Typically, I pride myself in my ability to keep cool in stressful situations. Tranquility is sort of my thing. Well, it was my thing before I reproduced. Having kids has somewhat robbed me of my once exceptional ability to remain mellow. My kids could turn petting kittens while sitting in a bathtub full of Xanax and chocolate into a fight or flight response situation.
Especially at the grocery store.
I don’t know what it is about the grocery store that morphs my children into mutants straight out of a Stephen King novel, but it’s enough to keep me awake at night with a sense of impending doom on the eve of our trips there. To make matters worse, not only do I have to worry about which of my children’s multiple personalities I’m going to have to tame in a public place, but I also have to navigate my way through the aisles alongside slow walkers, Chatty Cathies, senior discount shoppers, and the worst of them all, the crazy coupon ladies.
Let me be clear: I’m all about saving money. If I could get away with serving ramen noodles for supper every night without dying a slow, painful death by saturated fats and sodium, I totally would. I tried my hand at couponing once upon a time, but it resulted mostly in finger cramps and frustration. Seriously, you have to buy seven boxes of granola bars before you get one half off? I’m going to spend at least that amount of money on the Band-Aids I’ll need to cover the open sores on my thumbs from clipping so many f’ing coupons!
It’s just not worth it for me. I’m not giving up the time I spend binge-watching House of Cards to save 35 cents. Kevin Spacey means too much to me. However, there are women among us who do hold a very particular set of skills when it comes to discount shopping. Skills that they have acquired over a very lucrative career of browsing weekly ads and Sunday newspapers. Skills that make them a nightmare for teenage cashiers and moms with impatient children like mine. They’re basically Jedis in yoga pants.
Unfortunately, the woman in front of me in the checkout line today was a different story. She was not one of these Jedis that I speak of; she was a rookie. Shaky with her checkbook and hesitant about her selection of various juice boxes, she fumbled with her clippings and broke out in a cold sweat as she watched her total climb higher.
I did my best to keep my kids calm while she checked each individual coupon for loopholes, but there’s only so much entertainment provided in the claustrophobic ally of the checkout line. Halfway through the journey of separating canned goods and locating the tiny barcodes on all 83 of her coupons, I could tell that the wannabe couponer in front of me was getting nervous.
Was it because my kids were in line behind her growling at her and pretending to be pirates? Could she feel my icy glare cutting deep into her soul and damning her discounts to hell? Or was she beginning to question her life choices that resulted in purchasing 23 sticks of deodorant?
After turning 50 shades of purple from holding my breath and counting to 10 at least 15 times while my children begged for juice and cake pops, the time had finally come to tally up the savings. Naturally, I assumed that the amount would be monumental after standing in line behind her for 30 minutes while she searched for the appropriate expiration dates through her reading glasses.
“It looks like you’ve saved $3.47 today,” the teenage cashier announced. “Thanks for shopping with us!”
“What? $3.47?” the woman panicked. “That can’t be right.”
Frantically, she fumbled through her purse looking for what I assumed to be the mother of all coupons that would save her enough to buy a small Kia or invest in her portfolio. Hell, at this point, I was as excited as she was to see what other tricks she had in her economy-sized super purse.
As she continued to search, I avoided miniature meltdowns by bribing my son with peanut M&M’s and actively convinced myself not to throw them at her face. Eventually, Mary Poppins emerged from her exploratory dig with her golden ticket in hand.
“Found it!” she proclaimed with victory in her eyes. She handed over her coupon and waited while her total was recalculated.
I could tell she felt that this was her moment—the moment when all of her hard work would pay off, the moment when her arthritic thumbs would be given the glory they so deserved for gifting her with such great savings, the moment when she could look at the angry patrons standing in line behind her and justify all of the time she had just wasted in pursuit of a free bag of Cheetos. Meanwhile, I stood behind her and daydreamed about slashing her tires and burning her coupons. My kids were rebelling, and my inner Britney Spears (circa 2007) was beginning to surface. It was about to get ugly.
Seconds from disaster in the checkout line, the cashier finally tallied the savings and was ready to deliver the good news. “It looks like you saved another dollar with that last coupon, ma’am.” Satisfied, she handed over her debit card and flung her hair back victoriously while she shot those of us in line behind her a rigid stare that said “suck it” as she fist-pumped in her head.
As she disappeared with her cart full of goods, I contemplated following her outside and throwing one of those discounted cans of mixed vegetables through the windshield of her minivan while urging her to get her shit together next time before she cuts off a cart full of restless kids in the grocery line. However, my fury subsided. I considered starting a slow clap, but my kids were doing jumping jacks on the Doritos and my sanity had all but exited the building.