So why this blog? There are quite a few entertaining ones on this topic already that I love reading.
And to my mates that know me well, why am I blogging exactly 3 years after I emigrated from Australia to the USA due to a rather long distance love turned to, well, wanting it to be short distance?
Well, this is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek guide of an alphabetis(z)ed listing of differences, from tiny to large, of relocating to, living and working in the US vs. Australia.
Each week month or so (am finding it too pressed for time to do each week!) I’ll add a brief post of a difference, starting with A and systematically representing each letter of the B through to Z. So by week month 26, give or take, I would have covered A through to Zee. But any Aussie who has lived in the US and vice versa knows there are a million more idiosyncrasies 😉 So if there is a modicum of interest, I’ll add to A, B, and so on and so forth…
Beginning this on my 3-year anniversary of living in the US, as I feel like I know enough to blog at least a few reliable things after living, working, and traveling in this country which has not yet ceased to amaze me and amuse me with its diversity and beauty.
Largely aimed to be helpful for Aussies who are going to the US whether for just a decent holiday (aka vacation) or to live for awhile, and vice versa.
Or just for those that are curious. Just hope curiosity doesn’t kill the cat.
DISCLAIMER: This blog compares my limitedlife experiences from 2 cosmopolitan Aussie cities: Sydney (Australia’s often-mistaken-for-capital city) and Canberra (the real capital city) – to another neat city: Orlando, Florida.I have travel(l)ed a fair bit in Aus and in the US (see ‘About Me’). I’ll try to be accurate. But let’s face it, it’s still hard. US and Australia (esp. US) are both massively culturally diverse countries – living in one city or state can have a few significant differences from another. So what I write may be completely irrelevant to your locale. If I’m totally off base about something, feel free to comment or contact me. But do keep in mind the context, so plz keep it civil 😉
Featured image, “We found Tinkerbell at Disneyland!” Instagram shot by naay_x, Sept. 26, 2016
Originally, I wasn’t planning on doing a post on Disney. But I had a request from a Facebook friend. She lives in the beautiful Mediterranean and wants to take her kids to Disney World one day, and wants tips. So this eclectic post – part-review, part cultural observation, part advice – is for her – and anyone from who wants to save for a trip to here or it’s original counterpart, Disney Land.
For those of you that are thinking (and fair enough, as I had to think about this too) –
“Um. What will this post have to offer in highlighting differences between the US and Australia? There are several great amusement parks throughout Aus, and we* shall never forget Wonderland, 1986- 2004, R.I.P.”
Ahhh Wonderland, Sydney. Still breaks my heart. But I digress.
*we = Sydneysiders in particular. We were devastated.
Disney World and Disney Land in itself represents broad strokes of cultural differences between the US and Australia – and maybe other countries could relate. In the fashion of my previous posts, cultural differences and tips are scattered in my story, or just jump to the end for tips on how to get the biggest bang for your buck by saving money and time at Disney. ‘Cause time is money. Unlike my previous posts, look out for my footnotes – they point to external links at the end of this post, to help you make the most of Disney.
A quick word on what “expertise” I bring to the subject –
Can’t say I blame you for wondering.
I have enjoyed Disney World about 15 times, including the four main parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom; its complimentary water park, Blizzard Beach; and it’s general area, Disney Springs.
My husband, not born, but bred in Orlando, has been countless times. He could afford to go as often as he did, due to a connection; just like many, but not all, Central Floridians are fortunate to have. So this blog post is a result of our collective “hive mind” – the knowledge, experiences, and tips gathered along the way from him, his connection’s, and mine.
When my then-boyfriend suggested we go to Disney World when I would first visit him in Orlando several years ago, I was all, “Sure, that would be fun.” (Actually, I was a lot more excited than that).
It would fulfill a childhood dream I had long given up on, which I thought would be cool. I ordered a Travel Guidebook from Amazon on Orlando which included a chapter dedicated to Disney World.
I flagged like about 50 page markers on all the rides, shows, and food and drink I wanted to try out at Disney World. My best friend’s then-boyfriend was laughing at me. Yeah, yeah, funny.
Can’t say I blame him, can’t say I regret that.
By being organized beforehand, then-boyfriend and I mentally sectioned each day, grouping the rides, shows, and food by the section of each park. We booked some rides using Fast Passes, and restaurants and cafes ahead of time. We made the most of each day, not wasting precious time figuring where to go next. We were a rather efficient partnership.
But I didn’t think Disney World would do anything for me, culturally.
Disney World is just some theme parks based on Disney movies, right? But I surprisingly did learn a few things about American culture…
#1 Disney = That American entrepreneurial spirit
We entered Disney World, visiting three different parks – Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom – over three spring days, greeted with a large sign stating “Where Dreams Come True”.
I was expecting just fun theme parks. A variety of rides. Terrible amusement park food. Those stunt shows that are aimed at children but have corny, underlying jokes for the adults. Of course, I got all that, but so much more.
There is something for pretty much most walks of life at Disney World and Disney Land.
Thrill-seeking rides and gentle ones suitable for one-year-olds; beautifully landscaped gardens and streets to stroll through; mini-musicals and fast-paced stunt shows; stores outfitted so thematically, of all kinds.
