Sunday, May 22, 2011

Extreme Couponing: What are the Real Costs?

I couldn't sleep last night probably because I took a nap in the afternoon. So I did what I always do when I have insomnia: watch mind-numbing television in hopes of falling asleep. Last night's show of choice was TLC's Extreme Couponing. Maybe you've seen it.

The show follows women whose entire mission is to pay nothing or next to nothing for their groceries. Having only seen the three episodes I saw last night, the show may follow some men as well, but it didn't seem that way. At the beginning of the episode, the women provide a tour of their homes, showing off their specially built shelving units that hold overwhelming quantities of food, cleaning supplies and personal care items. In many cases, toilet paper is stored under the children's beds, salad dressings fill dresser drawers, and custom armories hide soup in the master bedroom. Closets are stuffed to the gills and shelves line basements, dining rooms, living rooms, and garages. As I watched the home tours, I kept thinking, "isn't this just another form of hoarding?"

Keep in mind that all of this was bought with little to no money thanks to the manipulation of sales and coupons.

Now I'm a girl on a budget. I love getting good deals. I clip coupons. I shop the sales. But I purchase what I need and can consume in a reasonable amount of time.

The show then moved on to how the women collect their coupons. Boy, do they have systems. And they get their entire families involved. I don't think I can explain any of the systems, but they seem to consume hours upon hours of time.

Once the coupons are collected and organized, the women head out to the store. And this is where I became truly horrified. I watched the women fill multiple carts with all sorts of processed food - chips, macaroni & cheese, pasta sauce, chips, ground beef, ice cream, canned vegetables, sugary cereals and juices, bottled water, and candy, for example. One woman who wore no make-up loaded up with 87 tubes of lipstick. Another, after filling her cart with more junk food than I've ever seen, added 35 bottles of Maalox. Seriously.

Do you notice what's missing? There was no visible sign of fresh fruits and vegetables anywhere. I saw no lean meat. Just every form of processed food known to man.

The other thing I couldn't help but notice was that all of the women I saw ranged from overweight to extremely obese. I know that sounds really judgmental since I've got my own weight issues, but (1) I'm actively working to change my weight and (2) come look at my pantry - you'll find very little processed food, but lots of fruits and vegetables that I eat daily. My friends sometimes tease me that I rarely take short-cuts in cooking, instead making almost everything from scratch using fresh rather than processed foods when possible.

To the credit of each of the women featured on the show, they purchased hundreds of dollars (in a couple of cases over $1000) worth of groceries for $5 or $10 or less. They do this by manipulating the sales, making use of double and triple coupon values (evidently some stores will double or triple the value of coupons), and using multiple coupons on each item. In some cases, the double and triple coupon values allowed them to get paid to take items out of the store. I was impressed. I would love to walk out of the grocery store with enough food for a week and have only paid out a small fraction (if anything) of the actual cost.

But I can't help but wonder what are the real costs of this extreme couponing?

Food prices have been rising. Do stores keep their prices artificially high to allow them to double and triple the value of coupons? Stores aren't in the business of giving away all that food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items. Somehow they must get reimbursed for all the food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items they essentially give away. How do they get reimbursed?

What about the time consumed by extreme couponing? Spending 5 to 8 hours in the grocery store for each trip, plus the time to organize the coupons and put the groceries away seem like time that could be spent doing other things with their families. Time costs money too. One woman talked about how she wakes up thinking about how to get better deals with her coupons and goes shopping in the middle of the night to save money.

One woman had an estimated $20,000 worth of food, personal care, and cleaning supplies in her home. If you don't wear make-up, why do you need 87 tubes of lipstick? How many loads of dishes have to be washed to empty 25 boxes of dish washing detergent? Why do you need 72 bags of potato chips (the big bags, not the size to fit in a lunch box)? Even though it's all neatly organized, isn't this just another form of hoarding, which the Mayo Clinic describes as a mental illness?

Most importantly, what are the physical health costs of this extreme couponing? In a time when diabetes, obesity, and heart conditions are at all time highs, these extreme couponers seem to be teaching their children all the wrong information about nutrition and taking care of themselves by only serving processed foods high in fat, salt, and preservatives. I don't mean to sound snarky, but you don't need 35 bottles of Maalox if you have a balanced and less-processed diet.

