Extreme Couponing and Obesity

by Sandy L on April 13, 2011

This post has been inspired by two recent articles, one by Money Beagle and the other by Nicole and Maggie.  You see, last week Money Beagle made me aware of a new TLC show called Extreme Couponing.  On the flipside, Nicole and Maggie talk about their organic shopping experiences.  On Money Beagle’s site I made a broad generalization (shame on me) that most of the extreme couponers I’ve run into at the supermarket have been obese. Although that’s been my general observation, I know that not everyone in this genre is overweight. In fact, one of the TLC stars is a young, pretty blond with 6 kids who does not have an ounce of extra fat on her. On her grocery list I see lots of veggies, but in the snippet they don’t actually go into details on how you buy cheap broccoli (frozen maybe?). Maybe I should have instead stated that if I were an extreme couponer, I’d be obese.

I do use coupons, but mostly for non-food items like paper products, cleaning products, batteries, medicine and dairy products. The reason is that we don’t buy a lot from the middle isles. The bulk of my shopping gets done in the produce, meat and dairy section.  I do still buy some junky snacks here and there, but in general our food is pretty basic.  Even if I wanted to do extreme couponing, most of my stores have a limit of 3 items for double couponing and only do it once/month. I envy those folks in the south and midwest that have stores with more liberal doubling policies.

My morbid curiosity got to me and I went to look for some online videos on extreme couponing and found a snippet from one of the new TLC stars, Amanda. On her shopping spree, it shows Amanda  buying a whole assortment of gatorades, 150 butterfinger bars, about 20 packs of pepperidge farm cookies, microwave dinners, and some regular food thrown in there as well. The only thing I saw in the cart that was non-processed were the boxes of pasta.  This kind of shopping was really disturbing to me not only because of the quality, but the sheer quantity of empty calories and preservatives she had in those 9 grocery carts.  The butterfinger bars alone represented over 40,000 calories and 1650 grams of fat.  Buying something just because you can get it for free shouldn’t be your only selection criteria.

My Family’s Struggle with Obesity

Babci weighs more than twice what she is supposed to for a woman who’s 5′ tall.  She’s much closer to the 300 pound mark than she is to 100 pounds.  My youngest son and I are just like her when it comes to food consumption. The three of us could eat all day long.  If I had 150 candy bars in my house, do you know how many would get eaten in no time flat? Yup, all 150 of them.  I can’t help but look at Babci and see a mirror into my own future and it scares me. The only hope I have is that I didn’t grow up starving, so I don’t have as much psychological baggage as she has when it comes to portion control.  For her, portion control did not happen out of choice, but necessity and she still talks about how she’s not going to deny herself after starving all those years as a child and young adult.

In fact, those 2 months she was in Poland, I lost about 10 pounds and she gained another 20.  Of all the great things I’m thankful to have inherited from babci, this is the one area where she is a very bad influence. She definitely equates feeding/nourishing people  as a form of love. She often gets upset when I deny her the ability to feed me or my family, even if it’s the middle of the day not one hour after we’ve already had lunch.  When I say “We’re not hungry, we just ate” she just dismisses it as irrelevant. What’s relevant is that I’m at her house and she wants to feed me.  Having already gained back a few of those pounds I’m getting more snippy at her attempts of feeding me at all hours of the day and it just sucks. Some days when she gets really stubborn about shoveling something down my gullet, I get a little mean.  If I had $1 for every time she blocked my way and threw a fork full of food in my face, I’d be a rich woman. Doesn’t she know I love food and it’s already hard enough to say no without her extra zealous efforts?

I know she’s just trying to take care of us, so I’m trying to be better about going over her house hungry and scheduling more time to bring my kids over to eat. My kid’s favorite meal is chicken soup with home made noodles.  I know her days force feeding us are numbered, so I’m keeping things in perspective and am thankful that she’s still healthy enough to cook for us on a regular basis.

My husband’s family is the opposite.  When my father in law died, no one ate for days. They found no solace in food. I was the only one in the house hoovering up all the comfort food people were bringing over in the days after the event.  I definitely eat for reasons other than hunger.

Making an effort  to eat healthy, reasonable portions without tons of snacking is a constant struggle and I don’t need the pressure of hundreds of boxes of processed junk to derail me.  So, aside from peas, edamame, and sweet potato fries, all my veggies are fresh. If I tried serving rubbery frozen veggies to my family they would go uneaten.  Heck, it’s hard enough to get my kids to eat a crisp steamed green bean, let alone the soggy kind from a can. Yup, I have picky eaters. Fruit and Yogurt are easy but veggies are still a struggle.  Oh I can’t wait for babci’s garden to get into full swing. Garden fruits and veggies are the holy grail of awesomeness.

