Ever since the 2008 recession, the dramatic increase in unemployment rates and the hard economical times we have been living lead to an interesting consequence: coupon clippers have taken over the checkout lines of the big stores in unprecedented numbers. What is even more interesting is that they manage to leave those lines with record savings!
In comparison with the past decades, the age of the average couponer has decreased and their shopping patterns have changes with technology; mobile and internet coupons gained in popularity in such a way that today discounts are a hot hobby for almost everyone, regardless of age or income. But just how much does couponing influence our everyday life? Can clipping coupons be counted among the factors that shape our lifestyle in a decisive way?
Coupons: Facts, Figures, and Myths
Statistics show thatcoupon usage has increased tremendously. In the U.S., about 79.8% of consumers regularly shopped with coupons in 2013, compared to only 63% during pre-crisis 2007. Only last year there were redeemed 3.1 billion coupons distributed for grocery products, but also for non-food items such as medication, personal care, and household products.
The average value of a coupon last year was of $1.55. This may not seem much, but it certainly does so when one finds out that all in all, coupons saved a collective $820 million in discounts for the U.S. consumers. In 2012, in theory, coupon distribution amounted as high as $1, 535 savings potential for each U.S. shopper. Nevertheless, since not all the buyers have the time to collect and actually make use of those coupons, real coupon redemption only amounted to $10.75 per individual.
There are also a good number of myths about coupon usage. The one regarding the average age of the coupon shopper has been busted by a spectacular increase in the coupons’ popularity among young generation. Another widespread myth refers to coupons as being more popular among the poor than among the rich; statistics, however, prove the contrary: families earning more than $100 000 annually are twice more likely to use coupons than households making under $35 000 annually. This is somehow intuitive, considering the fact that medium income employees go shopping more often than poor families.
Trending: Mobile Coupons
Sociologists report that since 2010 the number of mobile coupon users has jumped 20%! Of course, this is easily explained by the smart phone boost that widened people’s access to modern-day technology, and also by the fact that couponing is easier this way. No more paper cuts and binders – simply scan a barcode and you’re one click away from your discount!
This is why studies reveal that mobile coupons are 12 times more likely to be used than paper ones, since about 20 million Americans make use of their mobile coupon apps on at least once a month. Marketing strategies designers that work for the great chain stores have changed their strategies, too, after discovering that buyers are 3 times more likely to scan a bar code than respond to an SMS in order to get a mobile coupon.
The 4 Levels of Couponing
Shopping analysts have discovered there are 4 levels of couponing. To begin with, the casual couponer is the most common type of buyer and usually ends up saving a few bucks off the entire order. Secondly, there are those who do all their shopping solely for generic brands, thus replacing name brands. This helps saving money without clipping a single coupon, but there is significantly less choice available.
Next comes the Coupon Deal Shopper, who only buys a product if it’s on sale or on coupons. At times, he could get name brands even cheaper than generic ones, but this requires a bit of patience and effort. Last but not least, there comes the Extreme Couponer who is using coupons and store deals together to get the best discounts; with some good math, a bit of patience and some trial and error, he/she can walk off with at least 90% in savings. And no, it’s not magic!
What Is Extreme Couponing?
You may have heard about Extreme Couponing, a TV show that popularized tips and tricks on how to make the most out of these very popular tiny discounts. In the meantime, it has become, a lifestyle in itself – there are people who use coupons to pay for almost all their grocery bill, either they do it with smart phones, or in the old fashioned way, browsing carefully through Sunday newspapers, clipping and binding. Extreme couponing is almost like a sport, reaching nerve-racking intensity at the store checkout.
The point is not to waste any coupon and to let them dictate your shopping schedule, in order to benefit from as many discounts as possible. For those who do it to lower their grocery budget it is a very well-motivated shopping behavior; for others, it is just another way of benefitting from the psychological comfort of having saved some money for another use.
Couponing becomes more and more of a lifestyle that, however, does not suit everybody. It takes patience, flexibility, and attention, and of course a few good hours per week dedicated to chasing the ads, hunting for offers, making elaborate price comparisons, and so on – all these in addition to the actual shopping time. Some find it relaxing and turn it into a leisure hobby, others find it incredibly stressful. However, it seems that lately coupons are getting easier to use: 42% of smart phone owners use their devices to redeem mobile coupons in-store.
The Profile of an Extreme Couponer
We have all seen extreme couponers in action; they are easy to recognize after their extremely focused strolls on the store’s couloirs, because they know exactly what they are heading at. An extreme couponer carries along his/hers coupon binder, weekly ads, a list of coupon policies, and, of course, their shopping list.
Some extreme couponers visit all their stores in one day, other do that all throughout the week; but one thing is certain: waste is not a word in their dictionary. It just doesn’t happen, because they have an acquired practice of making the most out of the minimum, not to mention the tremendous attention they pay to coupons’ expiration dates. Of course, almost every extreme couponer has elaborated his/hers own intricate methods of coupon shopping.
But how much money do they save, after all? There are reports that will make shake your head in disbelief: some families saved more than 84% of their monthly expenses before the extreme-couponing age, thus managing to pay around $450 for $2100 worth of products (groceries and toiletries).
Tips and Tricks for Worthy Couponing
Organization is vital to becoming an efficient money-saver and intelligent buyer and this is why the golden rule of couponing would be: Keep your coupons organized! You may do it on your computer, on your apps, or in a old school binder – whichever suits you best. However, keep in mind that specially-designed software will make your job considerably easier.
The second rule would be to always follow the ads, on the internet or in the printed weekly store circulars that flood your mail inbox. Being aware of the regular offers’ update will help you synchronize your coupons with store sales, and at the same time it can provide you with the necessary information in order to minimize the number of shopping trips you have to make. Save money while also saving time!
Last but not least, create a detailed list of what you are going to buy on discount. The list should include not only item name and brand, but also retail price, sale price, coupon amount, final price, and a total. Of course, you should always have it at hand in the store.
Strong Points and Downsides of Coupon Usage
There are some aspects you should consider before taking up extreme couponing habits, because in one way or another it will definitely have an influence over your lifestyle and spending behavior. The first and foremost advantage of couponing is the obvious one: it helps you save grocery money and thus allows you to purchase more items with the same amount of money. You will notice that your expenses are cut in such a way that you can put a few dollars aside each week.
Of course, the use of coupons won’t help you much with that Caribbean cruise or Rolex watch you secretly long for – unless you do it extensively, for many months in a row. On the other hand, you have to consider all the time dedicated to the intricate pathways of couponing that involve following ads and keeping yourself informed about the terms and conditions of use. At times, the desired discount is not as easy to get as it may seem at a first glance; in fact, a third of all the redeemed coupons require the purchase of two or more products.
If we refer only to food items, this percentage rises up to 45% and because of this you may end up buying more products than you actually need. A good solution is to shop for groceries with your neighbors, friends, or family, so you can find a good use for the extra products, at good prices for everyone.
Keeping track of coupons’ expiration dates is another point which at times can be tricky. Some are valid only during weekdays, some only on weekends, while others work only between certain hours. Their average validity period follows a decreasing trend: the average expiration date was 9.3 weeks in 2012, down from 9.9 weeks the year before. If you think that in the end your efforts will pay off, let the shopping fever begin!