I don't mean to sound judgmental because I've certainly written about how I save money on gas, food, and entertainment, but I just don't see how this extreme over-consumption is anything to be celebrated. Of course it's important to live on a budget, but rather than spend upwards of 10 to 15 hours or more per week clipping coupons to purchase overly processed foods, why not teach children the joys of gardening and growing your own fruits and vegetables? A $70 investment in a garden can save a family $600 annually and a $200 garden can save a family $5,000 annually. Granted, it's not the same as $100s per week, but it adds up.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The End of the World

Okay, I know that just 24 hours ago I said I was taking a break, but then I made that half-hearted comment about the possibility of the world ending on Saturday and made plans with a friend for Sushi Sunday with the disclaimer about the having to cancel if the world ends. For the record, I'm really craving sushi, so I hope the world doesn't end on Saturday.

Also, for the record, I don't actually believe that the world will end on Saturday, but just in case the Judgment Day is upon us, I thought it was important to help my readers through it in style - that is to say cocktails and a soundtrack.

Disclaimer: LMS always recommends you drink responsibly, but I suppose that if the world is truly collapsing around you in the most literal sense, then you can do whatever you please. But unless you personally see the Four Horseman, I'd really suggest you double check that world ending thing.

End of the World Cocktail
(from 1001
1/2 oz. high proof rum
1/2 oz. whiskey
1/2 oz. vodka

Serve warm in a shot glass. No garnish necessary.

LMS recommends using only top-shelf liquor here. If ever there were an excuse to avoid the cheap stuff, the apocalypse is it.

Now onto the music...

The End by The Doors

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley

Closing Time by Semisonic

Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult

We'll All Go Together When We Go by Tom Lehrer

The End by The Beatles

It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by REM

Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp

We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel

So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music

If the end really is upon us in the next 24 to 48 hours, then I can honestly say I've enjoyed the ride for almost 40 years, I've been blessed to have a life full of people I love and who love me in return, and I have much to be grateful for, including each of my Little Merry Sunshine readers.

If the world isn't ending, I'll be back over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

LMS Will Be Back This Weekend

Little Merry Sunshine will return this weekend after a few days of much needed rest. I'm not actually going anywhere, I'm just taking a few days off to recover from the Dan Heath (co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard) event last night at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. It was an incredible event, but I'm exhausted.

When I return this weekend, I'll write about Dan Heath and share some other stories.

In the meantime, go back through the archives (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011) for some old but great posts.

Enjoy! I promise to be back fully energized in a few days*!

*Assuming, of course, the world doesn't end on Saturday.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Does Your Dash Represent?

I've seen this movie before, but I was reminded of it earlier today when Ron Miller's son, Jim, posted it on Ron's Facebook page with an anecdote about Ron sending it to Jim just before flying to New York two weeks ago. None of us knew Ron's dash would come to an end on that trip, but maybe somewhere inside, Ron did. Without a doubt, his dash changed countless lives and in that way, Ron will live forever in each of us and in those we touch.

As I watched The Dash tonight, I think that in describing my life, I would say that my dash represents all the people I've loved and who've loved me. Those who are no longer in my life, for one reason or another, and those who will remain in my life forever. I'm fortunate that list is long. But my dash could have more patience and less stress. Those are my biggest learning opportunities.

Little Merry Sunshine's 40th Birthday Gift Registry

You may have heard the rumor: Little Merry Sunshine is turning 40 on June 16th (exactly one month from today). Much to my surprise, the rumor is, in fact, true. Our crack team of investigators has thoroughly researched the matter. They spoke to my parents, reviewed my birth certificate, looked at birth announcements in the paper, and even used a Ouija board to communicate with three of my late grandparents (the fourth having no knowledge of my existence because he died before I was born). Still in disbelief, we hired Donald Trump and his highly paid investigators (as opposed to our typical investigators who go by the names Betsey and Ross) to look into the matter.

Since I am actually turning 40, I believe the day should be celebrated in style and with the grandest gifts ever. And I've taken the luxury of providing you with a list of acceptable gifts. Stick to these and you won't go wrong.