Which is why it made sense by the end of the day for me to see people of all ages – from babies, tweeners, teens, college (aka university aged), frazzled parents with kids, carefree adults with no kids, and retirees, soaking up the sun – from all over the world.
Disney speaks a universal language; a universal appeal.
Most Aussies tend to go to Disney Land in the US, as it saves another flight to the east coast.
But if you or your family is really into Disney, and you can stomach another 4-5 hour flight to Orlando, it is so worth it for another trip. My Sydney dentist took his family there. You have an additional 2 parks to play in, and different rides to explore.
If you are thinking, well, a dentist can afford that 19-hour trip – it’s not necessarily more expensive.
In my quest to persuade my best friend to visit me in Orlando (she married her boyfriend, and they were going to LA, to Disneyland. Yep, I wanted to see your Travel Guidebook then, buddy), I discovered flight tickets in January were actually the same price from Sydney – Orlando as it was to LA. I get it, LA has other really cool stuff, I admit… have visited there twice, myself. Another time, my friend. Hope you are reading this.
But I digress. Back to my visit of 3 out of the 4 parks that make up Disney World.
Each park in Disney World goes beyond its theme and has a unique flavor.
I practically swooned over Hollywood Studios’ juxtaposition of Old Hollywood glamour with shows and rides based on modern films.
Epcot appealed to both my inner geek with its technological showcases and futuristic-themed rides and my yuppie-ness, with its restaurants that are of a high quality, and its annual Food and Wine Festival which I caught on another trip.
And strolling through the Magic Kingdom was one deep dive through nostalgia while being hit in the face with the latest, state-of-the-art effects to bring both the new and old Disney favorites to life in rides and shows1.
Oh, and Cinderella’s Castle? It was a majestic sight to see for the first time, my eyes just couldn’t help drawing toward it. It looks even better than it looks in the pictures, just like you know, like Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and the Opera House*
As we grew closer to the castle, I saw little girls come out of the castle with Disney princess dresses. Turns out Disney holds Princess Parties and Princess Afternoon Teas there.
To ensure your kid is fit to attend such a party, you can book them into the Bibibidy Bobbidy Boutique in Disney Springs (more on that later) to give your child a makeover. If I were a kid, I would have been all over my parents for that one.
Wondering through an interesting, interactive Walt Disney exhibit2 in Hollywood Studios, I read and heard his story.
After establishing Disney Land in Southern Cali, Walt Disney wanted to reach further – to set up a whole world in which both adults and children can just enjoy for several days, not just the kids. He researched the country and found untapped potential in Central Florida. He, the creative, partnered with his brother Roy, the business mind. In 1970, The Magic Kingdom opened, and the rest is history.
To learn Walt’s entrepreneurship story was fascinating. And while you are traveling throughout the US and visiting different sites, you will hear more about an array of entrepreneurialism that the rest of us around the world has come to benefit from. I’m not saying that other countries aren’t innovative; they are.
It’s just that Americans are just brazen. Three and a half years later, I have observed this in the tourism, retail, service industries, and my professional field. They are less afraid of risk; more willing to give something a shot. They shoot for the moon – if they land, they will shout it out to the world – and if they miss and land among the stars, they will shout about that too.
Except for the NASA people though. Failure is not an option.
While you are in Orlando, go for an hour’s drive up the Space coast to Kennedy Space Center to hear about their story.
*Ok, so I may seem biased about Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House in being among the world’s greatest iconic draws. But I’m for reals.
#2 Disney = American drive and ambition
Strolling through the Disney parks, I was enchanted by its design.
Each park is so well designed, so much attention to detail. The stunning landscape, the themed restaurants, the costumes, the storefronts and their interiors, even the candy, so creatively crafted.
All employees – “cast members” -from the singers, dancers, servers, shop assistants, and so on – were all impeccably playing a role, to make you feel you are off the grid.
If you live in Orlando or Anaheim, you will probably get to know someone who works at Disney, and how hard yakka working at the World or Land that sets to make your dreams true. They work so hard, but are they compensated enough?
After a whirlwind first day of experiencing thrilling rides, being enchanted by the streetscape, culminating with the third or so show at what felt like, Broadway standards, I must have had some stunned look on my face, as then-boyfriend then said:
“You look stunned.”
He tends to say it like it is.
“Everything… everything is just so, so… “
He looked at me strangely and shrugged.
Frequenting Disney over a hundred times or so, since you were 5 years old, makes all this pretty normal, I suppose.
Disney goes all out to make your “dreams come true”, to transport you to a different world of fun, fantasy, and happiness.
Oh yeah, and magic.
Those fireworks… my second favorite to Sydney’s New Year’s Eve 😉 But amazingly, they can do this every night. So much ambition, drive, and hard work goes into making it into the most popular theme park in the world. A spectacular sight to see. I love their fireworks display that much, here is another one:
Jump forward a few years, I was settled in Orlando, and took my Aussie friend Benny to the Magic Kingdom. The world traveler that he is, he had wanted to “explore real America” and only agreed as I had scored free tickets. “This actually is a slice of real America. Give it a shot, and if you don’t like it, we’ll leave early”, I promised.
We were there for hours and hours, on end. He was carrying around that same glazed look I had.
“Everything is just so, so… “
“Yeah. I get it.”
He felt that same way at NASA’s Space Kennedy Center.
