“We have time for one more caller here on the Clark Howard Show, where I help you save more, spend less, and avoid getting ripped off. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with on this beautiful Thanksgiving morning?”
“Clark, two months ago I called in and you suggested I buy seventeen sleeping bags on close-out from Sam’s Club for nine dollars a piece.”
“Wholesale clubs always offer great deals, so when you can buy on clearance from them, that’s the cherry on top.”
“I took my son’s Scout troop on an overnight hike and an ember jumped out of the campfire and landed on one of the bags. It lit up like a torch, then spread to the next bag and the next. All seventeen boys were incinerated due to the low quality of those bags. They were recalled by the manufacturer, but I’m not eligible to receive any monetary damages or even a basic refund because they were bought on clearance.”
“Well I’m sorry to hear about the unfortunate end to the story, but you can’t beat nine bucks for a sleeping bag. As you look for new bags, be sure to install the Honey extension on your Google Chrome browser, which will search the internet for money-saving coupons.”
“When I close my eyes I see the burning children.”
“Thank you so much for calling in. And speaking of burning, I sure hope my wife is keeping an eye on the turkey this morning, and I’m wishing you all a wonderful and budget-friendly Thanksgiving.”
Clark’s wife, Evelyn Howard, throws a can of corn hard at a kitchen cabinet. She grips the edge of the sink and screams.
Clark opens the door holding dozens of loose boxes of food, piled over his head. He stumbles and sways, saying, “Coming through with some last-minute Aldi super savers.” He loses his balance and the boxes fall onto Evelyn and break all over the floor, spilling powder everywhere.
“What is that, bulk cinnamon? Stop buying things we don’t need because they’re on sale. And why aren’t those in a bag?” she says, looking at the countertop.
“The Aldi Advantage,” Clark says. “No bags means they pass the savings onto the customer. Eight pounds of old cinnamon for six bucks.”
“My parents are on their way over, and none of the food in our pantry can be served. I opened one can of your special discount green beans and it looks like tar inside.”
Clark shakes his head and finds the open can on the counter. He sticks a finger in and pulls it out, dripping black slime.
Evelyn gags. “I’m very frustrated, Clark. My parents haven’t been to our home in seven years, not since the July Fourth cookout when you made everyone spit their watermelon seeds into your envelope so you could send them in for a mail-in rebate. My parents live a nice life, and I don’t want to be embarrassed around them anymore.”
“Of course, sweetheart. They’re going to enjoy a great meal and no one will get ripped off.”
Jessie Howard, Clark’s sixteen-year-old daughter, enters the kitchen. “Mom and dad, is it okay if, um, maybe…”
“Say it, dear,” Clark says. “Talk is cheap.”
“Well, there’s a boy… A boy I’ve been talking to at school. He’s really nice. And his parents are out of town for Thanksgiving. Would he be able to come over?”
“Of course, sweetie,” Clark says. “Adding a sixth person to the table means all of our costs go down. I’ll bill him for his portion on Cash App.”
Jessie rolls her eyes. “I can’t tell if you’re serious.”
“For god’s sake, Clark,” Evelyn says. “This entire pantry is rotten. Everything in here is expired or disgusting, on clearance for a reason. How are we saving money when it all goes straight into the trash? No. Don’t answer. I don’t want to hear it. Clark, you need to go buy prepared Thanksgiving side dishes. Now.”
“Now?” Clark says. “There’s not a worse time to buy. They’ll be gouging me on price.” Evelyn and Jessie glare at Clark and he holds his hands up in defense. “Okay, okay!” He digs through hundreds of flyers in several drawers until finding a Honeybaked Ham coupon. “Now this is a great buy. I’ll be right back, girls.”
“I appreciate you taking my coupon from 2007,” Clark tells the Honeybaked Ham manager. “But even after the discount, I believe seventy-two dollars for six side dishes is a bit rich. Forty feels like a fair price.”
“We don’t haggle. This is a franchised store that’s part of a big corporation.”
“What are you going to do with all these potatoes and green beans tomorrow? Demand will plummet.”
“Right. It’ll be on sale tomorrow.”
“Really,” Clark says, his eyes lighting up.
Clark enters the kitchen buried under a mountain of seafood from Lidl’s clearance aisle: bricks of green cod; misshapen crabs, a sack of trout heads. “Girls, get your swimsuits because it’s going to be a tropical Thanksgiving.”
“Help!” Evelyn screams and Clark drops his items, finding his unstable brother, Cork Howard, pawing through the pantry like a bear, while Evelyn defends Jessie and herself in the corner of the kitchen with an electric carving knife. Cork’s clothes are torn and his skin is bruised and bleeding. But his teeth are brand new and immaculate.
Cork turns. “Clark!” he says, smiling. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Clark grabs his brother’s jaw and inspects his teeth. “Cosmetic dental work has frightening markups. You haven’t held down a job in ages, so I hesitate to even ask. Did you pay full price?”