Let's talk about the party location first though. I recommend Lichtenstein. Yes, as in the country of. Lichtenstein can be rented for a mere $70,000 per night. That doesn't include transportation to get there, but I'm sure that's just a minor expense. Please pay attention to the details here: make sure to rename the streets in my honor and issue money with my face on the bills. Oh, we'll have to make it a two night party because they rent the country for a minimum of two days.

Onto the gifts...

Cubs Fantasy Camp
It's no secret I'm a Cubs fan. In fact, pitcher Kerry Wood and I share a birthday. Do you know what every lifelong Cubs fan fantasizes about? Well, aside from the Cubs winning the World Series, we fantasize about playing for the Cubs. And thanks to the Cubs Fantasy Camp, one of my dreams can come true! Fantasy Camp includes a signed one-day contract to play with Manager Jim Hendry, batting practice with Cubs greats, live play on the diamond with a Cubs Legend as my coach, and many more perks. The 2011 Fantasy Camp was a mere $4,500, but I'm not sure what the fee for the 2012 Camp will be. I know it sounds like a lot, but it includes an overnight stay at The Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago. See? Such a deal.

Diamond and Gold Stilettos

If diamonds are a girl's best friend, then diamond stilettos, must be a girl's BFF. Well, they'd be my BFF. Without a doubt, my feet will look beyond sexy in the Eternal Borgezie Diamond Stiletto. For just about $165,000, you can keep me in high fashion for the rest of my life. What makes a pair of shoes worth $165,000? Glad you asked. They include 2,200 brilliant cut diamonds, totaling 30 carats and are handcrafted from solid gold. They even come with a 1,000 year warranty! Plus, I'm willing to spring for the weekly pedicures that will be necessary to keep my feet in tip-top shape for these shoes. I'm worth $165,000 right? I wear a size 8.

Afternoon Tea at Cliveden House in Berkshire
What could be better than capping off an afternoon in the British countryside than with a proper English tea? Afternoon Tea at The Cliveden House includes white truffles, Beluga Caviar, and Da Hong Pao Tea (a rare tea made from 1,000 year old plants), among other delicacies. We'll wash this all down with a glass of "the king of champagnes," Dom Perignon Rose. Considering the other gifts I'd like, Afternoon Tea at Cliveden House is a bargain at $900 per couple, but you'll have to get us to Great Britain too.
Ferris Bueller House or Home Alone House
It just so happens that both of these amazing homes are for sale at the moment. Coincidence? No way. The Home Alone house in Winnetka, complete with the staircase Macauley Culkin sleded down, is $2.4million. The Ferris Bueller house, located in one of Highland Park's ravines, is just $1.65million and is ideal for my budget-conscious friends (it was for sale for $2.3 million in 2009), but does not include Cameron Frye's dad's "Ferrari" (because it was up for sale a year ago and I'm assuming it was sold - maybe to someone who bought it as a 40th birthday gift for me?).
The Home Alone house
Cameron Frye's house in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I promise to act completely surprised when I unwrap all of these wonderful gifts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What Do You Live For?

My friend Chris Waugh posted this video on Twitter early this morning. Watch it and remember to dream and live fully.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Credit Card Number Was Stolen...Again

Yesterday morning I received a voice mail message from my credit card company regarding some possible fraud on my account. You might think this would freak me out, but I've been down this road before with the same credit card company and the same credit card, so I simply couldn't get terribly excited about this. Plus, until the last few months, I've carried a balance on this card for the last couple of years (making on-time payments each month), but as of Thursday the card will be 100% paid off. So to be honest, when I heard there may be fraud on the account I thought they were worried the fraud might be having no balance and how that meant they would no longer collect interest from me.

Unfortunately, it turned out that there was actual fraud on my account. Some enterprising whippersnapper was attempting to travel around Europe on my dime. Well, on my credit card company's dime. And fortunately, the company caught it within 12 hours and called me immediately. Using my credit card number (but not the card which was safely in my possession), a Eurail pass had been purchased in Belgium, along with travel club membership, some fun stuff in Paris, and some movies from Netflix.

Was I currently in Europe? the nice woman from customer service wanted to know. I was sitting in the parking lot of a shoe store in Rolling Meadows, most definitely not Paris. Moments later, the charges were reversed, my account closed, and a new card was on its way to me.