He had that same glazed look on his face after the dramatic unveiling of Atlantis, Hollywood style.
It’s not that Aussie attractions aren’t good – they are great and then-boyfriend loved them all the times he visited Sydney, and then Melbourne.
It’s just that, well, Australia has a “tall poppy syndrome” kinda problem – a tendency to cut figures and organizations down if we find they go on too much about their success, and that cultural attitude filters to individuals.
Why is this so?
Not entirely sure, but am hedging my bets on a whole lot of convicts feeling rather jaded toward their leaders at the time. Consequentially, Aussie organizations are more modest, humble, and tell their story with less embellishment. I think we are gradually getting better at achieving a balance at selling what we have to offer the world (Go Vivid Sydney!).
Whereas, American figures organizations will pull out all the stops to show you that they are the best. No one else comes close and this is why.
In such tourist sites, you forget you are in the real world for a day.
Until you go home and realize how much money you spent…
#3 Disney = US Capitalism at its Finest
After each ride, I entered a store, filled with cute, expensive souvenirs related to the ride. Not just Disney kitsch, like toys, stationery, knicknacks, and those classic Mickey Mouse ears…
But also plenty of clothing, accessories, and jewelry for all ages, even stylish ones that even most discerning shoppers would like.
Then, as you head out of each park, there are stores strategically dotted along the way, you know, in case you forgot. The souvenirs aren’t cheap- I was going to buy pens for 5 friends, because, well, souvenir pens don’t cost much, right? They were $5 USD each. Gulp. Perhaps not.
But I did buy a hat for myself on another occasion, ’cause well, I forgot mine. And the sun was beating down quite uncomfortably – in winter. Wasn’t prepared at all. And the hat was just so damn cute.
Shopping at Disney is so much fun. And way too dangerous.
Then there are all the food options to spend even more money on.
From theme park vendor fare – corn dogs, corn on the cob, turkey legs the size of kid’s faces (seriously), delightful candy – through to foodcourt-style places, culminating with 5-Star restaurants with dapper servers in tuxedos.
Between us, we experienced the gamut.
Then-boyfriend chose the Turkey Leg (no, he isn’t the pictured guy on the left, that is someone I don’t know at all), and I opted for the 5-star, Hollywood Derby restaurant. I had read about it in this “Visit Orlando!” Travel Guide and just had to try it out. (Verdict: Worth it).
Disney caters for all tastes, a reflection of America’s highly individualistic society. Rest assured, Disney will have something for you!
(It’s worth a side note here that Disney caters not only for most palates, but dietary needs as well. Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options abound.
For recommendations on where to find tasty meals for a restricted diet, particularly Gluten Free, check out my acquaintance’s Instagram or blog, details at the end of this post.)
Needless to say, one could easily spend three times as much money on such extras as they do on their entrance ticket.
Then there is all of the Disney stuff outside of the theme parks.
I soon discovered that Disney World isn’t simply a collection of theme parks. It really is its own world. They even have contracted their own police force, in addition to security, because the area is just so expansive. Like, their own police force.
There is accommodation for all tastes, from Fort Wilderness Resort for RVs (Campervans) through to luxurious 5-Star resorts, if you are looking for a convenient place to stay.
After a fun day at Epcot, we caught the Disney Monorail to the Grand Floridian Garden View Tea Room for tea4. I was stunned by its glamour, feeling rather underdressed in my tee and shorts. The next time I went to Grand Floridian to see their stunning Christmas Tree displays, I dressed up so I blended in a little more into the sophisticated world that it is.
Nevertheless, on our first date there, our lovely server, dressed in 19th-century style, didn’t bat an eye. The fruity teas we tried were so flavourful and refreshing, and then-boyfriend got converted into an appreciator of tea.
If you are more into the alcoholic variety, rest assured that plenty of that is available throughout the parks and resorts. Although, I learned that this was not supposed to be.
Although Walt’s vision for Disney World was for both adult and child escapism, he wanted it first and foremost, for the children. No alcohol was allowed to be sold or brought into Disney World or Disney Land. He didn’t want drunken louts ruining the day for the kids. When he passed away, his take-overs introduced alcohol. Oh, the profits they could make!
I have mixed feelings about this. A little sad that Walt’s dream for a purist world was squashed. But glad, ’cause, there are some damn good cocktails.
And they did introduce “Disney Jail” for all those drunken louts.
Yep, it’s a thing. I heard about it during my Orlando days and looked into it. Drab security offices have earned the moniker of “Disney Jail”, as many have found themselves escorted by uniformed – and undercover- security and police to for a range of misdemeanors besides drunken behavior, like shoplifting, inappropriate behavior like fighting, and sneaking into the parks without a pass5. Ending up here may result in real charges and real jail time.
After then-boyfriend enjoyed a good beer somewhere in Disney’s jurisdiction, we strolled through Downtown Disney, now called Disney Springs.
Disney Springs is in both Anaheim and in Orlando. It is an area by a lake, filled with a variety of eateries, shopping, activities, and entertainment.
Browse the Lego store filled with awesome models, enjoy the giant Lego monster in the lake, catch the latest movie at the theater, sample different lotions and scrubs at Basin, shop the latest styles from Anthropologie through to Zara, catch occasional live entertainment, and enjoy an array of dining options, from date-night style like House of Blues, to the family-friendly Splitsville, a dining +ten-pin bowling retro 1950s style. Disney Springs is lively and a lot of fun; something for everyone.
