CouponI hate it when I get to the store -- like the Carter's outlet near me -- and find that I had to have signed up for their email updates to get a discount. Of course, being a frugal consumer (read: cheap bee-yotch), I am happy to take 10 minutes to step away from the register, sign up for the emails using my smartphone, and present my coupon like I'd planned to do that all along.

Never mind the irony of being a cheapo with a smartphone. I'd sooner give up my dishwasher.

There's just one problem with the money-saving emails: Sometimes the time you spend unraveling the exact deal, and how much you can actually save, costs more than the savings. And sometimes, if you really look, you aren't saving anything. When did my money-saving email deals turn into spam-scams?

It was galling enough when The New York Times did a little comparison shopping and found that flash sites were often more expensive than regular online retailers. Actually, that was a great thing, because it enabled me to finally unsubscribe from all those emails without guilt, secure in the knowledge that if something really good came along, one of my more eagle-eyed friends (with a desk job and email-perusing time to spare) will probably post it on Facebook.

But this guy took a closer look at a grocery-store email and abracadabra! With a few clicks of the asterisks, free home delivery had bloated into a $100 purchase with $30 from one brand. Now, do I tend to spend more than $100 at the grocery store? Well, yes. Do I sometimes spend $30 on one brand? Rarely. I mean, unless that brand is Ben and Jerry's and I'm going through a breakup. Or I'm pregnant. Which I'm not.

(Checking. Yep, really I'm not. Thank goodness I bought that bulk-sized box of pregnancy tests at Costco!)

Which reminds me: Oh, Costco. Every year I let my subscription to you run out because I'm just not sure if I save money at you. My mom says she's done the math and she just doesn't think the car-sized flat of fancy yogurt really saves her anything, especially when you factor in the time you spend trying to get someone to take the mango-flavored ones. I say I do save money on individual items -- the acre of recycled toilet paper, the cargo-container of unscented baby wipes. The trouble is, I also walk out of there with an extra $100 worth of too-tempting items like organic pajamas, pignoli nuts, and that biography of Ted Kennedy, all of which were a bargain but none of which I actually needed.

Of course, my lack of self-control isn't really Costco's fault. I prefer to blame my mom for that, especially now that she's ruined all the fun of shopping at Costco.

The bottom line is this: Sometimes I'd rather have a bigger bottom line than wade through all the fine print. Then again, I do have a glove compartment stuffed with 20% off Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons just in case I'm inspired to shop there.

Where do you draw the line between bargain hunting and coupon-hoarding?


Image via kyz/Flickr