Four hundred and one

Happiness

I sent off my Extreme Couponing section of the book to my agent today and am working on the edits she suggested for the prologue.  As I’m writing about how this journey got started right now and my first couple of months, I’m analyzing more and more what happiness is and why I am so much happier now than the beginning of last year.  It’s very fitting then, that the first ever World Happiness Report was released yesterday in time for the UN’s Conference on Happiness.  The report is a fascinating read and if you have time I would recommend taking a look.  Here are a few excerpts:

We live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication; yet has at least one billion people without enough to eat each day. The world economy is propelled to soaring new heights of productivity through ongoing technological and organizational advance; yet is relentlessly destroying the natural environment in the process. Countries achieve great progress in economic development as conventionally measured; yet along the way succumb to new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes, depression, and other ills of modern life…

…happiness differs systematically across societies and over time, for reasons that are identifiable, and even alterable through the ways in which public policies are designed and delivered. It makes sense, in other words, to pursue policies to raise the public’s happiness as much as it does to raise the public’s national income….

A household’s income counts for life satisfaction, but only in a limited way. Other things matter more: community trust, mental and physical health, and the quality of governance and rule of law. Raising incomes can raise happiness, especially in poor societies, but fostering cooperation and community can do even more, especially in rich societies that have a low marginal utility of income. It is no accident that the happiest countries in the world tend to be high-income countries that also have a high degree of social equality, trust, and quality of governance. In recent years, Denmark has been topping the list. And it’s no accident that the U.S. has experienced no rise of life satisfaction for half a century, a period in which inequality has soared, social trust has declined, and the public has lost faith in its government….

The report recommends Sustainable Development Goals with four pillars: to end extreme poverty by 2030; environmental sustainability; social inclusion; good governance.  The top ten happiest countries the report found are (in order): Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland.  United States is eleventh.

The report found happiness is determined by “external” factors such as: income; work; community and governance; and values and religion, and “personal” factors such as: mental health; physical health; family experience; education; and gender and age.  It’s no wonder I’m happier, having changed many of these factors in my life, including my values, physical and mental health, and my community.

The ramifications of TLC’s Extreme Couponing

Speaking of happiness, there are some not-so-happy couponers out there because of TLC’s Extreme Couponing show.  I was checking sources and statistics for my book and came across a lot of articles and comments saying how that television show has made it harder for them to save money now.

MommySavers.com “Spaving” Gone Wild: The Hidden Costs of Extreme Couponing is just one example, but take a look at the comments on the article.  One lady comments: “BECAUSE OF THIS STUPID SHOW many grocery stores have changed their coupon policies! This makes it hard for those us that just want to save a few bucks on a shopping order.”  Another says: “it’s those type of customers that clean store shelves for the thrill of it and leave the rest of us driving all over town for the item we DO want/need/will use!  I HATE EC on TLC with a passion!”  Another: “I’ve noticed stores that used to stack coupons have changed their policies and have started to discourage usage. Items are often missing. It seems like an innocent way to save money for a family has turned into something more…not innocent.”  There’s lots more.

It’s interesting because when I did my extreme couponing experiment it was before the whole season of TLC’s Extreme Couponing came out (they had only run one special I believe at the time).  I wonder if Canadian couponing was affected.  I haven’t noticed it, but I don’t use coupons nearly as much as I did during that month.

Three hundred and ninety-four

Blogging used to be my ritual.  The one thing I had to fit in every day.  My release.  Now it’s my writing the book and blogging seems a little foreign.  I forgot what it felt like when I first started sending my thoughts out into the internet abyss – like I am sharing a part of my soul for the world to read and judge.  Happily, it turned out most people out there are supportive and encouraging, or are genuinely interested in an intelligent debate.  But it’s still more difficult every week now than it was once blogging became a habit.  By the end of the year I just wrote, whereas now I’m constantly questioning what I’m sending out there.

Around this time last year, at the start of the Toronto Football Club season (because my pub gets very busy for the games), I read some of my posts and think of how I managed to post something despite working twelve-hour shifts at the pub running around like crazy.  I figure if I can do it then, I can do it now.  When you’re passionate about something, you make it happen I guess.

Speaking of passionate, because I’m writing about my experiences extreme couponing right now, I’m starting to see coupons everywhere I go again.  There was a time last March when I would see anything to do with a grocery store and instantly think “coupon” in flashing lights in my head, like what I’d picture a Las Vegas wedding chapel to have.  (As a side note, friends of mine from Australia just had their second wedding at one of those.  The average number of weddings per day in Las Vegas is 300+, with the cost of a Nevada marriage license only $35.00.  It’s still a very popular wedding destination.  Although how much electricity those neon signs must take I’m sure is ridiculous!)  I still keep the occasional coupon in my wallet, but I’m now remembering the advantages of using coupons.

Since I wrote my posts last year, TLC has aired an Extreme Couponing All-Stars, pitting two couponers in each episode against each other with the person having the highest percentage of savings named the winner of the round.  The three couponers with the all-around top percentage of savings advanced to the finale.  It really is a sport now!

And an extra little photo of my vegan baking yesterday before I head off to serve beer to soccer hooligans:

Recipe from ohsheglows.com.  So delicious (and yes, I couldn’t wait and ate one before I took this photo)!

Three hundred and thirty-one

Treating myself

I gave in and bought myself a treat while I was at the grocery store.  It’s hard not to.  It was cookie dough that was on sale for $2 at No Frills.  I know I don’t need it, but I understand what my friend Sarah was saying when she said you get so frustrated and overwhelmed with not being able to spend money, that you just want a little treat to make yourself feel better.  And it actually does make me feel better.