Except for Benny types. This was the one tourist attraction in the Orlando area that didn’t impress him at all. “Too artificial” was his verdict.Aaargh, I was pushing it there.
But I, the consumerist that I am, loved it.
“This reminds me of Darling Harbour in Sydney”,I commented to then-boyfriend.
“It’s Disney’s answer to losing tourists to Church Street, Orlando after hours”. Oh so wry.
And then it hit me.
Darling Harbour belongs to the city of Sydney. Disney Springs belongs to Disney. They want to ensure that they have all the creature comforts available to keep their tourists entertained and happy, so they don’t leave their world and spend their money somewhere else. Mickey and his gloves!
Universal Studios not too far up the road, not wanting to be outdone, followed suit and built City Walk. City Walk, also in LA, has a similar setup to Disney Springs, with a variety of souvenir and other types of stores, bars and an array of restaurants.
Over the next few years, I would see that when Universal Studios does something really cool, you know, like the ever so awesome Harry Potter land, Hogsmeade. Disney World was stagnating, starting to flail against Universal’s soaring success. Reducing their Parking Lot fee. That’s how you know. Then Frozen brought them back.
Then Universal pulls out Diagon Valley. Disney lays out Star Wars in Hollywood Studios in ’16. Then introduces Pandora world in mid ’17 (which is truly stunning at night) in Animal Kingdom. Mickey and his gloves!
It’s a dog-eat-dog world with these US theme parks, and it feels more so than in Australia. Neck to neck, those two studios are, fighting for our attention in Orlando and Southern California. Leaving us, the consumers, with so much choice. Enjoy.
#4 Disney = an American subculture. One of many subcultures
All of this capitalism is a breeding ground for a subculture. And that it has become.
While I was in nostalgic heaven, I could see many adults all around me, living their current dream. Many Americans love Disney. Like, love it for themselves, not just as a byproduct of enjoyment, from osmosis from their kids or kids they look after.
This was first evident with all of the adults in full-on Disney-related apparel; stocking up at the souvenir stores.
At first, I chalked it up to enthusiasm for the moment. But living in Orlando, I started to meet adult fans.
Fans who talk Disney, wear Disney, spend big on Disney Annual passes, Disney-related vacations or staycations. Ok, so it’s a Central Florida or Southern California thing, I first thought. Disney is such a big presence there. But then I started meeting people from other states. Who travel all the way to Orlando for the annual Disney Princess marathon. Like, to run a 5 or 10K in princess dresses.
I found it a bit #OnlyInAmerica hilarious at first. But now I am, hey, power to them. I find it neat how a small group of Americans start out own their passion out and proud; don’t care about the status quo, and it grows into a legitimate subculture. Aussies, as a generalized, overall culture, are more reserved about displaying their fandom or passion. Growing up, it felt like it was your favorite footy or soccer team, and that was pretty much it. Go Eels!
Why are Aussies, as a general rule, more reserved? My theory? I think it’s a combo of a population and “individualism” cultural factor. Australia, as a society, is a little less individualistic than the US. We grow up being a little more collectivist than our American friends… (we went to school in uniforms, they wore whatever the hell they wanted, within reason). So we are more shy about branching off from the status quo. Couple that with a huge population difference – over 300 million in the US vs. 26 million in Aus – it’s harder for a subculture to take off. But with the internet and social media more and more accessible, I’ve noticed a few more subcultures in Aus on the increase.
Back to that first week in Orlando.
After a fun-filled week of traipsing through a lot of Disney territory; I once again heard Mayor Buddy Dyer’s voice-over on the shuttle where he talks about why Orlando is a great place to visit.
This time it had more meaning to me – he is trying to persuade tourists to check out Orlando’s other attractions besides Disney World and Universal Studios. I smiled wryly as I heard this. I love Disney World – and will probably go back – but root for the underdog attractions of Orlando – the government museums, the parks in the city and the outskirts, other commercial attractions on I-Drive – as they are also worth a visit.
American Survival Summary – Save $$$ (and time) at US Disney
Score Discounted of Free Tickets: Have a friend working in the States? See if you can get discounted or even – gasp – free tickets into the parks. Many companies offer corporate discounts to their employees to major US theme parks as well as other attractions, through their discount program; and so do some major service providers, like phone and insurance companies. See if your friend can score a discounted ticket for you that way. And if your friend works at, or knows someone who works at Disney Land/World? Lucky! They may be able to score you free tickets! Note: I say “score free tickets” not try to go in free by sneaking in. Disney Jail, remember?
Avoid third-party sellers selling discounted Disney tickets unless those noted above: Avoid street vendors – you will see a few of these at the Premium Outlet Malls – and other kiosks in malls in tourist areas selling discounted tickets or “package deals”. Many of these are a sham. To be on the safe side, double check with Disney or your other attraction’s Customer Service.
Get your Fast Passes – for free: Unlike some other theme parks, Disney’s ‘Fast Passes’ are free! Each ticket-holder is entitled to 3 ‘Fast Passes‘ per day to wait in the ‘fast lane’ of any 3 rides or to meet and greet a Disney character. Reserve your fast passes up to 30 days in advance (unless you are entering gratis thanks to someone who works there; then you have 7 days in advance).
