By Hannah Berman

There are some races that I am simply incapable of winning. I have repeatedly participated in one specific race without success. This race does not involve running since I haven’t done any running in years. It doesn’t even include speed-walking since “speed” is a word that could never be used to describe my walking. In terms of walking, I’m happy that I can effectively place one foot in front of the other and ambulate across a room or down a street.

No people line up along the street to watch this race. Nobody stands anywhere to see who will win. The race that I refer to is about coupon redemption or, as I think of it, “the great coupon race.” It begins and ends without fanfare at a local pharmacy where, just as the cashier finishes ringing up my purchases, there is suddenly a sound that, to my ears, resembles a drumroll. It is the sound of a receipt, accompanied by coupons, that is being spit out into the waiting hands of the cashier. These coupons are on paper that are a foot long or more. Sometimes, the cashier folds this paper and hands it to me; other times, he or she slips it into the bag holding my purchases. How the person behind the counter chooses to give it to me is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the great coupon race is on!

This race is between the customer and the store, with the customer making a valiant attempt to redeem the coupons before the expiration date. This sounds reasonably simple. It is anything but! Not wanting to remain in the store after I am finished at the checkout counter, I head to my car for some privacy to begin a search. I sit in my car just in case I find a coupon for something I want, and have not just purchased, and then I can go right back into the store to buy it. After removing the coupon sheet from the bag, I get to work by scanning it. I look to see if I can avail myself of some savings. The first thing I notice is that the expiration date, which is the same on every coupon on this long list and is usually only two or three days away. Since I just purchased everything I will need for the foreseeable future, it is of no help to me.

This is only part of the frustration. In addition to the imminent expiration date, there is often not a single product on the list that I use. The idea is to start at the top and slowly scroll down to the bottom in the hope of finding at least one item that I do use but neglected to purchase that day. As of today, this has never happened, but I am not a quitter and hope springs eternal. For those reasons, I always peruse the list before driving off. Rarely is there a coupon for something I routinely use and have not just purchased. Even in the unlikely event that I have not just finished purchasing everything in that store that I do use, I still can’t get ahead. If I need toothpaste, there is a coupon offering great savings on shaving cream. If I am in need of shampoo, there is a coupon for deodorant. If my supply of facial tissue is running low, the only coupon for a product that is on the shelf in that section of the store is for table napkins.

I can’t get ahead because it seems to be a case of just missing a bargain. For me, it has become a race that is unwinnable. As hard as I try, that’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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