Coupons in the news…and in color-coded boxes

This is such a funny trend, and I realize it’s a sign of the times. Every show from Good Morning America to Oprah has had “super couponing” stories in the past couple of months, and they seem to make the late half of each evening news program once a week. That’s a lot of airtime for coupon coverage. But the funniest offshoot is the way people actually call me to read things out of their newspapers about couponing. Oh, what a fun and exciting thing to be associated with. NOT. But I find it vastly entertaining that these are the same people who roll their eyes and laugh at me for my new hobby.

A few days ago, my mother read to me from the front page of her rather thick local newspaper about a woman who saved $250 on her $750 supermarket/drug store shopping that weekend through the use of coupons and sales. Was it because she was impressed? Hah! She was calling to laugh at how much the woman had overpaid because we had recently worked deals on the same products and did MUCH better. Her favorite example was about Schick Intuition razors, which retail for $9.99 – the woman being interviewed bragged about using a $4 coupon against a $5.99 sale price somewhere. Mom snorted. We’d gotten 8 Intuition razors/refills for free at CVS. Then there was the Kraft salad dressing dea – right after they put out a $1.50 coupon, several stores put them on sale for $1.49-$1.59. Huge no-brainer, even for people who hardly ever use coupons. I had mailed 6 of those coupons to my mom to do the deal on my behalf at her supermarket, and she said everyone in line had a bottle or two. Her tone very much implied that this “advice” wasn’t at all newsworthy. I took great pride in having her say “we could have done a whole lot better”.

On a sidenote, the easiest way to stop the friendly ridicule of shopping for free, i.e. couponing, is to give them a bag of their favorite products, stuff they would have paid about $40 for even on sale, and tell them you paid 65 cents for it all. Their eyes bug out and it feels like Christmas to them. My best friend is very brand-loyal and just gave me her list of preferences today, and it turns out I’ve got quite a few of them in my stockpile already. Littlest sister Starfish is once again getting a “purple box” – a box full of all things purple, no matter what they are, as long as they’re useful – which currently contains Olay Ribbons body wash, lavendar-scented Dawn dish liquid, Skintimate shave gel, Theraflu with the purple cap, and grape-scented L’Oreal For Kids shampoo (inside joke, because she always wore sickening grape Bubblicious-scented deodorant and body sprays when she was a tween/early teen). Bridezilla picked lime green for her box, and so far I’ve got Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber, Garnier Nutritioniste face scrub, Doublemint gum, a clementine & ginger body scrub, and Tresemme curl spray. I’m also doing a box for Starfish’s boyfriend because I have a very warm place in my heart for a young man who runs through fire for someone I love, literally. She said navy blue, and so far I’ve got Lysol toilet cleaner, Right Guard pro deodorant, Pledge multi-surface cleaner and Crest Pro-Health Night toothpaste. I know, exciting, right? Remember, all three live in Aspen, where there are no chain stores, ridiculous prices on everything, and no sales. This stuff actually does excite as well as amuse them. Lucky me – and them!

I don’t want to die while making a living

Sometimes I truly hate those really scary news teasers that succeed in enticing me to watch their “real” news instead of The Daily Show. Most of the time it’s all hype no substance. However, there was one teaser tonight that made my heart flip-flop and scurry over to Google:  New York masseuse murdered in posh hotel.

I’m a massage therapist. I will see clients in their hotel rooms (they behave much better than New Yorkers!). And like this girl, I advertise on Craigslist.

But that’s where the similarities end, though I have to agree that there are already too many. First, the murder happened in Boston. I’m in Manhattan. Second, she’s a 26yo aspiring actress who “sounds like Paris Hilton” according to her friends. I’m a 38yo with a master’s degree in linguistics who has lived in 4 foreign countries, alone. Third, she did the kind of massage she was embarrased to tell her friends about. Ahem. I’ve been doing this for 6 years, have actually worked on my friends and family – and I specialize in a clothes-on style. Fourth, she puts photos in her craigslist ad. I put in a list of prohibited behaviors. Fifth, I’ve spent 8 years training in 3 different martial arts and can apply a blood-choke as well as any UFC contender. Plus, I don’t own a gun but I can shoot a pre-selected twig off a tree at 50 feet in a blizzard. And you would never guess it to look at me.

Lateness: Will the IRS behave like Citibank?

I emailed my CPA yesterday morning, since he didn’t drop off my taxes the night before as promised. He never replied. I checked my mail around 7pm last night, still no taxes and no answer to my email. Figured he was just filing for an extension again…until I saw the big fat envelope in my pigeonhole this morning. Crap.

In the past, I’ve mailed my taxes 1-3 days after the official deadline and never got penalized. When I’ve paid a credit card late, I just called and asked them to waive the fee (maybe had to do that once every two years) – no problem. However, the credit card companies have gone all hardass about their fees these days, and I’m wondering if, with the government’s spending rampage, they’ll jump at the opportunity to hit me with the $100+ penalty for being 24 hours late.

