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Published May 16, 2011

When I saw the headline, my first thought was:

Please, please don't let it be BOGO.

But no. Publix was not killing off its wildly popular buy-one-get-one-free deals. The grocery store chain was just fine-tuning its coupon policy in the modern world of uber-couponing.

And, whew. Saints be praised.

Okay, before your thumb and index finger form an "L" for loser to aim at my forehead, let me say for the record I know many people with jobs and lives and varied interests for whom flipping through the weekly sale flier to see what you can get free - free! - has become a small and happy ritual.

It's this wretched economy, of course. It's gas at four bucks a gallon. It's peanut butter jars that have suddenly grown false bottoms and yogurt cups that shrunk.

But there's something else, too, a satisfaction in socking away a $12 bottle of olive oil, a jar of mayo, a bottle of wine, a box of Cheez-Its. You are hunter-gatherer, back at the cave with a spare squirrel for the family fire. You have gotten away with something.

I am Florida born and raised, and it seems like Publix has always been a part of things here. I do not mean this to sound like an ad; we have many fine stores. Friends say theirs have better deals, or leafy produce so beautiful it hurts the eyes, or that stores up north (like so much there) are superior in every way. Or they can buy bath towels, underwear and asparagus all in one trip.

Can't argue. But for some of us natives, Publix was as constant as roadside boiled peanuts, box fans in summer and buying school shoes at Burdine's.

Publix was that dependable green and white with AC-cooled terrazzo floors and the big scale up front. The pre-shopping ritual was women weighing themselves and other women pretending not to look. Bag boys piled a mountain of empty cardboard cartons in the lobby for anyone who needed boxes.

From the meat department we got bones wrapped in white butcher paper for our dogs, Lost and found. We hoarded S&H green stamps handed out at checkout and used them to get our first family blender. My mother tipped the boy who loaded brown paper bags into our Volkswagen a dollar, even though the sign gently said, really, you shouldn't have. Sundays, Publix was closed.

I started doing the family shopping, a job my mother happily handed off. Cashiers looked out for me, a kid with a stack of coupons, a blank check and a red plastic clicker on which I scrupulously added the price of each item before it merited space in my cart. On a budget, I became a miser, proponent of Pix sodas over real Coke and fan of the cheap chips.

In college, a frugal friend introduced me to a world of store brands and had me buying Nutty Nuggets instead of Grape-Nuts. It was a fine day when I had a real job and could consider the world beyond the cheap chips. Especially if I had a coupon.

But couponing has become a blood sport (and also a verb), with the most dedicated practitioners scoring hundreds of dollars in free groceries. You have to admire extreme couponers, hunter-gatherers on steroids - though this is surely not what stores intended with a coupon for 50 cents off salsa. Can't blame Publix for adjusting and clarifying its policies this week with some limits.

Just not my BOGO. Please.