Some people are addicted to television. For some it’s booze. Others it’s food. For me, it’s all three. From a television perspective, I watch the spectrum but I’m partial to dramas. From gritty HBO shows to cheesy cable crime fighting, I’m a sucker for it all. One show I’m partial to is Scorpion, the absolutely ridiculous account of the life of Walter O’Brien, a man who supposedly recorded an IQ of 197, the 4th highest in history. Him and his band of social misfits (including the actor who played “Shit Break” in the American Pie franchise) hang in a garage and await for various facets of the government to call them for help landing planes, breaking codes or minimizing the impact of natural disasters in urban areas. There seems to be no job too difficult for the crew but I doubt even Scorpion’s team of geniuses can match the kind of magic people like April and Chastity can perform during a episode of TLC’s extreme couponing.
Couponing has evolved from the days of clipping paper with the same skill set required as needlepoint to needing a post-secondary education in advanced mathematics to decipher deals driven by algorithms which consist of more variables than a quadratic equation. For the purposes of argument, I will focus on my trifecta of food cost savings; flyers, checkout 51 and PC points.
Flyers are the blueprint of the ultimate cost saving experience. A mere glance through the colourful pages tells you where the cheapest bread, potatoes or Nutella are. For some, they price match. Personally, I am against the practice of price matching for two reasons. First, I hate making people wait for me and the thought of rifling through pages of pictures like I’m looking at mugshots after witnessing a crime makes me very uncomfortable. Second, I hate when I’m wrong and the last thing I want to do is be corrected by a snotty 18 year old cashier when I try and price match the wrong jug of Tropicana orange juice. I cringe at the thought of her snarled nose as she tells me “Sorry sir, but that’s the three point forty nice litre jug you have, NOT the two point sixty three litre one”. Rumour has it that grocery stores will phase out price matching in the near future.
There is a list of grocery items I refuse to buy unless they are on sale which includes pop, yogurt and cereal. I also have a strict rule that I will not pay more than $0.25 per roll of toilet paper. I won’t pay triple figures for pasta or a box of Kraft Dinner and cheddar cheese needs to be less that $5 a block. For other items, it’s like playing the price is right; you just get used to the prices and can easily bust into a game of grocery game or Hi Lo at a moment’s notice. In order to enforce these rules, I often need a detailed itinerary to ensure maximum efficiency. This involves minimizing unnecessary driving and understanding which stores will have the highest chance of such items in stock.
I got hooked on the Checkout 51 app about a year ago and have since banked just shy of $250. The premise seems simple enough. Every week, you get a list of products which, after purchase, you scan the receipt and receive a cash reward. There are numerous advantages to this app. First, in most cases (unless otherwise stated), you can buy the products anywhere. Second, there are often big name and well recognized products such as Tide, Kellogg’s cereal and hair/beauty products like Dove, Axe, Pantene etc. There are also practical deals for things like..umm…lady essentials. On the fun side, you’ll get the odd McDonald’s offer and even discounted BOOZE including a few bucks off select beer, wine and even spirits.
The bad news is the fact that many of the offers are limited in number and there are cases when I got home and was too late to scan my receipt. Damn them! Also, you have to remember not to use your receipt as a facial tissue or a chewed gum depot before you have had a chance to snap a shot. Another factor is the fact that many of the deals repeat themselves and before you know it, you have a arsenal of dish soap large enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.
The need for Walter O’Brien comes in again when you are offered further savings for buying multiple items. For example, sometimes if you buy 4 back to school products they will throw another $1 into your account the next week and yes, I have gone to 4 different stores to get the 4 items to get the extra buck. I never said I didn’t have a problem.
The introduction of PC points was deemed an evolution in points programs. This promised to be a smarter program which analysed your buying patterns and offered deals on that basis. It’s a bit creepy and at the same time a bit random. I mean, I get offered points for dog food regularly but this week I can save on farmer’s market muffins and boxed meat;two things I never buy although I’ve been with the program for well over a year.
You accumulate points until you have at least 20 000. Some people will redeem ASAP while others will let the points build with some expectation that at some point they may be able to buy the store or have enough t buy food for their kid’s university career. For me, I save the points until I have to buy something I hate spending money on. This year, I got a great Fraser Fir at Christmas time for free.
Once again, the services of Scorpion may be required to understand PC points. The issue is the way the points are awarded. For example, last week I could get 1000 points for every $4 spent on Tre Semme hair care. With three girls in the house, this was a no brainer. The problem was the product was on sale for $3.97. So, by buying two I got 1000 points because I was six cents short of 8 bucks. The other problem is you can only redeem an offer once. For example, you may get 100 points for every dollar you spend on beef. If you want to get steak at Loblaw and ground beef at Superstore, you need to decide which would cost you more and go there first so you don’t waste you deal on the cheaper product. Another reason to have Mr. O’Brien on speed dial.
One of the most gratifying grocery shopping experiences is when you complete the trifecta in which you find a flyer deal which is also on checkout 51 and offers PC points. This happens about an often as an eclipse but is just as exciting. It goes something like this…you open up the No Frills flyer to see Delissio pizzas on for $4.44. When you open the PC points app, you also see that you get 1000 PC (the equivalent of a dollar) for every $4 spent. Finally, you flip open Checkout 51 to see that you can get a buck off a pizza as well. In the end, the pizza costs $2.44 and you feel like you won the lottery.
I’ll admit I have a problem but I get great joy when it comes to saving money on food. Sure, I sometimes buy things I really don’t need so I build up PC points or Checkout 51 dollars but in the end a little extra time can lead to big savings and bragging rights. Yeah..that’s right. I have sent pictures to friends with step by step pictures and text showing how I earned three cents buying Dove antiperspirant with a flyer special, Checkout 51 and a sheet on stick on coupons I got from a buddy and keep in my trunk for a rainy day. In the end, I’m no Walter O’Brien (although I could use his help sometimes) but I think keeping my mind sharp with couponing not only saves me money on shampoo but saves me having to subscribe to luminosity.com to spare my cognitive decline.