At least my actual federal tax obligation is a 3-digit number. Self-employment has its drawbacks, but being able to deduct just about everything helps make up for the extra hassles and expenses (translation: health insurance and double social security).

Civic responsibility kinda sucks

It’s been a bad week for demands from On High — I’m talking taxes and jury duty.

My accountant texted me a couple of hours ago to say he’d be dropping off my annual tax docs with my doorman tonight. I have no idea how it’s possible, but I always end up getting money back from the state. How is that possible when I never paid any to the state to begin with? Seriously, it’s like refunding most of the sales tax I’ve paid in the course of the year. Before I started using a CPA, I’d get those “audit” letters informing me that I was owed a refund by the state, so I know he’s not coming up with anything wacky. Apparently, not having a child in the public school system means I deserve to get $50-80 back…? Thanks, Albany!

Last week, I received a notice that I’m to report for NY State Supreme Court jury duty on May 13th. I have no idea what the state Supreme Court actually does – neither the state court juror website nor Google could clear that up for me. If I weren’t self-employed with no back-up (i.e. husband), I would absolutely love to be a juror. A jury did right by my sister in 2002 and I’d like to return the favor. I also know that if I were a victim, I’d feel very good about having the likes of me on a jury. Mm, I suppose that could be considered just cause for dismissal by the defense. I also have fond memories of reading the part of Juror #8 in Twelve Angry Men in 7th grade social studies class – I picked 8 because it’s my favorite number, and it turned out to be the most important role in the whole book/play: the only juror who votes Not Guilty and then convinces all the others that there is indeed reasonable doubt.

I suspect that the loss of income from jury duty will exceed my tax bill for 2008.

Loving the Collection of Leftovers!

I know there are some people out there who wouldn’t touch leftovers with someone else’s 10-foot pole, but I’m definitely not one of them. There are also plenty out there who wouldn’t eat the contents of someone else’s doggie bag, and again, I’m not of them. Leftovers are both diet-supportive and budget friendly, and as single person who cooks 3-4 portions of something at a time, it’s a great injection of variety.

Mac 'n' Jack @ Eatery

Mac 'n' Jack @ Eatery

Aspen restaurant staff – i.e. my sister’s friends – are by far the most discerning and generous people I’ve ever gone out to eat with. They judge service as well as the food and leave huge tips when the place gets it right. I took them to my favorite restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, and they raved about everything, including the relatively small mark-up on a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck (50% instead of the usual 100%+ you normally see on a wine list). So I’ve been working my way through leftovers from Friday and Saturday thanks to the small-food-large-drink appetites of my houseguests. For lunch yesterday AND today, I had Drama Queen’s hardly-touched spaghetti puttanesca. Last night I had my leftover Mac ‘n’ Jack topped with onion frizzles and bacon, and tonight I’ll have Bad Boy’s leftover beef tenderloin – he got it done rare, I like medium-rare, so reheating it should make it just right.

The only leftover I couldn’t give a digestive home to was a tray of beautiful sushi. Even if it was safe to eat it a day old, I wouldn’t – I hate sushi. I only had it once, while teaching in Japan, and threw it all up on my boss’s wife’s shoes. I mean, seriously, who looks at a sea urchin and thinks “wow, I want to eat that” at all, no less in the raw??

CVSing with a friend: “Got change for a quarter?”

This weekend featured much drama from houseguests — and I don’t even mean the truck driver! A friend of my sister’s is spending 2 weeks exploring the mid-Atlantic and New England with her quasi-boyfriend, he threw in an extra friend, and they all ended up here for Friday and Saturday nights. I stayed Friday night, spectated upon some of the craziness at 4:30am, and ended up taking my sister’s friend down to visit my mother for some perspective on the man situation (everyone listens to my mom). She had a rental car, and when we pulled off the Garden State Parkway, I wasn’t sure where I was and neither did my mother via cell phone. Well what do you know, there was a CVS…I could not resist the siren song of free shaving supplies and sweetly suggested stopping in “for directions”. Mwah ha ha…

I loaded up on two orders (to best utilize the $5-off-$30 email coupon) of Schick Intuition razors and cartridges plus some free-after-ECB Skintimate shave gel, and she watched the first batch whittle down from $50 to $.23 thanks to a BOGO sale, a stack of $4 coupons, that $5/$30 purchase coupon, and a few ECBs that I earned right back. Her jaw dropped, and I caught her on the phone later with my sister (who apologized for not warning her about my drug store coupon obsession) saying, “It was like, do you have change for a quarter??” For her tolerance of my bizarre shopping habits, I gave her a Schick Intuition Plus razor system plus a box of replacement cartridges. Then she saw me throw in a pack of Wrigley’s gum to make that $30 minimum on one of the orders and pull out a “free pack” coupon, and blurted, “so that’s why you have that huge stack of gum in your apartment”. Um, yup, I introduced her to the concept of fillers. She was a quick study. Not that there’s much point for her – she lives in Colorado, a state without a single CVS.