So there you have it. There’s a little peek into my struggle with food and family. I love cooking and eating and like my mom, I take great pleasure in feeding others. The challenge is really figuring out how to keep it as a positive part of our lives instead of a destructive one. I hate seeing babci’s mobility affected by her weight. I wish I could somehow take those extra 150 pounds off her petite little frame while maintaining her happiness. I don’t know how to do it and it makes me sad.

Oh, I totally went off topic there. Yes, me and food have a lot going on. I guess I should go back to my coupon questions. What’s your opinion? Would you buy something just because you could get it for free?  Would you buy 100 of them? Should I give extreme couponing a chance? At 78, should I just let Babci be fat and happy and stop worrying about it?

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone April 13, 2011 at 7:38 AM

It is an interesting experiment, but not for everyone in my opinion. I shouldn’t end up buying more just because I have a coupon rather than due to a genuine need!

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Nicole April 13, 2011 at 7:52 AM

Wow, it’s like an extreme couponing coffeetalk day.

Tap water costs the same as gatorade… why would I want gatorade? There’s not even much point in giving it to a food pantry.

Food is love in my family too. Oddly my father is not obese even though he was malnourished as a child (he’s 5’2″– his older siblings are much taller). He’ll often skip dinner. He must have been nourished at the right points in his development for obesity (like prenatally) and not gained height in the others. I wish I had a solution for Babci, but I don’t. Maybe water aerobics to help with mobility or a personal trainer who specializes in older folks.

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Nicole – thanks for the advice. I was thinking of getting her some physical therapy. I’m still waiting to hear back from her doc. No way is she going into a pool though.. I’m sure she’d say.”I’ll catch pneumonia” It’s cool that your dad didn’t get hung up on food.

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Crystal April 13, 2011 at 10:22 AM

I don’t buy things we won’t use even if I have a coupon for it. Of course, I also don’t clip more than 3-7 coupons a week, so it’s not like I have a bunch of extras anyway. I rather just go shopping than deal with the hassle of couponing, so I only cut and use the ones for products we were guaranteed to buy anyway.

As for Babci, you can’t help her until she decides she wants to lose weight. My mother in-law tried to convince me for 2 years in as polite of a way as possible that I should stay healthy in my 20’s so I wouldn’t have to work so hard in my 30’s and 40’s to battle off the pounds. It didn’t help until I personally decided I wanted to weigh 150 again. I made up my mind in January and have gone from 176 to 154 in about 3 months. It’s all a matter of personal choice…sorry. Good luck though.

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Crystal – thanks for the advice. Yeah, I would hate it if someone nagged me about my size, so I generally lay off on the comments. She just ate 1/2 gallon of ice cream in 2 days..she’s not ready. You know, back when I was 10, my mom lost a lot of weight and kept it off for a while. I don’t quite know how she did it, but she’s not been able to do it since. She just talks about it a lot but can’t quite get the self control down. I know exactly how she feels but my life is busier than hers, so I don’t have as much time to chow down.

I’m still so impressed and excited by your weight loss progress.

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Money Beagle April 13, 2011 at 10:32 AM

It must be a Polish thing too because both of my grandmothers, one more so than the other, used food as a way to express their love. They’re both gone but I can still taste all the wonderful food they made.

As far as your Babci’s health, I wonder if she ever sees a doctor and has been told about her weight. I know many in that generation either shun doctors or dismiss what they say. I know my one grandmother did that but there was one time that the doctor told her that if she didn’t have a health problem dealt with that she would most likely die within months. For whatever reason that woke her up. She had the problem dealt with, took better care of herself, began heeding the advice of physicians, and we got to have her for another fifteen years. It might take a wake up call like that for your Babci. Or she may never get it, but there’s nothing you can do about that, either, except of course love her and love whatever time you’re blessed to have with her.

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 5:31 PM

Money Beagle – The doctor thing is a tricky one. Babci avoided doctors like the plague and I have to be very careful. Usually if a doctor tells her something she doesn’t want to hear, she claims they’re trying to poison her and never wants to go back to them again. I just got her to go to see people on a semi regular basis and a scolding session would be enough to make her dig her heels in and not go back.

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retirebyforty April 13, 2011 at 12:46 PM

This is exactly why I don’t like buying bulk. It maybe cheaper, but all the food in the house will induce you to eat more. I can’t believe all that junk food the extreme couponers purchased. That’s enough junk food to last us a few years. That’s way too much empty calories.

