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(LINDSEY BALBIERZ FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(LINDSEY BALBIERZ FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

I’m an e-coupon addict Add to ...

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Ping!

That sound is the familiar chime of my inbox, telling me that I have a new message from one of my favourite sites. What’s it going to be today? Five nights at a Mexican all-inclusive? Hot yoga? A whitewater-rafting experience I’ll never forget?

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My name is Erin and I’m an e-coupon addict.

It recently dawned on me that I have a problem. The signs were obvious – heart palpitations, nervous tics, inability to sleep. But it didn’t smack me in the face until one rainy Wednesday afternoon when I was clearing out my inbox and noticed an e-mail “reminding” me to use my coupon for a special wine-and-cheese night at the trendy place down the street.

How friendly, I thought. Then I looked at the date and immediately called my husband in a panic. The coupon, purchased in a haze after the birth of our son, expired that night. Could he get off work early? Could we get a babysitter? Would I have time to shower? As we both scrambled to reorganize our lives, I had to face facts: My desire to save a buck was costing me more than it was saving me.

It started with one site, but gradually built up to six or so. I tacked on “splinter” sites – travel deals, mommy deals, everything tailored for my consumer habits. By the time I was in the throes, I was receiving a baker’s dozen of e-mail deals daily.

I used to get excited by the ping. I would stick my kids in front of Sesame Street and clear the floor of sharp objects so I could wholly devote my attention to today’s great buy: $49 for partial highlights and a haircut in a swank salon? I’ll take it! A manicure-pedicure for $30? Absolutely – summer is right around the corner! Three hours of housecleaning? Who doesn’t need that?

But, like all addictions, it escalated. I clicked on the links and scrolled the Web page deals for escapes to rain forests in Costa Rica. A bit far, I thought. My eyes fell on the more realistic option: a two-night stay at a substandard Niagara hotel for $79, including breakfast, a drink at the sterile lobby bar and a voucher for a steakhouse. Who cares if it scored only two stars on TripAdvisor and someone once commented that there were bedbugs? For 80 bucks, you can easily overlook those minor details. Book it!

My husband was not amused when my credit-card statements came.

“Honey, did you buy five passes for CrossFit?”

“Hmmm.” (I pretend to be engrossed in the editorial page.)

“And this tour of the botanical gardens?”

“Oh.” (I look vaguely in the other direction, as though I have forgotten an important task I’m about to accomplish.)

“And when are you planning on taking this burlesque class?”

“Hello? Oh, hi Mum,” I say, answering my phone that didn’t ring and scurrying off to hide in the bathroom.

As the charges load up my credit card, and the e-coupons pile up, I can’t deny feeling overwhelmed with the coupon clutter I have invited into my life. Though these vouchers don’t take up physical space, they take up mental space. Why am I cramming my life with “other” stuff : dinner obligations in preselected restaurants instead of deciding on a whim to go check out that great new spot, dance classes for my daughter where the drive takes longer than the dance class itself, coffee vouchers I forget to use? Given my love of java, this is the real sign.

The whole process taps into that gene most of us have: the thrifty gene. In my closets, there are items of clothing I will probably never wear, bought because they were 70 per cent off. One of my favourite days of the week is food-flyer day, when I gleefully flip through the leaflets looking for the best deal on toilet paper. I scan the discount racks and buy the yogurt that is on sale.

I wonder what I would have been like in the 1950s, when couponing was all the rage among the stay-at-home-mom set. Would I have had coupon parties, an excuse for a late-afternoon G&T with the gals while we scanned the newspapers, scissors in hand, looking for pennies to save (“Look, June – 25 cents off kitty litter!”)?

On that cold and rainy Wednesday, we couldn’t find a babysitter, so we trudged out with our five-week-old son and 2½-year-old daughter to that trendy wine bar for its first sitting, apologizing profusely to the waiter and promising that we were not urban hipsters who pretend that kids haven’t dampened their lifestyle – we would scoff the wine and cheese and be on our way within the hour. He shrugged and motioned to the rest of the room, filled with similarly tired-looking new parents also desperately trying to use their e-coupon before it expired. At least they had found a babysitter.

I promised my husband that I would curb my addiction to e-couponing right then and there. No more boot camps, carpet cleaning or five-kilogram boxes of chicken breasts. I went home and immediately started unsubscribing, sadly pulling myself off the e-coupon lists, away from my good friends. All of them. Well, most of them.

Ping.

Erin Phelan lives in Toronto.

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