New Years Eve at the Maple Tavern. www.scotthansen.com.

I once read that there are more family arguments, divorces and suicides during the Christmas season than any other time of the year.

I get it. I believe it. The problems are by caused by shopping.

My wife knows that I hate all shopping. She loves it. She can walk into a store with no purpose or goal other than to see what is new on the shelf. I do not shop. I buy.

I will not go into a store without some preconception of a desired product or goal. When I go to the grocery store I will not go down an aisle in which I do not have any interest in or need of the products in that shopping area. I apply this to all stores.

My style is based upon my need to adapt. My problem is that shiny objects easily distract me. My heard turns readily at buzzers, bells, sirens, and photos of puppies and babies. I am drawn to “Buy One Get One Free’ and “Special” signs like the oceans to the moon.

So, to avoid distractions and unnecessary purchases, I get in quickly. I hit the targeted department like a swat team on a crime scene. I exit like Navy Seals after a raid. My wife has learned to adapt to my style on trips to the grocery store.

Our trip to get groceries now requires that she do a “drop and roll” from a moving car. I then circle the store in my vehicle. She knows where to go as we both have a memorized, mental map of the store that would rival any GPS system. It is quite often that a young, smocked employee will ask one of us where a product is located.

While in the store my wife quickly secures the objective and heads for the checkout. As she exits the store she jumps into our moving vehicle with her purchase in hand. It is quite often that a full grocery excursion can be completed in less than 4 minutes. Her ability has enabled us to spend more time together and saved us money from not buying impulse items.

My wife knows of my other big shopping obsessions. They are two problems that arise and both are when it’s time to check out. Her adaption here has been slow. This confuses me because we have worked hard to get our system implemented. It takes practice, precision timing and physical skill. Why does all our training seems to end when we hit the cash register?

You see, as I think that I am quickly making payment for a purchase and exiting a store, my wife ends the shopping process. She begins digging into the bottom of her purse, scouring pockets of her jacket or snapping and unsnapping hidden compartments of her pocketbook as she tries to accumulate the exact change.

I have the money ready. Quite often it is in the cashier’s hand.  Sometimes I get so close.

Just last night the cashier tallied our purchases after an attack on the retailer.

“$42.63”, said the unassuming cashier.

 I opened my wallet and removed three $20 bills.

Then she said the words that can halt my life.

“I think I have 63 cents.” My wife stopped my world cold again.

“I have it cov…” I tried to interject as I felt a hand on my chest pushing me aside.

Slowly coins begin appearing like a bad magician at a kid’s birthday party.  A couple of quarters would relieve my tension but the first coins are always the labored face of Lincoln on the pennies.

“3. 13. 38. 43”, she counts.

All hope of seeing a complete TV show this evening is dashed. Our race like a hare has become the pace of the tortoise.

“48. 58. 63. There you go.” She glowed with the pride of s fifth-grader with a perfect report card.

I am searching for some frozen purchase to place on my head. Where are you Pizza Rolls?

I love my wife. so I am adapting. No preventing. I now use a debit card every chance I get.

I am also adapting to my second check out obsession: the coupon.

When my wife isn’t mining for coinage at the cashier she is on a last minute quest to find a coupon filed in her pocketbook between photos of family members, crayons and unpaid utility bills.

It is quite often at a store or restaurant that my wife will reach into a hidden pocket of her jacket and pull a printed, paper discount for the product we just purchased.

She is aware of my annoyance with these clipped cash cutters so she always waits to search for them until the last second. The usual discount is under fifty cents. She waits until I already have the money in the cashier’s hand or have swiped my card. Then I hear a demure, “I have a coupon.”

“SCREEEEECH!”

Her actions are always calm and unassuming. Many times she will slyly slip the coupon under the credit card or the cash so I will not see her attempt. This is not true if she has a major discount. Then she slams the coupon down like a trump card in the world bridge finals. She glares at the cashier as if to say, “ What you goanna do about that!”

In the past few years of my 34-year marriage I have finally adapted, maybe surrendered, to the Minnesota (and my wife’s) obsession with coupons. In my opinion, the coupon, to the average Minnesotan, is nothing more than food stamps for the middle class.

I have succumbed to the couponers’ logic of “If you don’t use the coupon you are just paying full price so the rest of us can save.”

Coupons cover Minnesota like a December snowfall. Just like the downy snowflakes, they are everywhere…you thought you wanted them. Then, after seeing how much work they are ...you begin to wish they had never happened.

Coupons are everywhere. There are coupon outlines in the remains of our newspaper. There are coupons mailed to our door camouflaged in colorful outdoor scenery with our own name printed upon them. There are coupons in the church bulletin. When you pay with a coupon at a store you get coupons for more coupons.

The coupons that I do not understand are the coupons that are located in the store when I am already there shopping. Am I wrong to think that the purpose of a coupon in the stores advertising was to entice me to go to that store? You won! Back Off!

In my mind, the most terrifying coupon assaulted me as I pushed my cart down the aisle filled with condiments. My Polish ancestry demands that no food I serve be presented without a spicy, sweet, fruity or dairy accompaniment, gravy or sauce. My Polish ancestors were the Kings of Dips. The condiment aisle is a staple.

During the Ronald Reagan presidency the government tried to say that ketchup was a vegetable. My family would argue that ketchup (and probably butter) is an entree. Heinz claims that there are “57 Varieties” of their ketchup, but I have never seen any others. There is no need. It is perfect.

With copious amounts of ketchup on my mind, I came around the corner of the condiment aisle. I reached for the giant bottle. Ketchup is the red sauce that is the base element for everything I cook from spaghetti to shrimp cocktails. It is the carbon of Polish cooking.

I reached out and was attacked.

The motion of my hand attempting to attain the ketchup must have activated a sensor to a coupon-spitting device. It shot a printed discount at me like a viperous snake spewing its venom.

My first reaction was to defend myself from this mechanical rattlesnake by beating it death with a package of frozen garlic bread that was in my cart. Then I read the offer.

“Fifty cents off the 46 ounce Heinz ketchup.” It had no limit. It had no expiration.

I looked into the girded ceiling of the store and said, “Thank you Condiment Gods!”

I placed my hand near the sensor and another coupon landed at my feet.  I started shoveling my hands under the sensor like a boxer attacking a punching bag. It was printing money!

After nearly two dozens coupons were in my possession, the machine emptied or the battery expired. I loaded the equivalent in ketchup into my cart and raced to the cashier. I was certain that this was either a mistake or the store would change this heavenly offer before I could get out of the store. 

At the check out things went smooth. With each scan of the ketchup I mentally added my savings in fifty-cent increments.

The total grocery bill was $70.83. I took out my coupons and fanned them like a Geisha with a fan in a steam bath. I laid them in the special “coupon basket” expecting to hear some new policy that would end my dream.

There was silence. Then a $12.00 discount appeared on the register. I felt an inner peace and a sense of triumph. I had learned the system and won.

My wife searched for correct change but I did not care.  I loaded the four gallons of Heinz’s finest into double plastic bags. The bags had coupons printed on them. The register tape had coupons on the back. The cashier put a book of coupons in the bag.

I thought to myself, ”Had I beaten the system or had I been sucked into the system? Do they raise the prices so the can give me a coupon? Damn! That’s how they get you.” 

With a diminished swagger I finished my task. Then I heard the next customer being spoken to by the cashier. “With this offer you get $50 worth of groceries for $25. It’s called a “Groupon”. A coupon that you buy.”

“A coupon that you buy? Really?”  I asked the cashier,” Where do I get a coupon for those?” 

When will this swirling discount dervish end?   God help us all.

 

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