As I mentioned, this is actually the second time this has happened. In November 2008, someone got a hold of my card number and joined a bunch of porn websites. In that situation, my credit card company was also on top of things and handled the matter quickly.

Two years ago, I believed there was a breach with the card company and today, I'm more convinced than ever. Why? Because I don't carry my credit card with me (I keep it in a safe place), I'm obsessive about shredding, I don't receive paper statements, I pay bills online directly with the card company, have all kinds of security on my computer, and rarely use the card (in the last 2 months I've used it twice for a total of less than $100 in purchases). Plus, in today's Tribune, I read an article about $3500 being stolen from ATMs of the same bank my credit card is through using credit/debit cards that the four victims said were still in their possession. Clearly, it's not me; it's the bank.

All of this talk yesterday about traveling through Europe got me to thinking: Even if I wanted to hop on a plane tomorrow and spend a few days wandering the streets of Paris, I couldn't do it. I don't have a passport.

I'm 38 days away from turning 40 and I've never left the country and couldn't if I wanted to.

So tonight I completed a passport application. And I'll formally apply at the post office during my lunch hour on Thursday.

Check another item off my Bucket List.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ron Miller Remembered

In the five days since Ron Miller's passing, I've read many comments on Facebook and Foresters Forever (the Lake Forest College alumni website), participated in numerous conversations with friends, and heard two tributes to Ron at Lake Forest's commencement yesterday about the lives he touched. Touched is the wrong word. It's not strong enough. Ron changed lives. He left an indelible mark upon everyone he came into contact with.

In a conversation with Tim on Thursday about Ron's Kids, we discussed how Ron will live for generations at LFC because so many of Ron's Kids work at the College or serve on the Alumni Board and mentor students in the same way Ron mentored us. Those of us not directly involved with the College are out changing the world in our own ways, as teachers, police officers, counselors, religious leaders, activists, etc., relying on the lessons Ron taught us. It also struck us how many of Ron's Kids are still closely bonded all these years later. Ron brought us together as students and helped us form lifelong relationships that we celebrate in the good times and lean upon in the sad times.

There's a terrific article in today's Chicago Tribune about Ron's life from an interview with Ron's son Jim and executive director of Common Ground, Jim Kenney.

My favorite tribute to Ron was posted on Facebook by a woman I don't know and is actually a homily Ron gave for a man named Harold Kimball, who, according to his obituary, served on the board of Common Ground. While Ron is speaking of his friend in explaining the Beatitudes, the same words could easily be spoken of Ron. "In the Beatitudes, we find the heart of Christianity and in the Beatitudes, we find the heart of Ron Miller." (13:58 with a slight modification)

A memorial service for Ron will be held on Wednesday, May 11th at 9:30am at Christ United Methodist Church, 600 Deerfield Road, Deerfield.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RIP Ron Miller

If you're a Forester, the name Ron Miller probably instantaneously sends you back to your days at Lake Forest College. To at least a couple of generations of Foresters, Ron was Lake Forest College. As the Dean of Students, Ron was at the same time our champion and also someone to be a little bit feared. As a professor of religion, Ron was tolerant of everyone and made religion relevant in ways most of us probably had never experienced before.

Ron died today. I don't know the details other than what's currently on Facebook. That he was in New York City and had had a late night/early morning conversation with his son, Jim about how he wasn't feeling well. A few hours later, Jim got a call from the NYPD that his dad was dead.

When I heard he news at work today, I'll admit I cried a few tears.

College was not an easy time for me and at a number of points, I seriously considered leaving LFC for (what I perceived to be) the greener pastures of two well-known universities, where in hindsight, I would not have flourished. Over a number of conversations in his office, Ron convinced me to stay and gave me a great deal of sage advice, some of which I followed and some of which I was too headstrong to follow. All of which, 20 years later, I wish I'd taken.

When my mom tried to kill herself in June 1992, Ron called me early on a Saturday morning at my mom's house to tell me that whatever I needed would be taken care of. It was two days before my summer school final exam and he told me he'd already spoken to my professor and I could take the final when I returned to school, but that should be on my own timetable. I took my final exam in a stress-free environment about 10 days later and was never made to feel bad about the fact that my professor had to give up some of his summer vacation to accommodate me. When I finally returned to campus, there were notes in my mailbox from multiple professors and senior staff members offering me whatever support I needed (even though I had not reached out to anyone) and I learned I'd been given a single dorm room for the summer and would not be having a roommate move in. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not. I've always assumed not because that's the kind of place LFC is and that's who Ron was.