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 5:31 PM

Rb40 – yeah, food in the house = eating more.

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MutantSuperModel April 13, 2011 at 12:50 PM

1. I hate that show. They totally screwed up a good thing and it pisses me off. It has way too much in common with the Hoarders show and it’s wrong. How do you do a show on extreme couponing and not cover The Penny Experiment?
2. I use coupons a lot. I’m trying to think of the most recent coupons I used and they were for ice cream and Ziploc bags (ok I forgot to actually use it but I meant to). The coupons I have lined up for my next trip include coupons for diapers, wipes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and a cereal.
3. It drives me crazy when people focus on the processed foods aspect of coupons. Seriously. It’s way too narrow-minded. I use coupons on things like eggs and almond milk and whole wheat pasta and frozen veggies (even organic and which I actually do not find soggy at all) and whole wheat breads. The market has changed a lot. Guess what? So have coupons. And if you don’t regularly use them, you’ll miss all of those other coupons on things like meats, fruit, and veggies. Yes, they make them.
4. No I don’t buy something just because it’s free with coupons. I buy it because it’s free with coupons and I’ll use it before it goes bad or it doesn’t go bad for a gazillion years. I also never buy more than necessary. I do both of these things because I don’t have the time or energy to make donations of the things I don’t need or want. I wish I did but I can’t even afford that kind of thing and yes, there’s an expense associated with donating.
5. After doing couponing a while you tend to figure out some things are harder to get on sale than others so when they do go down on price you really do try and stock up. For instance, in my recent CVS shopping spree I took home seven body washes. Why? Because women’s body wash is one of those things that doesn’t have coupons and sales often. And I contend that seven body washes is actually quite reasonable. It should get me through the year and going a year without having to worry about buying body wash is nice. If more free or practically free body wash opportunities come up I will likely buy them because I think they’d make cute gift sets with a crocheted wash cloth.
6. Hispanics are similar with the food = love mindset. I actually think all immigrants are. I get the feeling the United States is probably the only country that doesn’t have that mindset. If your mom does it and it drives you nuts, make it a game. Always make sure you have some healthy food on your person when you’re around her and when she offers you food offer her a trade– you’ll eat HER food if she eats YOURS. If she does cave into the trade, at least you have the satisfaction of feeding her something healthy. If she doesn’t, you’re off the hook!

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Mutant – Yes, I get all excited when I see coupons for things like tropicana OJ. They do have them, but on a more infrequent basis. I love cascadian and alexia brand frozen products and sometimes I’ll see coupons for those and I jump for joy when I see a coupon for red hot blues. They’re still no where near 90% off though. I also see eggland’s best egg coupons but usually the generic version is still cheaper than the premium eggs + coupon.

I think you’re right about the immigrant thing. For many immigrants having plentiful food was a luxury at one time and sharing is such a wonderful thing. PS. I have been known to buy 9 sticks of my favorite deodorant when I saw it for $4 off the normal price. I’m still working though it a year later and haven’t seen the price go down as low since. Babci eats a lot of good food. It’s just the quantity that’s the issue.

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Everyday Tips April 13, 2011 at 2:11 PM

I saw that episode too where the woman almost exclusively junk food. If I remember correctly, they were stocking up for a party. Well, I don’t want to go to a party where the food all has to be unwrapped!

I use a lot of coupons, but not much on convenience items. Cereal, toiletries, health/beauty, yogurt, etc. There is a ton of items you can buy with a coupon. When Salsa goes on sale, I do become a hoarder, but that is because the men in my house love chips and salsa.

Regarding Babci, I know you worry about her weight, but worry won’t make her habits change. She may be at the point where she feels there isn’t much she can do about it. How awful that her biggest comfort is harming her health. That is the difference between finding comfort in food vs. alcohol. You don’t have to drink alcohol everyday to survive, but you do have to eat. So, many times a day you are faced with that pull to indulge whenever hunger hits. Sorry I don’t have a great answer. Until Babci lives with you, you won’t have any control over her eating situation.

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Everyday Tips – I know, overeating isn’t something you can just quit cold turkey. I think that’s why it’s so hard. One bowl of pasta is fine, but how do you keep it from turning into 3? I struggle with the same thing.