“Well, yes, I did, but–“
“Cork! Your reckless spending will be your downfall. You routinely pay for parking, buy clothing at clothing stores, check luggage on flights, and go on vacation during peak season. You’re always buying redundant rental car insurance and your kitchen is full of expensive cereal you inexplicably did not buy during a BOGO. I swear to god, Cork, your life is in tatters because of your terrible purchasing habits.”
“I know,” Cork says, staring at the floor. He lunges at Evelyn, snatching the electric carving knife. He holds it to his own neck. “I’m worthless and I’ll end it all now.”
He revs the knife but the side door opens and Trent, Jessie’s valor-stealing boyfriend, steps inside wearing a dead soldier’s Army uniform. “Oh, am I interrupting something?”
Cork puts the carver on the counter. “No,” he says. “I wasn’t going to do it. Like always, I don’t follow through.” He sits at the kitchen table and buries his head in his arms.
“Mr. Howard,” Trent says, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. My parents always listen to your show in the car, so I’m a bit star-struck to see you in person. I actually just got my first credit card and wanted to get your take on the best way to leverage my rewards points.”
Clark smiles at Jessie, then whispers, “Good find.”
“Check it out,” Trent says, pulling the card from his pocket. “It’s metal.”
“Oh no,” Clark says, his face contorting in horror. “Don’t you dare tell me this is one of those gimmick junk cards with a huge annual fee.”
Trent swallows hard, looking to Jessie for help, but she’s frozen. “Well, sir,” Trent stammers, “there is a four-hundred dollar annual fee, but you can earn it back–“
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you made an unbelievably foolish decision. You’re a sucker, Trent, getting ripped off by the big card companies due to your stupidity. You cannot date my daughter.”
“Dad!” Jessie screams. She grabs Trent’s wrist and drags him out of the room, crying.
“Jesus, Clark,” Evelyn says. “What is wrong with you?” A timer dings and she pulls a pan from the oven, unpeels the foil, smells it, and vomits into the sink. “Where did you get these sweet potatoes? They smell like gasoline.”
“Those were a tremendous deal from sunkenshippingcontainers.cn. They offer great prices on foodstock recovered from shipping containers pulled off the floor of the Indian Ocean.”
She looks at the oven. “You promised me the turkey is good, right? It’s a legitimate turkey?”
“Oh yes, absolutely.”
A knock on the door and a voice from outside. “Evelyn, dear, we’ve arrived a bit early, thanks to the speed of your father’s new Porsche.”
Evelyn’s eyes widen, terrified. She stares daggers at Clark, pointing a stern finger at him. She opens the door with a smile. “Mom, dad, come on in. The turkey’s in the oven and we’re still working on the appetizers, so how about you just go have a seat in the living room?”
“But first, have a snack to whet your palette for the upcoming seafood feast,” Clark says, rifling through the pantry and then unpeeling a packaged shrimp cocktail.
Evelyn’s father gags. “Let me guess: A mail-in rebate.”
“No, sir, just a good old-fashioned eBay shrimp cockta–“
“Where’s my purse?” Evelyn’s mother says.
Her father pats the back of his pants. “And my wallet?”
Under the table, Cork sneezes. Everyone crouches down to find him clutching the purse and wallet. “What is this?” he says, licking his fingers. “Cinnamon laced with sawdust?”
Evelyn’s father snatches his wallet and his wife’s purse and they storm out.
Evelyn turns away from Clark and begins crying as Cork stands up. “Let me explain,” he says. “I’m in debt to bad men. You’re right, Clark. I am struggling financially due to my inability to shop smart. I’m constantly paying full price and being ripped off. I owe one-hundred-thousand dollars for these teeth and I’ve got none. The dentist has three big men after me to collect the debt. I don’t know where else to go or what to do.” His phone dings. “A text from the men. They hacked into this off-brand phone you gave me and installed tracking software. They’re ten minutes away and they say if they don’t get their hundred-K they’re going to pry every one of these molars, incisors, and canines out of my mouth with common pliers, and then they’ll load the teeth into a gun and shoot me through the back of the skull, execution-style, killing me with the new teeth I stole from Dr. Haverford.”
The oven timer dings and Evelyn pulls out the turkey, engulfed in flames. She slams it on the counter and tugs something from its hole — a rolled-up TV Guide from 2004, previewing ABC’s new series Lost. She looks at Clark.
Clark says, “It’s a legitimate turkey! It was bought from a real grocery store at full price! It was then put in a freezer inside a storage unit in 2004 and purchased by me, last week, at a storage unit auction, for five cents.”
Evelyn cries. Heaving sobs. She wipes her face dry. “I’m divorcing you, Clark.”
Three loud bangs on the door. “Come out, come out, wherever you are, little Corky. We’re here to execute you.”
Clark and Cork push the kitchen island, table, and chairs into a pile blocking the door. Clark wipes his hands proudly. “This fabulous furniture I picked up at a huge discount after that New Orleans sanitarium was drowned by Hurricane Katrina will–“
A bullet fires clean through the door’s window then passes through the soggy, mold-covered particleboard of the island, table, and chairs without losing any speed, zipping an inch from Clark’s neck.