There was a phrase for those students that Ron took under his wing. They were simply known as "Ron's Kids" and for years I looked a bit enviously on those special chosen classmates, until I recently realized that I was one of them too, even if I didn't share all the same qualities they did.

For many years, Ron and my cousin Alan (also a Forester) were close friends, and Al and Ron and I shared many social dinners after I moved back to Chicago. We shared dinners in Glenview and Highland Park and even watched movies at Ron's apartment. No matter how long it had been since I'd spent time with Ron, it was like time had stood still and conversation flowed easily.

Without hesitation, my favorite Ron moment took place in December 2006. The morning of the First Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party, my cousin Alan called to ask if he could bring Ron. The fact that I hate to turn anyone away from a dinner party combined with a few last minute cancellations meant we had room, so I said of course. The more the merrier. As it turned out, dinner was almost entirely comprised of Foresters. Tim, Tony, Ron, Alan, Christopher, my brother Dave (a Forester by blood only) and me. Always the religion professor, Ron gave the blessing that night and from there, conversation went straight downhill. I can't tell you everything we discussed (this is a family blog afterall), but I can tell you the conversation spanned from world events to celebrity gossip (and everything in between) and I can't remember a time I've laughed so hard for so many hours in a row.

In the midst of a conversation on pop culture, Ron jumps in with "Who's this Ropa woman I hear so much about? She's all over the television. You know R-O-P-A." Conversation stopped and we all looked at each other confused, as if to say "who the hell is Ropa?" And Ron asks us again. "Who is Ropa? She's got that talk show?" "Oh, you mean OPRAH!" Tim says confidently (since he and Tony live across the street from Harpo Studios). "Yes! Yes! That's her! Ropa!" Ron says as we all about fall under our chairs laughing, with him, not at him.

I have no idea where the conversation went from there, but I do know that we were all glued to our chairs at the dinner table until the wee hours of the morning, laughing so hard our sides hurt. The conversation was extraordinary, but the friends around the table were better. As always, Ron challenged us to be our best selves and we all left just a bit better than when we'd arrived.

Whether we were 18 or 38, Ron let us be ourselves. Heck, he expected us to be ourselves and wouldn't have put up with anything less. He created the environment for us to discover who we were and what we believed. And even though he's no longer with us, generations to come will benefit from Ron's peace loving, embrace everyone sort of ways.

In his passing today, Ron leaves a legacy far and wide. He touched more lives than he will ever know and he found his unique superhero powers that allowed him to leave the world a better place. Like many Foresters, I will miss him, but when faced with a challenge will answer it with the question "WWRD (What Would Ron Do)?" I miss him and wish I'd made it a point to tell him of the impact he had on me, but tonight I'm especially glad I had the privilege of having Ron in my life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mr. Bellito to Read & Sign "First Time Around"

Join Michael Bellito (Mr. Bellito to all JHHS alumni) on Thursday, May 5th at 7pm for a reading and book signing of First Time Around at the Prospect Heights Public Library. I'll be there and I hope you will be too.

From my January 11th blog post:

Do you remember your first crush or first love? If you're like most of us, it took place sometime during junior high or high school.

Maybe it was the boy who walked you home throughout junior high and carried your books... Maybe it was the Greek God who turned your world upside down because he was just always there... Maybe it was tennis player who wrote with the red pencil in summer school, making it difficult to read his name on his paper, but ultimately had you with that first kiss... Maybe it was the Band Geek who drove you home everyday... Maybe it was someone else.

Whomever it was, I'm sure you fell hard. And if you stop to think about it now, you can probably instantly go right back to that moment and how you felt. If you're like most of us, it didn't last. Only very few of us actually get it right the first time around.

In his second novel book, First Time Around, Michael Bellito takes us back to that time. That time of innocence, when the world was easy, yet our love seemed all-consuming and the heartbreak heart breaking.

For John Hersey High School alums, Mr. Bellito was one of our favorite English teachers and/or speech coaches. More than anything, he introduced me to my lifelong love: the love of words and how to weave them together to tell a story.