Sunday, October 25, 2009

Osama bin Coupon

Inventions meant to improve life – like cars, computers, cell phones, you name it – have a dark side, obviously. This has never been truer than for a certain Thing Which Should Not Be Named, but I'll risk it to expose the wickedness therein. It's the coupon.

The native North American coupon (Casholus Discountus) infiltrates one’s domain in insidious fashions. Droves appear in magazines and newspapers, as bulk mailings, as “rewards” for purchases, as downloadables and e-newsletters, as something the wind blew in and stuck to the bottom of your shoe. But whichever way my own coupons arrive, they're instantly recognizable as being even more useless than the rest of my mail. I either recycle them or ignite to create a dust bunny funeral pyre. But first I'm compelled to sort these spontaneously generating coupons, just to make sure I'm not missing major savings. Or to make sure there isn't a product or service that I might only find out about by way of the coupon.

And here's the result. One in 500 times, I manage to find a coupon for something I actually want, and actually remember where I put it, and actually take it to the store, and actually remember to use it at the register, and actually do all of this before the coupon expires. The other 499 times, I sacrifice time, energy and space to sift through and stock coupons which I'll never use. They'll instead collect behind the refrigerator, in drawers, under car seats, and in purse pockets, only to mockingly resurface when their products have been paid for in full and the receipts, which are second only to coupons in depravity, have crawled off into the very same hovels and disintegrated just before needed for tax time.

I'm especially appalled by the coupon's ability to incite purchases that the buyer wouldn't make if it weren't for the coupon. As an occasional victim, I've bought dog toys that I knew would be destroyed in four seconds, food I'm allergic to but I figure someone will eat, unneeded tools, unfashionable accessories, and over-the-counter drugs for conditions I don't have. Perhaps I should just accept this foolery as an unavoidable side effect of the "benefit" of coupons. But I can't do that, because the total I've saved due to coupons over the course of my lifetime, after correcting for the frustration of dealing with them, comes to $1.29.

Sometimes I think coupons should be outlawed, including keeping them out of the country at airport security: “I’m sorry, ma’am, to board the plane you’ll need to surrender that coupon in your back pocket. You can hold onto the blowtorch.” Coupons are essentially just advertisements to boost consumerism and are more evil than other forms of advertising because we've been seduced into collecting them and keeping them close. With most other ads, you either pass by (like billboards), finish hearing (like commercials), or trash (like e-mails or magazine ads). But a coupon is hard to scrap, because you might save sixty cents on a processed “food” or pay half price for overpriced shoes.

I could warm up to coupons is if they were for better things. I want a coupon from a bank that says “50% off money. Come into any branch, give us $30, and we’ll give you back $45.” Or how about a coupon from the courthouse promising “30% off your age. We’ll change the year on your birth certificate. Today you’re 40? Tomorrow you could be 28.” Have a cold? A really useful coupon wouldn't give you 20% off cough syrup; it would give you a 20% reduction in how long the cold lasts. These kinds of coupons I could really get behind.

Until then, I will continue my crusade against coupons. Not only will I subject them to defacing, burning, and flushing, but you can be sure that I will also fold, spindle, and mutilate (as soon as I figure out how to "spindle" something.) Watch out, Casholus Discountus. You want to save me money? You had better save yourself.