I think sometimes you’re allowed to reward yourself with something little every couple of weeks to keep you going. It just can’t be something really expensive that you’ll be paying off later, and you have to have saved a little money for it.  Even something as simple as $2 cookie dough can keep you going on the right path, so you don’t go crazy, completely give up on your budget and then get yourself in worse trouble then you are in.  I made a couple of cookies yesterday, shared with my brother, and am making a couple today.  Yum!

Extreme couponing

Remember my favourite couponing lady Mrs. January that I interviewed during extreme couponing month?  She just released a coupon database for her website.  As couponing is a great way to be frugal, especially on a tight budget, this relates to life at the povtery line. The database is great.  You can search the coupons, scroll through them,  sort by using printable coupons or not.

I spent today getting back into the extreme couponing thing a little more and am having some really valuable coupons mailed to me. I also forgot how much MrsJanuary.com has money saving tips.

I picked up an extra shift at work tonight to make some extra money, so this will be a short post.  Happy Robbie Burns Day everyone!

Day thirty-four

First, a follow up to Extreme Couponing month:

I did my first grocery shop since finishing Extreme Couponing month.  It was very weird not to be using coupons, but sort of freeing.  I realized today that I really have changed.  I look out for tearpad coupons and for the coupons attached to end-of-day bread and close-to-expiry meat.  I’m excited when I find a good deal and I still brought my coupon organizer with me.  Before last month, I would get a thrill from spending money.  It was nice to splurge when I could.  Now I get a thrill from saving money!  I hope this lasts.

Art planning:

I can already tell this month is going to be much harder to organize than couponing month.  Trying to schedule one hour every day to devote to art is hard enough (especially considering I’m trying to organize it around working restaurant hours).  But then trying to organize it around either other people’s schedule (if it’s something that I’m doing with a friend or teacher) or around the hours art things run (which tend to be in the evenings or on the weekend, and I work many evenings and weekends) is going to be a challenge.  Then finally, writing about it afterwards.  Couponing usually took place during the day, so I had plenty of time to write before work.

On that note, I am going to do my ‘art project’ later this evening, so I will be writing about day thirty-four’s art either late tonight or tomorrow.  Although I will still write every day about art, recaps of daily art experiences might happen the next day in some instances this month.

Day thirty-one

I made it to the end of Extreme Couponing month!  Thirty-one days of only buying things using a coupon.  There were two exceptions to that rule.  #1 The dentist – I had to go to the dentist and any dentist that offers coupons is probably not one I want to go to!  #2 Transportation – I don’t think coupons exist for transit and cabs.  I used tokens instead of spending full price on the streetcar, so it was a discount, but I didn’t have an actual coupon.  Besides these two exceptions I didn’t buy one thing without using a coupon for it.  Thank you to everyone who supported and helped me through it!

Recap of the month

It’s been quite the journey.  I learned how to find coupons online (see Links for all the websites I used) and in some cases have coupons mailed to me.  I figured out how to organize my coupons (twice, as I had to change my organizing system half way through to make it easier).  I bought an Entertainment Book for restaurant coupons and I learned how to better use loyalty cards.  I wrote about the history of coupons, interesting facts, stockpiling, getting things for free, coupon clipping services, coupon marketing, group-buying coupon marketing, price matching, and coupon trains and trades.  I looked into the differences between Canadian and American coupon shopping (two different days) and how we have a harder time finding great deals in Canada.  I interviewed a couple of people, including Mrs. January and a representative of General Mills.  I learned to overcome the urge to quit when things got bad, get over the embarrassment of using coupons (see here and here for two of my most embarrassing moments), and eventually started to use them as a means to save money, not just because of the experiment.  My Top Ten Reasons Extreme Couponing is an Extreme Sport was mentioned in the Time.com money blog and was featured on Treasure’s Stockpile (Treasure will be on TLC’s Extreme Couponing show in the upcoming season).  I managed to eat healthy and find pretty much everything I needed to buy with a coupon (if I didn’t have a coupon, I figured I didn’t need it that badly).  There were many ups and downs, but I made it through!

What did I learn?

The thing I’ll take away from this experience the most is an awareness of my own personal shopping habits and ways that I can change those to save money.  I started as an unorganized spontaneous shopper and I’m leaving this month planning my grocery shops with lists and price-comparing from online and paper flyers to find the best way to save money.  I’ve also learned a lot of useless facts about couponing that have made for very interesting conversations!

The extreme couponing community is very strong.  Sometimes, though, I think it’s as much about getting the deal as it is about saving money.  It’s a challenge, with the reward of extra money left over at the end.  There are a lot of extremely extreme couponers online who give the other ones a bad name.  There are ways to coupon without having to buy 150 chocolate bars.  I have so much respect for women (and sometimes men) who spend time to save their family money, but still keep healthy and aware of the environment.

I’ve also learned that although it is hard to use coupons for smaller brand or organic companies, it is possible.  I know not to buy things just because I get a deal (this is especially hard on the group-buying sites where everything looks like such a huge discount), but to use coupons for things I really want or need.

Where will I go from here with Extreme Couponing?

I am still receiving coupons in the mail, so I will keep using them until they’ve run out – or I will give them away to people who will use them.  I will check out the online coupon sites every once and awhile to see if there are any good deals.  I still love Mrs.January.com and will continue to visit her website.

Will I become a hard-core extreme couponer?  Probably not.  But I will continue to use coupons and look out for ways to use those coupons with sale-price items for a real bargain.

Tomorrow I start 30 Days of Art to examine how being creative and artistic influences the way I live my life.  Stay tuned…