I’d come down from the mountain to get supplies. I think I had an appointment with a dentist too, otherwise, I don’t know why I was in the large (by my standards, if not by California standards) city. It was hot in the valley, and as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t get back to my campground on the mountain soon enough.
I’d already been inside the discount grocery store. In addition to my week’s supply of food, I’d gotten a good deal on hummas and crackers for my lunch. I had the side doors of my van open, trying to cool the interior as much as possible, even though the outside air wasn’t much cooler than the air inside. The giant SUV next to me was parked as close as possible while still being inside its yellow line, so I could only open the doors partially. I was sitting in between the open doors, perched on the edge of the floor, trying to benefit from the slightly lower outside temperature.
I was enjoying my hummas and crackers when I heard a voice say, Excuse me.
I looked up and saw a young boy (no older than 13) had slipped between my van and the SUV and was peeking around my open door. I don’t like strangers getting that close to me when I’m alone in public, so I was immediately on edge.
Are you selling coupons? he continued politely.
Coupons? I thought. WTF? I didn’t know what in the world he was talking about, so I was pretty sure I didn’t have what he was looking for.
No, I told him, and he left.
What was that all about? I wondered.
The next time I talked to the Lady of the House, I told her the story.
Do you think he was looking for drugs? she asked.
Drugs? I asked, increasingly perplexed. He was really young. And polite. I don’t think it was about drugs. Besides, do I seem like I’d be selling drugs?
I’m firmly middle age and totally unhip. Would anyone possibly mistake me for a drug dealer? Well, maybe if the parking lot were at a Dead & Company show, but probably not in a strip mall parking lot. Do people even buy drugs in strip mall parking lots?
Well, The Lady said, you were in a van. (Does all the world see people in vans as drug dealers?)
Maybe he was looking for LSD, she said. Maybe “coupon” is code. LSD comes on paper, coupons are made of paper…
She made a strange sort of sense, although I didn’t think a preteen boy was combing strip mall parking lots asking middle age white ladies (even the ones wearing colorful long hippie skirts and hanging out in 1990s-era conversion vans) for LSD using coded language I’d never heard. But—kids these days—who knew? Maybe she was right.
Later I figured out what (maybe) had been going on.
Nolagirl works for a major newspaper conglomeration. She told me about people who go into stores on Sundays and pilfer the pullout coupon sections from the newspapers on the rack. The thieves don’t take the entire paper, just the glossy pages featuring coupons. When a genuine paying customer gets home and finds the paper is sans coupons, said customer is often pissed by his/her inability to take advantage of the savings.
When my friend told me about purloined coupons, I thought the thieves worked for their own cents-off benefit. However, after the young man asked if I sold coupons, I realized the thieves may work for hard currency profit. But how much money can a person make selling coupons, even stolen ones? Does the thief sell the whole glossy coupon section for a couple of bucks, or does each coupon bring in a few cents? How much will a shopper pay to save a few cents? If coupons go for half off face value (and that’s just a guess on my part), is it worth seeking out a coupon seller and paying 12 cents to save 12 cents? If coupons go for just pennies each, can a coupon thief really turn much of a profit? And is the risk of jail time and a criminal record worth making a few cents per coupon? I think it would take a lot of coupon sales to make the effort and danger pay off. Even coupon theft for personal use seems like too big a risk for too little payoff.
Furthermore, do middle-age-lady coupon thieves post up in conversion vans in front of discount grocery stores and peddle their ill-gotten wares? Did that young man really think I was in the coupon business? Also, was the boy coupon shopping for himself, or had he been sent out on a mission?
So many mysteries remain.
Coupon images from Clipart Library.
Was this in Salinas? That’s one of my sites you know! Here’s how it works. Someone intercepts the pallets of coupons before they reach the print/distribution facility. They package them up in sets of 10 (10 copies of the same coupon book) and will sell them for $5-7. Hardcore coupon folks like this b/c they don’t have to shuck out $20 for 10 copies of a paper they won’t read, and often it’s coupons from outside their market so they have more than the local paper would have. (There is a big issue with LA Times coupons being sold from SD to Phx. They even have an “office” where they sort and organize coupons for all the sellers across the southwest). And since it’s an illegal activity, I too would send the kid to ask. Often times the seller will put on their instagram page, “I’ll be at the WalMart parking lot from 1-2pm”. And they’ll sit in the lot with doors or trunk open, waiting for buyers. Then they delete the insta post and create a new one. There’s real money in this scam. And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about “coupon fairies”.
Wow! Thank you for all this incredible information, Tracee. I should have asked for your input before I wrote the piece. It only makes sense that you would know how the coupon black market works. Obvisously, I had no idea how complex the coupon black market system is. How in the world can someone steal entire pallats of coupons without notice. The things people will do to make (or save) a buck!