The brothers run into the living room and barricade the entryway with a large Samsongg television Clark purchased from a man in an amphitheater parking lot, then add two torn sofas Clark bought on liquidation from a condemned zoo. “Oh, Corky!” shouts one of the debt collectors, and two bullets pierce the TV and sofas and the men easily push them out of the way.
Clark and Cork rush into the garage and pile four wheelbarrows and three ladders Clark bought at Aldi in front of the door. Three bullets thunder out and pierce the soft metal, seeming to pick up speed as they pass through the flimsy yard equipment. “Our gun’s out of bullets,” one man calls. “Ready to be loaded with teeth.”
Three massive men enter. Clark and Cork hurl hammers and handsaws at them, but the dull tools purchased at Dollar Tree bounce off the mean men’s faces like rubber.
The brothers cower behind Clark’s car. Cork holds Clark and sucks in tears. He whispers, “Brother, I tried to live like you. After years of mismanaging my finances, I bought one of your books and followed all your suggestions to shop smart and avoid getting ripped off. I used flea market toothpaste and ate nothing but post-holiday clearance candy, which softened my teeth into corn kernels, these thin bags of enamel holding yellow broth. And I bought workout equipment at TJ Maxx, trying to finally get in shape, but the treadmill cracked and blew apart four steps into my first run, shooting me onto the floor and smashing my mouth apart. I tried discount dentists who took Groupons, but each one only created a new problem. And so finally, against all your advice, in a moment of weakness I splurged on the best dentist in town.”
“Prepare to be executed, Cork” growls the biggest man, cracking his knuckles as all three men sniff around the side of the car.
But the door to the living room opens and Trent steps out. He digs an exercise band Clark purchased at a gas station out of a bin, then stretches it back like a slingshot and fires a small, hard object at the three big men. It slices through each of their necks like a sniper’s bullet, killing them instantly.
Clark and Cork spring to their feet and salute Trent, thanking him for his service. Trent picks up his blood-drenched metal credit card and shows it to Clark. “Maybe that annual fee was worth it, huh?”
Clark, Cork, Trent, and Jessie sit around the kitchen table. Clark says, “Cork, I want to apologize for leading you down such a tragic path in pursuit of good deals. You and Trent both have taught me a valuable lesson. Maybe there are more factors to consider when making a purchase than only finding the lowest price. Trent, I take back my earlier ultimatum. You may date my daughter. But promise me you’ll install the Dr. Savemoor extension to your Chrome browser, which will log your keystrokes and send your browsing history to an upstart terrorist group operating in the jungle of Laos, but also allow you to earn points on purchases you were already planning to make.”
“Now that’s a great deal, sir,” Trent says, and he and Jessie leave.
Clark turns to Cork. “Today’s been a big day for savings, from the bucket of Lidl catfish fin soup to our lives in the garage. And there’s one thing left I need to save: my marriage.”
Clark enters his bedroom, where Evelyn is on the phone making arrangements to temporarily move in with her sister. “Six gunshots,” she says, but stops when Clark enters.
“Sweetheart,” Clark says. “I want to apologize. I understand now how prioritizing instant-gratification discounts and deals can have negative consequences long-term. I want to invest in the things that really matter in life, starting with our marriage. How can I save us and avoid ripping you off?”
Evelyn sighs. “What have you been saving for? You put off happiness or having nice things to save, save, save, but to what end? When will the savings pay off? Don’t you understand your life is happening right now? It’s slipping through your fingers while you cut corners and take the cheap route. It’s impossible to be attracted to you, Clark. Your Costco outfits and the strange physique you’ve developed using fitness equipment from the 1910s. And your teeth, scrubbed each night with that brown flea market slop… We haven’t had sex in nine years and the thought of doing it again sickens me like all the food you bring home from Office Depot liquidation sales.”
Clark sits beside his wife. “It’s teeth you like?”
“Yes. I like nice, straight, clean teeth. In fact, I saw a good set earlier today.”
“You want to have sex with my fiscally irresponsible brother?”
Clark rubs his chin, then nods. “I may take a short-term hit to my self-esteem as you physically service my brother in our marital bed, but if I think long-term about the value of our marriage, this is a fair price. We have a wonderful partnership and a great daughter, and I’ll pay whatever it costs to keep that intact.”
Evelyn hugs Clark, then calls for Cork to come upstairs and tells Clark to sleep in the garage wearing the noise-cancelling headphones he bought from the FBI after they raided a day care center.
“You can’t beat six bucks!” Clark says, putting the lice-caked headphones on.
“Welcome back to the Clark Howard Show, where I help you save more, spend less, and avoid getting ripped off. I had a fabulous Thanksgiving and got a great deal on saving my marriage at no cost at all. No rip-off lawyers, no expensive counseling. Just some old fashioned, no-charge familial deal-making. Now who do we have on the line?”
“Hi, Clark. Last week you told me to save on running shoes by buying promotional sneakers made by candy companies on Facebook Marketplace. I spent eight dollars on a red pair with a Twizzlers logo and my feet broke immediately.”
“I’m glad you got to try them out,” Clark says. “Second-hand merchandise made to be given away as contest prizes for children are a great way to save on clothing. Next caller?”