Bring your own water and lunch or snacks: The cost of food and meals are above average to comparable places in town. The lines are also often long so you will save a lot of time which you can use for the more important stuff – the rides and shows! If lunch is too much of a hassle, at least bring snacks. It is worth treating yourselves to at least one of the delectable candies, but to me, the theme park fare is overpriced for fairly standard goods (and overstuffed with calories). If you are a foodie, save the restaurants for dinner – most shows are over by that point, and it’s less crowded.
Cheaper time to fly; less crowded? In Autumn (Fall) or Spring, when most American kids are in the thick of a school semester. Also, Disney is decked out so cute in October for Halloween. Climate-wise, these are the most comfortable times to visit as well in both Orlando and Anaheim.
Going to Orlando in the summer? Pack umbrellas and ponchos. Highly likely, you will need them, come the afternoon, and the amusement park prices for those things are redick…
Going to Orlando in the winter? Bring your summer hat beside your beanie! You can be in the park one day at 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) then the next day at like, 14 Celsius (57 F). Seriously.
Know the ‘tipping’ average: Restaurants in tourist areas tend to leave a ‘recommended’ tip percentage, you know, to try to be helpful. Problem is that tends to be higher than what most locals pay, and Disney’s and Universal Studios’ restaurants are no exception. Find out the average tip percentage of the state or city you are visiting, either from a reputable, non-biased website, or look it up in a Travel Guidebook, like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc. Just ensure it’s a fairly recent publication, not from 1995 or something.
Look for genuine souvenirs outside of the Parks: Remember the $5 pens I saw? I ended up buying pens for my friends for $1 each at an independent souvenir store outside of Disney World, on International Drive (“I Drive”). If they read and remember this, they will think I’m such a tight-ass. But hey, if you are on a budget, you have to be, right? And those pens worked and were cute.
The main types of stores outside of the parks include:
– Everyday Chain Stores – Other bloggers note that Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS sell a limited selection of genuine Disney merchandise6. And as I write this, I remember the time I stumbled into a Walgreens after painkillers one day and spotting the cutest Minnie Mouse Ears.
– Discount Chain Stores – The US has several of these big discount chain stores – examples include Kohls, Marshalls, Bealls, TJ Maxx. These sell a limited selection of genuine Disney merchandise, typically in their Toys section. Before a vacay to visit family in Aus and Europe, I buy my little second cousins’ gifts from here of the Princesses, and of course, good old Frozen.
– Souvenir Stores – For a larger selection, Google Map or go on Trip Advisor to find cheaper, Google “Disney Souvenirs” in Orlando or Anaheim. But see important note below.
The souvenir stores are typically independent souvenir store retailers which sell a larger selection at bargain prices. They are so cheap as they are either further seasons’ old; liquidated or closed-out stock; or more universal in design, i.e. not specific to Walt Disney World/Land, a particular park, or a themed section within a park. However, not all souvenir stores sell genuine products, so take care… hence my final tip below.
Don’t be duped by the stores that sell either counterfeit or rather cheaply made goods! Although I have not experienced it (at least, I like to think so), one of my friend’s tells me she has come across such stores. Only purchase products with a genuine Disney label, and look out for the tell-tale signs of counterfeit or rather cheaply made products. Feeling suss about a store? Currently, the Counterfeit Disney Collectible Products – Consumer Alerts section7 has a Fakes list reported by people; a Store Locator for authentic Disney collectibles; and a Report a Fake option.
I hope all these tips help make your trip to Disney World or Disney Land more enjoyable, time-saving so you can enjoy the good stuff, and a little lighter on the wallet. You’re welcome 😉
3For foodies – follow my acquaintance and Disney fan @snorris49 for ideas on where to dine out in Disney World, Disney World Resorts, and some Disney Land and Disney Cruises. For gluten free and dairy free options, check out her site at Gluten Free Dairy Free WDW.
For anyone that has been following, my apologies, I know it has been like 6 months since I posted. I have an excuse though. We moved from Orlando, Florida to somewhere in the “Deep South”! It was a bit of a big move. Took us a while to move and unpack; get established… now that we have settled in, I am picking up on this blog.
Last time I had whined about something I missed. This week I am writing about something I took to right away.
Coupon clipping is big business in the US. There are newspaper columns; books, TV series, (you may have heard of Extreme Couponing – not an exaggeration, it is a thing; YouTube channels; and blogs all teeming with advice. There are even services who will coupon clip for you. This blog entry is a narrative, but I do scatter it with advice and summarize it all at the end…
To read my story on my exciting discoveries of coupons, read on. how I dealt with my first-world-problem of sweet-tasting bread, read on.Otherwise, to get to the point on how to save lots of $$ and get BOGOs (Buy One Get Ones), and freebies…
In Australia, I was excited to get a mini coupon booklet once every few months, or coupons on the back of grocery receipts, “Shop-a-Docket”. A lot of these coupons were for services I didn’t even need, like tyre replacement or roofing services or something like that. The only good ones were for fast food. My Dad would clip those. Occasionally, maybe once a quarter or less, we would also get a page of coupons from the local shopping centre. That was exciting; but then, not really. Again, stuff I personally didn’t purchase.