Since the drama queen had gotten about 3 hours sleep total in the last 2 nights, Mom and I left her to nap (or, more likely, text that bad-boy quasi-boyfriend) and ran a couple of coupon errands. I taught her how to do ShopRite right by dividing up the orders so that all the coupons doubled, and snagged 6 bottles of assorted French’s mustard, 10 Ban deodorants, a block of Great Lakes cheddar, 2 boxes of Artisan Wheat Thins and 2 lbs of Land O’ Lakes butter for…wait for it…$1.39. It should have been $1 more than that, but the cashier deducted the full price rather than the sale price on my BOGO coupon. The cheese, one butter, one box of crackers and one mustard are for me, the rest is for donation – that teen shelter I patronize never has any condiments, but one of the few meats they can occasionally get from the food bank is bulk packs of hot dogs. I can’t imagine eating a hot dog with nothing on it, blech. Heck, I put as much mustard on the bun as I do dog! My second CVS trip involved a bit of couponing for a basket of baby supplies for my mom’s co-worker, who will be bedridden for another 4-8 weeks after her near-death childbirth experience. CVS had a deal on some Huggies and Johnson & Johnson stuff – buy $25 worth, get a $10 ECB. We put it against my $5/$30 purchase coupon, added some stuff to the order, I had $3 worth of coupons towards her order…so while I totally benefitted from the $10 ECB, I still made sure that the pot of collected gift money from my mom’s office got a respectable deal (came to $21.40). And I really appreciated the $10 ECB because I made a mistake or two recently and depleted my supply.

I didn’t get a chance to do a Sunday round of CVSing in the burbs, much to my great disappointment. The drama queen had to drive back to NYC around 11am in order to pick up the loser guy and make the last Nantucket ferry, and she needed a direction-giver or she’d never even make it to the Parkway. However, I was able to arrange enough of the very limited Manhattan deals to use a $15-off-$75 purchase as long as I used the self-checkout machine which let’s me offset that coupon against the full item price, not the sale price, e.g. Kellogg’s cereal is normally $4.49 a box, but on sale for $2 – and $4.49 counts toward that $75 target. It doesn’t work that way with the regular registers in Manhattan, but sometimes it does in the ‘burbs so I’m pretty sure I’m not doing anything wrong. My $82 “original” total translated to a true total of $51 (and included such non-sale/coupon things as milk and Arizona iced tea). I paid with $33 in coupons, $14.49 in ECBs and $3.44 cash and got back $16.48 in ECBs. Oh, and I’m taking back a $7.99 item because it’s going to be on BOGO next week. This will give me a net “profit” of $6.50. And the real fun was had trying to bag everything. The self-checkout senses the appropriate weight of the item, and the computerized voice doesn’t like it if you take too long and yells at you. It also doesn’t like if you remove a bag before the transaction is completed – which made piling 3 bags’ worth of items into one bag without everything spilling all over the place quite a feat of consumer engineering.

To summarize:  Based on sales prices and anticipated item return, the net result of this weekend’s Adventures in Couponing total $186.50 for a profit of $10. This includes $159 of goodies from CVS – Schick razors + blades, Skintimate shave gel, Skin Effects enzyme face scrub, Vitamin Water, 4 Kellogg’s cereal, Softscrub bodywash, Pantene shampoo + conditioner, Aviva blood glucose monitor, NutraTrim gum, Kotex pads, Glade air freshener, milk, iced tea, Wheat Thins, etc. – for a net profit of $11.50 and $27.50 worth of goodies at ShopRite for $1.39. Is it pathetic that I get a rush from this?

$100 for a sleepover

Last month, I gave a massage to a new client in his hotel room. He’s a truck driver, normally sleeps in his cab, but hotel rates are half what they were 6 months ago so he treated himself. He texted me a couple of days ago to arrange a massage and offered me $100 to crash on my couch for the night – apparently rates are back up to pre-Depression prices for the holiday weekend. Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate 3 seconds to nix that idea, but money is tight and this was a (predictably) bad week of biz. I made a judgment call based on past behavior and agreed – but only if he took the bed and I took the couch. I told him it was because he was paying so much, but the real reason is that any time I let a guy sleep on the couch, he tries to crawl into bed with me. The couch is only built for one, hah.

I’m not sure what lesson I’ve just learned about men. I’ve lent my couch to a married bond broker, a single accountant and a single software biz owner as a favor – commuters who found themselves stuck in the city at a late hour and unable to get home – and they all tried to join me in the bed. But not the single, lonely truck driver. Could it be that he wasn’t attracted to me? Sure, but I know that wasn’t the case. Heck, even if there had been zero indication of interest, when you’re the only girl in the room you’re also the hottest girl in the room. So here’s what I’m having fun figuring out…

Do blue-collars behave better than white-collars?
Or did that $100 fee keep him in line?

Because maybe when I let guys take the couch, I should insist on a “good behavior deposit” – refundable only if they don’t make a move.