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Jacq April 13, 2011 at 2:33 PM

Food = love for me too when feeding people. I feel a little hurt when my boys don’t want to eat what I’ve made (say if they’re full or something) but I really do just want them to try it. And they both know that all it takes to make me just want to burst from happiness is to have them say “this is the BEST _____ you’ve ever made / I’ve ever had.” And my oldest son tells me I should be on Iron Chef. :-)

Re. Babci’s weight, my grandmother’s on both sides had a tendency to be overweight. The really chubby one – 4′ 10″ and 200+, lived to 96 (she had a stroke running up the basement stairs). I don’t think it necessarily comes down to mortality, but quality of life right now. If her quality of life is okay for her (not your standard but hers), then I don’t think you should do anything at all. I just think it would be futile, wouldn’t it? You’d feel like a nag and she’d feel hen-pecked.

Heheh, you’d hate my house. I think I’ve had some chocolate around since Christmas that needs to get thrown out. Good stuff too, I just don’t like it. Now salt on the other hand…

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Sandy L April 13, 2011 at 7:49 PM

Jacq – that makes me feel so glad that her weight may not affect her mortality. It is absolutely affecting her quality of life though. She has a hard time putting on socks and stuff and it makes her embarrassed and annoyed. I think Crystal is right, if that stuff gets her angry enough, she’ll come around.

PS. We have chocolate/junk in the house..but it’s more like raisinettes, trail mix, fruit roll ups and granola bars. Plus we have all the seasonal stuff from easter, halloween, christmas, valentine’s day, etc… We’re not grinches but try to limit the large volume of candy consumption to those 4 months of the year. I figure being bad 25% of the year is enough. PSS. I put salt on everything. Thank god I don’t have high blood pressure.

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eemusings April 14, 2011 at 12:04 AM

I wouldn’t say I’ve have an unhealthy relationship with food, but I think I now have better eating habits. I don’t wolf down my food as fast and I have a little more control over my eating. I don’t necessarily gorge myself whenever there is free food to be had and I don’t feel guilty if I absolutely cannot finish the last couple mouthfuls and have to throw away a few scraps.

I don’t know where all those patterns came from, because I certainly have never gone hungry. To be honest, I think at 78 maybe you should simply let Babci be :)

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Sandy L April 14, 2011 at 4:21 AM

eemusings – yeah, that’s a good one (eating too much when it’s free). I think that’s also something I used to be guilty of and I guess it started in college when I’d go to the all you could eat pasta night at papa ginos and that would be my only food for the whole day. I still have an issue throwing away uneaten food. I am guilty of finishing things off my kid’s plates. I guess the first step is to be mindful of all these things and realize that it’s better to throw the extra food in the trash than it is to carry it around on our hips.

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101 Centavos April 14, 2011 at 7:39 AM

In an Italian family, of course food is love. Typical opening phrases in any conversation “So, what are we going to eat?” “Are you hungry?” “Here, try this”
I sympathize about Babci’s weight. My own mother is easily 50+ pounds on the wrong side of the scale, and no good prospects of dropping if off. I’ve just learned to leave the subject alone, and just enjoy the good cooking.

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Sandy L April 15, 2011 at 5:55 AM

101 – what about the phrase “Oh, poor dear, you’re so skinny, here have something to eat”

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101 Centavos April 15, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Oh yes, that one too. And “one more slice/helping/spoonful, what’s it going to hurt?”

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Sandy @ Journey To Our Home April 14, 2011 at 6:54 PM

I have NOT watched this show, nor will I. I just don’t get it. I do use coupons- a lot, but I’m no where close to these people. I have bought items because they were free- but I have donated those items and usually my free items are toothpaste, floss and deodorant, ALL things that shelters NEED. I don’t buy food that we won’t be able to use within a few weeks, but if something is free I may pick up a few and add to our donation box. But I NEVER wipe a shelf clean of items- there is such a thing as shopping/couponing etiquette and leaving items for everyone else. Just hearing about the show makes me want to vomit- just thinking about the sheer waste.

At 78 I think you should just let Babci be happy. I think it is an excellent idea that you are planning your trips around prime eating times so you don’t have to tell her ‘no’ so much when she wants to feed you. I think that idea goes hand-in-hand with letting her be happy.

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Sandy L April 15, 2011 at 5:59 AM

Sandy – no one seems to have coupon etiquette here. I always find shelves wiped clean of really good sales. If you want your pick of the sale, you have to go on the day the sale starts. I was all excited about the Buy 1 Get 2 Free roasted peppers on sale last week until I got there and there were none.