Not long after I made my big relocate to the US of A, I bought the leading local newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel, to get familiar with life in Orlando. But I was more enamored with the few A5 size booklets of several pages of coupons fell out than the drama of local and state politics. These booklets are produced by companies including Red Plum, Smart Source, and others. I was finding:
These aredirect from the manufacturer and typically range from 50c to $4 off an item or two, sometimes more for more expensive items, like $10 off, on your whole range of products for everyday life living, to use anywhere. I started clipping like crazy for coupons like:
$3 off Maybelline lipstick!
$4 off Colgate’s new Optic White toothpaste!
$1 off 2x Kellogg’s Special K cereal!
50c off Farm Fresh Organic Free Range eggs!
And so on…
Then I noticed all of the…
Chain restaurant coupons
This was mainly exciting because I had never seen these in Australia, and made dining out cheaper:
Get $4 off any Entree (Main meal) or $3 off any Lunch Entree at Outback Steakhouse!
“ “ Red Lobster!
“ “ Olive Garden (Italian chain)
“ “ Carrabbas (Rival, slightly more upscale Italian chain)
“ “ Bucca De Peppo (yep, another Italian chain – but it’s “shareable plates”, so it’s “authentic Italian”.. and, I have to admit, quite delicious. There are none in my current location, and I miss it)
… the list goes on.
Smokey Bones (BBQ chain restaurant) was a fave for a while. $10 off your meal. $10 off. As we received the Thursday newspaper as well which also came with the coupon booklets, we would fish out the second coupon and get $20 off. I miss that place too.
Not wanting to be outdone by their rivals, once I dined at these places, chain restaurants drew me in with their loyalty email programs enticing me with more coupons, occasional specials, and rewards programs.
And a lot will send you an e-coupon for a freebie on your birthday or to use during your birthday month. Even Starbucks gives me a coupon for any free drink for my birthday, or at least they had been for the last couple of years.
After being done with the coupons’ booklets and going back to the reason why I originally bought the newspaper, you know, to read the city’s, wider state and nation’s, and the ever-so-brief* world news, I turn the pages and out falls out a catalog-size of a few pages of…
Fast food coupons
Note the Arbys coupons… any Bad Moms’ fans? Mila Kunis’ character gives her kids Arbys when she turns Bad Mom. Me, not attracted to Arbys, but have given plenty of sheets to hubby, and have been drawn by:
Buy any coffee at Dunkin Donuts and get a free donut!
Buy a specialty milkshake at Steak n Shake at 50% off!
Buy any Chicken Sandwich (translation: Chicken burger) from Burger King, get one Free!
And so on….
Not Starbucks though. Starbucks is so popular that they don’t need regular coupons, it seems.
Ok, so I remember getting burger coupons for McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks in Australia too… but like, once every few months in that mini coupon booklet I mentioned that most Aussie households get. These are every week. Every week.
You won’t just find coupons in these booklets and newspapers though. They are everywhere – you just need to know where to find the good ones…
Supermarket/Department store coupons
I would take my manufacturers’ coupons to the supermarket all organized in a coupon folder (once I was congratulated by a cashier for being “the most organized coupon clipper he has seen in a while”) and see that supermarkets would also have their own coupons. See, they don’t want you to use the manufacturers coupons at any old store. They want you to use those coupons on top of their ones.
I was floored when I received my first Target coupon book in the mail. Target Australia never graced me with a coupon book. Some stores will get all rivalry and have signs that say “We accept x’s coupons”.
To ensure they stay on top of the times, some supermarket and department store chains have apps where you can clip digital coupons. I enthusiastically signed up for Publix (supermarket) digital coupons and Target Cartwheel. Getting further discounted groceries especially for treats like ice cream was shaping up to be fun, but then I discovered…
Chain store coupons/reward programs
After signing up for a free Victoria’s Secret store credit card, I started receiving these coupons in the mail:
“Free panty! $10.50 or less.”
I had asked my husband about this when I examined these attractive VS coupons with curiosity, while still trying to get used to calling ‘underwear’ panties:
“So, what’s the catch?”
“There is no catch. Just walk into the store, pick a panty, and show the coupon to the cashier.”
“But – but – why are they giving away free panties?!”
“They just want to get you in the store. They are hoping you will buy their matching bra or whatever”.
I wasn’t accustomed to getting free panties or anything else free in my home country with no purchase whatsoever, except for a sample here or there.
Three and a half years later, I have gotten, like, 10 free panties.
Sometimes completely free, others with a purchase, “Free panty $12.50 or less with any item”.
I’ll usually buy a lipgloss, one of the cheapest items, and get a free panty.
Majority of the time, I don’t particularly want the lipgloss. I think I have about 8 Victoria Secret lipglosses, lip balms, or lip matte or what have you so I could get my free panties.
Their coupon marketing strategy works. I buy something that I don’t really need – but I can justify to myself that the lipgloss will come in handy for a party or special event (they have all types from matt to metallic) ’cause I want a free panty.
A lot of chains of various types offer a free loyalty program; and me, the consumer that I am, signed up for all my favorites over time. (Some I even signed up before I moved over and listed my then-fiancé’s address). I began receiving periodic emails, and when I moved over, texts and mail, and the option for coupons to appear electronically at checkout for me to apply – oh, so convenient! Some are more generous than others; I got to know whom fairly quickly.
