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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Extreme Provident Living

Last Friday, during "grocery store rush hour," another customer and I were in line at our local Publix behind a woman who was attempting to use several of those wonderful save-five-bucks-on-a-thirty-dollar-purchase coupons. To help her redeem these coupons, the cashier was allowing her to break her large purchase into several smaller ones.

The man in front of me was irritated enough to grumble aloud...several times. After a few minutes, my patience was tested enough for me to post a mobile Facebook update about it (I almost never do this since I use StraightTalk and the mobile web service is not the fastest). I understand trying to make coupons work. I've used those same coupons myself and worked the same kind of magic to somehow save ten or fifteen bucks on my grocery bill (not usually when others were in line behind me, though). And someone pointed out to me that maybe the store wasn't as busy when she started out, so she didn't realize she would be holding up so many people.

That gave me time to think about the coupon show I've never watched on TLC (we don't have cable any more, but even when we did I was only guilty of an occasional "Hoarding: Buried Alive" marathon or the old standby "What Not to Wear"). I look at web resources on stockpiling (her word, not mine) and wonder how that fits in to a normal, healthy life (it doesn't look anything like what the what the LDS Church recommends for what they call "provident living."). But when we stop to consider how many of our families (mine included) depend on convenience foods, it makes sense that we would wonder, "what would we need three months worth of flour/sugar/dried beans/other "old-fashioned" cooking staple for? What would we do with that much stuff?" Because though many of you out there are both practical and creative home cooks, plenty more of us are not making our own meals from scratch. So when we think of "stocking up" on basics, we're thinking frozen lasagnas and Hamburger Helper, not the raw ingredients required to make those same meals.

I wonder what people do with their ten tubes of toothpaste or fifty-eight bottles of mustard (it happens!). I wonder where the lines are drawn between being prepared and hoarding, between being frugal and being stingy. Families that are prepared for an emergency because they have a modest extra supply of basics like water, broth, and dried foods probably also know how to use those ingredients to survive. I'm not sure how having lots of extra condiments or toothpaste or fruit snacks is going to help anyone. Sure, you can live off fruit snacks for a while, but eventually your body will need other nourishment.

Where would you draw the line? Do you use coupons? Are you just a casual coupon user, or do you love to search for the very best deal all the time? Have you done the "crazy couponing" before? Also, what's in your pantry that would get you through a week or so in an emergency?

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