The coupon policies at my stores are already very strict. There are often limits on on sale items, etc. I just think the more people who do stuff like this the fewer opportunities for others to benefit. I’ve already seen a big change in my area in the last year. It just is going to make the policies even more inflexible.

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Deidre April 14, 2011 at 7:42 PM

One thing is for sure, eating habits, quality and quantity of food that we eat is vastly different than what Babci has been eating for the majority of her life. I would venture to bet that those eating habits were much healthier than ours now.

As for her current health status…one commenter mentioned physical therapy or some fitness clubs that cater to the elderly. Water aerobics are nice and gentle and non-impact.

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Sandy L April 15, 2011 at 6:04 AM

Deidre – you are right. The quality of food babci eats is very high. The closest thing she has in her house that’s processed is skippy peanut butter. Most of the time her shopping cart has milk, eggs, rye bread, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, sour cream, meat. That’s it. We never had junk in our house growing up. No chips, soda, cookies. Junk food was snacking on cheese. I remember shopping day being so fun because there was lots of cheese and cold cuts for a couple of days after shopping day. I would eat it all in like 2 days, then would have to wait the rest of the week to get it restocked.

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NDChic April 15, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Maybe she was getting all those Gatorades for when she was working out at the gym. Gatorade does replace the electrolytes that one sweats out. LOL!

I think that the majority of extreme couponers are probably overweight because I’ve never seen a coupon for fresh fruit or veggies. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

As for Babci, you can’t change somebody’s mindset at 78. If she eats a lot, encourage her to be more active with your family. You might not be able to change her eating habits but might be able to help her with her activity level.

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Sandy @ Journey To Our Home April 16, 2011 at 9:55 AM

I just used fresh fruit coupons last week! I see cutie orange coupons all the time in our Sunday inserts, but I found a $1 coupon off any fresh fruit on a box of cereal I was buying. So we got our fresh cantalope for $.49 instead of $1.49 sale price.

They are unusual but you can find fresh fruit coupons too.

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Sandy @ yesiamcheap April 15, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Okay let’s get right into it. I coupon. It’s not unusual for me to get 20-40% off my shopping bill, but this show is about people with OCD. They just happen to focus on coupons with their disorder. It is incredibly hard to watch this show because I know that this couponing is taking serious time away from their families and seriously, you can eat all 150 candy bars before they go bad, but how healthy is that? Yes, you can get coupons for eggs and stuff, but how much of those perishable items can you seriously eat in a short time? Also, it’s forcing stores to put rules in place to prevent this kind of behavior that empties out shelves leaving nothing for shoppers after this person.

On to Babci. It’s an old world mindset. I fight with my mother about this too. Exercise is a foreign word to her, but she loves to shop so I drag her through the mall for her walking without realizing it. :) Evil. Perhaps Babci can join her local Polish civic center which might get her a bit more active? Yes, she’s 78 but who says that by losing 10% of her weight we can’t add 2 more years to her life? And invite her over for dinner often if you can and cook it YOUR way. You don’t need to nag her, you just need to be sneaky. ;)

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Steve Zussino - Canadian Coupons April 16, 2011 at 11:37 AM

You bring up a great point about the link between extreme couponing and obesity.

It is hard to justify eating 150 candy bars – should be a treat not a meal.

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Jennifer Barry April 20, 2011 at 9:23 PM

Yikes! I’ve never seen this show and I’m sure I don’t want to. I have a big sweet tooth so I try to keep a minimum of sugary treats in the house. I sure wouldn’t buy a stack of candy bars. I lost 30 pounds last year so I don’t want to gain it back. I don’t use many coupons per se but I do take advantage of what’s on sale. I only stock up on non-perishables or the occasional frozen thing because I hate to waste food.

My mother-in-law sounds a lot like Babci. She is always trying to feed us, especially homemade cookies. They are excellent but after a few I’m done.

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Edwin @ Cash The Checks April 24, 2011 at 3:40 AM

If couponing gets them excited and that’s their main hobby, then I’m not surprised they’re obese. Hobbies are supposed to be active ones like jogging or playing a sport.

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pandafeet May 5, 2011 at 8:28 PM

I was thinking the exact same thing! I would love to save money on my weekly grocery trips, but there is no way that I would buy all that junk food when I already struggle with my weight. I would have to assume that for some they have awesome self control and at the same time no self control at all. :(

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Doable Finance May 8, 2011 at 12:54 AM

I am not against coupons but most folks get carried away. They buy stuff they don’t need.

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Dinheiro Como Ganhar May 11, 2011 at 9:14 AM

Excellent article, I loved the information.
Congratulations!

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