Many chains will offer a free store credit card, and many out of those chains will entice you with a coupon to use on the day to sign up for their store credit card. I have and continue to hold off on signing up for such stores’ credit cards until I know I want to make a big purchase.
So far I obtained store credit cards – for free, no annual fee – and received a decent discount off first purchase for
T.J. Maxx Group (Outlet chain stores of premium brands for fashion and homewares) and
Victoria’s Secret – for even more Free Panty coupons.
Retailers love me to a certain extent – I’m an easy sell and signed up for their credit cards. (Not as easy as other consumers, though.) And I love them back. If you are careful with your budget, it’s a win-win situation. My favorite was scoring an additional 20% off a beautiful black Michael Korr’s bag at Bealls, which I have received quite a few compliments for. The bag was already considerably cheaper
Sign up and get ready for even more coupons and/or freebie offers. You may be thinking:
“Yeah, and? A lot of Aussie chains have loyalty reward programs as well. I have my Coffee Club, Coffee Emporium, and Gloria Jean’s Frequent Sippers Club, so I can get my far more decent coffee fix anywhere and anytime, thank you very much.”
And rightly so. Australian stores have these as well (I have a stack of old loyalty cards, including one from when my marketing friend in Sydney had swayed me to sign up for a loyalty card for the chain that he manages, even though I went there, like, once a year at best), but coupons and other rewards are typically more generous here in the US (sorry, my marketing friend):
Here are some that have sitting in my inbox right now:
GAP: Extra 20% off your purchase (GAP)
RackRoom Shoes: $10 coupon off $75 + BOGO 50% off 2nd pair
Snapfish: Free 5×7 Photobook!
CVS Pharmacy: 20% off coupon + spend x, y, z amounts on x, y, z products and receive $10 Extrabucks rewards!
Victoria’s Secret: 30% off a single item! (Victoria’s Secret)
Ann Taylor: $50 off $100 purchase
Bed Bath & Beyond: 20% off Bed Bath and Beyond item(I get this every month, so this is no longer exciting, but a nice comfort to know that whenever I want to go to BB & B, I can fish out a 20% off)
But then, getting caught up with multiple commitments and not using couponing wisely, I got into…
Yep, it’s a thing, and it has happened to me. Coupon clipping was such a novelty in the beginning, that I overdid it – bought a lot of products we didn’t really need. Then as I found more part-time work on top of the full-time study I began, I let the couponing slide. It didn’t feel worth it to save a little money here and there on the amount of time it took when I need to hit the books.
Likewise with all the job application work thereafter. Told myself I would get back into it once all that is over. And when it came to relocating interstate for my new job (he wanted a change too), we had an abundance of things to pack up to bring with us or throw out as they expired.
When the study was over, I was so used to not clipping coupons I just found it hard to get back into the rhythm.
I still digitally clip coupons, and I check my email for any before I visit a restaurant or store.
However, I haven’t flicked through and clipped a coupon booklet in months. Writing up this post has resurrected my interest in coupon clipping – for stuff I actually use – so I’m going to take a look at How to Recover from Coupon Burnout blog post for advice.
So what is it with all of the coupons compared to Australia, and possibly other countries?
Capitalistic with a capital C, in the US there are just so many more businesses of the same type compared to Australia, meaning much more competition. That’s even when you account for the huge population increase. Also, there are more regional chains, whereas in Aus, there tends to be mainly national chains. And each of those businesses is vying for your attention and will do much more than the ones in Aus to get you through their door. And if you, the consumer, are careful, disciplined, and strategic about it, you can make decent savings and score a lot of discounts or free stuff.
So if you are living in the US for a while or even just travelling for a decent period of time, here are some tactics to make some good savings…
American Survival Summary
Here are my top 10 survival tips for the average Joe. If you want to get into hardcore couponing, google “couponing tips” and you’ll find a plethora of advice from bloggers like the Krazy Coupon Lady.
Subscribe to your local newspaper to receive Manufacturers’ coupon booklets or see if they will be mailed out to you. Where we live, we get a few of these coupon pages mailed out to us so we don’t bother subscribing to the local paper. Or go online and print from their websites:
Get into a routine of flicking through coupon booklets – perhaps once a week over your morning coffee or tea.
Stash the pages of fast food / chain restaurant coupons in your car, so they are handy when you need them.
Clip product coupons and place them in a coupon folder you can clip to your shopping cart.
Subscribe to the loyalty programs to all your favorite chain stores, restaurants, or brands. Filter their emails in your inbox – I like Gmail as they all go to my Promotions folder. Search your inbox before you go out to eat or go online shopping.
Subscribe to Groupon or Living Social US! I didn’t discuss that here as they are available to the Australian market and work the same way. They seem to have more frequent sales compared to the Aussie version, although maybe Australian Groupon and Living Social are catching onto this.
Subscribe to mailing lists of your favorite grocery stores they often give you the option to subscribe to their weekly catalogs which will have coupons in them.
Sign up for free store credit cards- usually, a sales associate will offer it to you, but they are human too and are not bothered to promote or will forget on occasion, so if you haven’t been offered, ask if there is one available. Hold off from signing up for one if the credit card comes with a coupon until you are ready to make a big purchase from that store.
