In the #61 Winter “Food” issue of Bitch Magazine, Adrienne Rose Johnson, in her article “Clip Artists — Women, work, and extreme couponing,” dissects the psychology behind the (mostly) women who choose to make coupon-clipping a full-time job.
Johnson’s article is a much more sympathetic and nuanced portrayal than TLC’s spat of reality shows — like the descriptively named, “Extreme Couponing” — or media coverage of the phenomenon, like HowStuffWorks’ article, “10 Extreme Coupon Tips for Normal People.”
Rather than focusing on the obsessive nature of Extreme Couponers’ behavior, Johnson discusses the way in which stay-at-home moms contribute to their household’s economy in tangible ways through the “money saved” when coupons are redeemed.
Because most of a stay-at-home mom/wife’s work is unpaid, and therefore intangible, the ability to point to a practical savings — $10 off the weekly grocery bill — is powerfully empowering.
Since I was already a pretty empowered woman, and since I had a pretty short attention span that prevented me from committing to large-scale projects with small pay-offs, I never thought that the logic of Extreme Couponing would infiltrate my behavior.
But, when I lost my job in June, it didn’t take me long to tap into the Internet sub-world of online money-making. Soon, I was a member of InboxDollars, SurveySpot, Focus Pointe, SwagBucks . . . you name it. If you could make $0.50 an hour, I’d be there.
Now, it’s not as if I was spending all my time on these sites. But, e-mailing resumes and honing my submission techniques on freelance sites like ODesk and ELance felt so futile after having sent out the first dozen or so. And, I figured, what with my more than ample free time, the least I could do in order to remain a functioning, contributing member of society would be to pull in an income — however negligible it may be.
I didn’t absolutely need the money — I take the health of my savings account very seriously.
But, as a result of an initially casual engagement with these sites, I soon became an “extreme” member in the sense that Adrienne Rose Johnson spoke of.
After all, sites like these — especially Swagbucks, where the user can literally “refresh” her points total to account for the $0.02 cent difference after a video has been watched — don’t make you wait for a check in the mail to prove that you’ve spent your day working.
Side-note: yes, when gainfully employed, I still receive my paychecks via snail mail. I don’t trust direct deposit, and come the robot revolution, you’ll be all for joining my technological-Luddite revolution!
My mom entreated me not to take the sites seriously, but rather to consider them a source of “pin money.”
“Pin money,” a phrase that now has taken on a general meaning, signifying a small amount of money used for non-essentials, originated in the 17th Century, at a time when hatpins were expensive enough to necessitate the creation of a special “allowance” given to women by their husbands for their purchase.
My boyfriend was shocked that I was putting so much time into something with such a small payout:
(Me, while I make us wait in the car before going to a movie):
“Hang on. I just have to finish this survey.
God, how long can this be? I just want my forty cents!”
(The Boyfriend): “Wait, you’re doing this for forty cents?!”
Nevertheless, after awhile, the money did start to pile up. In July, I made $25 worth of Amazon gift cards. By the end of August, I should have the ability to request checks (now, they’ll probably take a while to come through to me) that total about $65. Not terrible, when the alternative is a whopping $0.
And, most of the time, I was able to ‘run on auto’ through the tasks set by these sites.
There were videos to watch for Swagbucks that I left muted, playing in the background while I wrote or ate dinner.
There were apps to download, claim points for doing so, and then promptly delete.
If a survey lasted a bit too long to be worth my time, I had no moral compunction with whipping through the last pages by checking random answers.
The problem, rather, wasn’t the waste of time (could I be curing cancer or writing the Great American Novel with these idle hours?) but the mental möbius strip that tethered me to the thought process in which I felt prohibited from spending money I hadn’t garnered through these surveys. Given the inadequate amount I was earning, that aim wasn’t sustainable.
So, I had to commit to a massive, and unpaid, task . . . one of self-education and faith-building.
I had to believe that the money I spent today would eventually be earned back. I had to reveal the worth within which would allow me to spend money on myself, and not just on others — those on whom I lavished generosity without apprehension. I had to learn how to fully appreciate the blessings of small, everyday life — $0.50 cents at a time.
Most importantly, I had to teach myself to trust in God(s), fate, and the universe that my life would hold many more blessings to come — including a steady income that breaks a $100 a month.