KEVIN GRINDE: Rhythm Of The Trail — A Coupon Lesson In Toilet Paper Mathematics

Coupon grocery shopping is sort of like hunting for Easter eggs.

Since I have no say in our household, I do both the shopping and egg hunting.

The local family-owned grocery monopoly mails coupons to residents every once in awhile. Two weeks ago, we received some, so I decided I’d go spend and save some money.

The colorful coupon package is entitled, “CouponMania! Enjoy family Favorites For Less!”

There are 32 coupons in all. Coupons are divided so shoppers are offered four bargains a week. For you mathematically challenged shoppers like me, that computes into eight week’s worth of coupon shopping. What a deal!

Once I got permission to spend, and armed with the coupons plus a few other items on My List, I headed to one of the grocery chain’s stores on 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks, which for people living in East Grand Forks may as well be in North Fargo. I could have chosen the EGF store, but I had a few other stores in North Fargo to hit.

Most of the time, assuming you are willing to travel every aisle, navigating the grocery store’s lanes for  coupon products isn’t difficult — except there always seems to be that one elusive item on the list. Always.

I’m not sure but I think the store owners are trying to pull a fast one on us. Could it be because they hope each shopper might throw three unnecessary packages of Oreos or whatever in our cart in addition to buying the coupon specials?

So I found the coupon specials — deli meat package, the bottle of juice and Lay’s Family Pack of potato chips — no problem.

I paused before retrieving the last list item to catch up on my label reading. For many reasons, I study product labels. I pay attention to the ingredients, the weight and how many slices of product are promised  in the package. Frequently, the company doesn’t tell you how much product the plastic or cardboard container contains. Drives me nuts when I’m trying to count those invisible slices of bacon.

If one has read labels over a period of years, you’ve probably noticed a trend. One has to wonder why we are paying much more for much less of whatever it is we choose to buy. Coupons allow consumers to forget — at least for a while — that we’re probably getting screwed again.

I discovered the salami in the plastic box weighed 7 ounces, which is 1 ounce shy of 8 ounces, which is a half-pound; the healthy potato chips in their red and yellow package wore a 15¾-ounce weight — not 1 pound, mind you — 15¾ ounces.

I wanted to know how many chips are in 15¾ ounces, but that information remains secret. I wondered out loud how much more of a profit margin Lay’s makes by eliminating that 1 ounce of chips.

The juice actually contained 64 ounces, which is a whole one-half gallon. I was momentarily stunned when I saw the 64 ounces. Following the logic used by the other manufacturers, I expected to read 63.2 ounces.

tppicSince I’d left the hunt for the 16-roll package of TP — aka toilet paper — until last, off to the “bathroom tissues” aisle I went.

And that’s where I found Jerry and enough TP packages to fill our deer shack outhouse 50 times over.

Turned out I wasn’t the only person using my Mania coupons.

Jerry had to be pushing 80 on the human anniversary scale. He was slowly moving along the TP display and mumbling to himself. I could relate.

After a few minutes he asked, “You seem as puzzled as I am. Are you doing what I’m doing?”

“You mean trying to find the 16-roll pack? Yes. I wonder where they’ve got them stashed because they don’t seem to be here. Maybe they’re in the organic aisle.”

We continued hunting for a 16-roll pack of Northern Puffs — or whatever they’re called.

We found packs of 4, 8, 12 but couldn’t find what we both imagined to be a package containing 16 rolls of TP.

I normally don’t buy TP at the grocery store — too expensive. My wife and I head to a double-jumbo box store to stock up on bulk paper products such as TP and PT — aka paper towel. We grab the usual brand and heft it into the cart and are on our way to paying $17 for a pack of 18 rolls. I’ve never read a TP package until the other day. Apparently, my new shopping partner hadn’t either.

We focused our attention on typography and labels hoping to discover the secret to TP packaging.

“Do you see this?” he asked, pointing to the bottom line of tiny blue type on a clear background.

The label clearly stated he was holding 16 rolls of TP — and the word “Double.” We deployed Google Analytics and examined the package even closer. You see, both of us wear glasses.

“I’ll be damned,” I said. “I only see eight rolls, how about you?”

“Yep, eight rolls. Must not be the one.”

To gain clarification, I read the entire package aloud. In green type, top left, it read: “Double 16 double rolls = 32 regular rolls.” And at the very bottom in blue type: “16 rolls. 312.8 SQ FT (28.7m2). 176 2-PLY SHEETS PER ROLL. 4.0 IN X 4.0 IN (10.1 cm X 10.1 cm).”

“That’s a pretty crappy thing for Northern Puff to do — lie about the number of rolls in a package in plain blue writing!” Jerry said. “And what the hell is a CM? And who the hell measures toilet paper in square feet or inches?”

Jerry was getting a bit ornery.

“You’ve got that right, but technically, they’re sort of being honest.”

“It’s still a crappy thing to do. With that logic, when we check out, we should get our stuff at half price. Or get twice as much of everything for the same price.”

Clearly, Jerry is a math genius, and he lost me.

We both tired of the toilet paper challenge.

“Hell with it, I’ll submit this to the checkout person and punt,” he said.

“Got any more coupon items to buy?” I asked.

“Three more.”

I told him where to find the juice, the meat and chips, said “good luck … nice talking TP with you,” and I headed to the checkout aisle where I was interrupted by another TP-related blockade.

The whole ordeal reminded me of constipation.

“Ummm,” the very pleasant checkout woman said, “this isn’t the right toilet paper package for the coupon. Would you like me to get it for you?”

And off she went but quickly returned.

I thought that fetching my TP was a very nice thing for her to do and told her so.

“Thanks. I’ve been doing this my whole shift,” she said.

“Coupon shopping is sort of like Easter egg hunting,” I said, while grabbing my bags, “except then the eggs are free.”

“Actually, they will be on sale in a couple of weeks,” she said. “See you then!”

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