When author Mary Potter Kenyon initially approached me to review her book, Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories behind America’s Extreme Obsession, I declined. I told her flat out that I was afraid her approach would portray couponers in a not-so-good light. As a couponer, I’ve worked to disassociate myself from the extreme couponing movement with about the same fervor the average Christian works to disassociate themselves from the Westboro Baptist Church. You feel me.
She sent me a polite, understanding email further explaining how Jill Cataldo had wrote the forward for her book and that she’d personally turned down an offer to be on TLC’s Extreme Couponing. Now I was intrigued: exactly what was Kenyon’s position on “extreme couponers?” I told her that I’d changed my mind, and to please send me a copy.
Coupon Crazy is a quick, interesting read that centers primarily on Kenyon’s own experience as a hard-core couponer and refunder. As someone that has only discovered the world of couponing in the past few years, I was admittedly pretty clueless when she spoke of her days “refunding,” a type of rebate program manufacturers used to offer that only required product UPCs – no receipts. As you can imagine, this method of providing incentives to consumers was exploited and is now largely defunct. I had mixed feelings on the refunding focus in the book – and the passages that allude to couponing in the ’80s and ’90s. On one hand, I was curious to read about the way things were then, but on the other hand I felt a bit like the kid that was hearing about the party all the cool kids went to… that happened about 20 years ago.
There were other passages I struggled with more, however. Kenyon is quite candid about her extreme tactics in getting a bargain. In Chapter 5, When Trash was Cash, she recalls:
I started taking walks with my children on trash day just to collect the extra proof of purchase. We’d roam the alleys together, stopping at each diaper box. I learned to swiftly tear the proof of purchase off in a stealth maneuver I’d refined with practice: pushing the stroller up close to the box, bending down as if tying my shoe, and ripping off the qualifier, all in less than thirty seconds. The kids were eager to help, picking up candy wrappers or carrying the grocery sack with toted with us everywhere.
In a later chapter, she shares how she learned about a $5 off Sears coupon offered as part of a movers package at the post office that had woefully neglected to put any restrictions in the fine print. She writes, “Even I, limited to one post office and one Sears store, managed to make enough visits before the coupon expired to net at least fifty dollars worth of free merchandise.” Not exactly something I’d advocate my readers do.
However, the candidness with which Kenyon shares these stories is also exhibited in her self reflection. I found this refreshing! In fact, I was entirely impressed with Kenyon’s ability to consider the impact of couponing and refunding on her life. One of my favorite examples of this is when Kenyon explores coupon fraud in Chapter 7. Kenyon had previously purchased coupons over the Internet, through sites like eBay, believing them to be a necessary way to expand her stockpile. But then she changes her opinion:
Through my extensive research, I’ve gradually, and somewhat reluctantly, come to the conclusion that [Bud] Miller and [Jill] Cataldo have a valid concern in regards to at least one of the various methods couponers employ in obtaining additional coupons: purchasing them through the mail, through websites like eBay, or coupon handling websites that offer a “clipping service.”
Kenyon also shares some pretty insightful observations, both as a researcher of the coupon industry and a couponer herself. One of my favorite stories she tells is how she catches one of her children covering themselves in the bandages she’d managed to acquire for her stockpile. She reflects:
It was only later, when I saw the carnage of empty boxes in my bathroom cupboard, that I questioned the advisability of allowing children to waste something just because it happened to be free.
Unlike many couponers today, Kenyon takes off the rose-colored glasses when considering her hobby. She’s honest, painfully so at times – at one point even going so far as to say that her obsession with coupons “hasn’t always been healthy or wise” and that “the savings were sometimes only an illusion.” Yet you have no doubt in reading this book that she’s good at what she does, very good. In fact, I’d argue she’s a better couponer than most precisely because she can be objective and critical about her obsession and the value of what it is she does. In another poignant part of the book, she opens up about the recent passing of her husband and the impact losing her lifelong coupon partner had on her shopping. I wasn’t expecting to read such a personal account in a book about couponing, but that too, was refreshing.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read and without a doubt, my favorite aspect of the entire book was the candid tone Kenyon takes in sharing her story and others. As someone that both uses coupons and teaches couponing practices, I found the book triggering self-reflection at many points: do I purchase products just because they are on sale? Do I devalue products I’ve gotten for free? Do I allow coupons to inform my purchases or the other way around? If you are a couponer, it’s quite possible you’ll find yourself reflecting on your own shopping habits as you read this book, too.
Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession is currently priced at $7.69 on Amazon, and ships FREE for Amazon Prime members.
Enter the Giveaway
Mary Kenyon has graciously agreed to give two readers of The Coupon Project a copy of her book, Coupon Crazy.
In order to enter for a chance to win, please leave a single comment on this blog post. For fun, I’d love to know what intrigues you about this book or the world of couponing in general.
Please leave your comment no later than Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12pm. Two winners will be randomly-selected from all eligible entry comments and the winners notified by email. Good luck!
Disclosure: The book for my review as well as the two winners’ books have been graciously provided by the author, Ms. Kenyon. No other compensation was exchanged for today’s reviews. All opinions are 100% mine and I feel I’ve given a fair and honest review. For more information, please see my Disclosure Policy.