Look out for supermarket/department store apps where you can clip digital coupons, e.g. Target Cartwheel; your regional grocery supermarket chain.
Grab a catalog at the front of your grocery store on your way in, to see if they have coupons in them – Publix does.
View and use the awesome pics under their Creative Commons’ licenses!
Your average loaf of bread and bun tastes a little sweeter in the US!
I first discovered this difference when I visited my then-boyfriend for the first time; unexpectedly jarred when I took my first bite of American-style bread that deceptively looks the same but tasted sweeter.
To read my story on how I dealt with my first-world-problem of sweet-tasting bread, read on.Otherwise:
When I first moved to Central Florida, I experimented with buying different brands of bread loafs from the supermarket; particularly ones screaming, “No High Fructose Corn Syrup!” and “No Added Sugar!”
But to no avail. They all tasted sweet.
I could bake my own bread like how other Aussie bloggers recommend, as well as my friends from Bulgaria.
A few months later after I moved, my sister-in-law’s then-boyfriend (now husband), invited us to his family’s Christmas Eve feast. I almost wept with joy when I tried their homemade bread… savoury!
His parents and I bonded over the bread we missed from our motherlands, and his father explained that is why he took up baking their own, encouraging me to do the same. He offered to give me lessons. I told him I would take him up on that. New Year’s resolution.
But I’m lazy.
So I continued to just deal with the bread in the store. I was finding that English muffins, wraps, and flatbread tasted the same as those back home, but I was hard pressed to find a loaf of sliced bread which tasted less sweet.
I settled on Sara Lee’s Delightful – (who knew Sara Lee has a bread line? – only her desserts and cakes are available in Aus) – because it’s only 45 calories per slice, and hey, that is delightful. But still oddly sweet.
But after coming back from Australia one time for vacation, I was homesick for the toast I had enjoyed back in Sydney for the past month.
So I finally caved in to try an organic bread loaf that was on sale.
I had been eyeing Eureka!Organic Breadvarieties in Publix (supermarket chain in Southern US) for a while now and had been curious. But resisted buying it till now, because of course being organic, it is more expensive – over a dollar more than non-organic varieties.
I tried it, trying not to get my hopes up. It could have organic sugar thrown in, right?
But no, it does not. I was in heaven.
It tasted just like the bread back in Oz.
I excitedly told my husband about my new discovery and encouraged him to give it a go. He liked it a lot too.
I started switching it up between our regular loaf of bread and eureka! Graniac when that was on sale.
Until my Aussie-bred taste buds couldn’t take it any longer. I began buying organic each time. I was hooked.
I tried Dave’s Killer Bread, another organic brand when that was on sale once, and I like that one too – even more so as the slices are thinner, resulting in fewer calories – but my husband found it “too organicky.” Whatever that means? So I compromise and stick with the eureka! brand.
I was having an issue though. I’m not used to organic, and the bread was becoming moldy way before we could finish the loaf. It felt good to be eating something so natural… not so good to be throwing away money. I learned to deal with that by moving the bread from the bread bin into the refrigerator – that keeps it for a few days longer.
Sure, organic bread is a little more expensive than the regular varieties.
But sacrifice one Tall Macchiato from Starbucks each week, which does taste the same, and you’ve made up the cost difference and then some.
American Survival Summary
Regular American bread loaves (even if it says ‘no added sugar’) = sweeter taste
American Organic bread = Australian-tasting regular bread
American brand English muffins = Australian brand English muffins
I sniffle my way down the Cold & Flu aisle in Walgreens. Walgreens is a major US pharmacy chain you may already aware of, thanks to a pop culture reference in Big Bang Theory S3: E3 ‘The Gothowitz Deviation’).
I have my eyes peeled for a paracetamol-based product, as in Aus, paracetamol is an active ingredient for several pain-killer and cold and flu products. Panadol is a big one, and this is also available in other countries.
I find ibuprofen products like Advil, but I prefer paracetamol mixed in with a decongestant. But all I see jumping out at me in the active ingredients of the myriad of brands are Acetaminophen, Acetaminophen + this, Acetaminophen + that…
What is this strange, American drug?
It has to be some kind of equivalent to paracetamol I figure, “Tylenol” which features Acetaminophen sounds a lot like “Panadol,” but to what extent? I have side-effects to some over-the-counter meds, so I’m wary of trying…
I connect to the free Wi-Fi and Viber msg my graduate-pharmacist-sister:
“WTH is Acetaminophen?”
She messages me back:
“Acetaminophen is Panadol. Lol.”
I stock up on acetaminophen-based products like Tylenol and Alka-Seltzer Plus that help me survive the rest of the visit (I was hoping Alka-Seltzer tastes like Lemsip – to me, it tastes awful! Theraflu, which I discovered on my next trip, is similar).
And I sign up for a free Walgreens rewards card, wondering why on earth my fiancé didn’t sign up years ago. Compared to the Aussie pharmacy chains at the time, their points-based system looked awesome.
Survival in the States’ Summary
Paracetamol = Acetaminophen
Therefore, Panadol = Tylenol
Aussie brand Lemsip = a similar taste = Theraflu.
Avoid Alkaseltzer Plus. It doesn’t taste anything like Lemsip at all and has a bitter taste.