A Frugal Future

A Frugal Future

The habit of clipping (or clicking) coupons has no expiration date

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

More and more people at the grocery store are using coupon binders and organizers to help maximize their savings.

In an age where e-books are pushing bookstores into bankruptcy and communication has strayed from a good old-fashioned phone call to a text message, it would seem the tradition of clipping coupons from newspapers is long lost.
Not so, says Stephanie Ferra of Oakwood. In fact, with the surge of technological advancements the only thing that has changed is how many various coupon resources are made available to consumers – and it’s a lot.
“I’ve always used coupons, even when I was younger we used them and I learned by habit,” said Ferra, who began using online coupons a little more than a year ago, in addition to newspaper cutouts. “I try my best to use a coupon and find one that works [for the product I need].”
It turns out, Ferra is not alone.
Lisa Reynolds, personal finance expert and mom-saver-in-chief at RedPlum.com, said the company’s research has shown what it really takes for a shopper to recognize the possibility of savings is a little proof in the (marked-down) pudding.
“Everyone can save, and the recent downturn in the economy saw more coupons in the marketplace and more consumers seeking out deals,” Reynolds said. “By spending as little as 20 minutes a week seeking out coupons, you can save more than $1,000 a year.”
“Once shoppers realize this savings, the behaviors become ingrained and they are not willing to go back to their pre-savings ways,” she said.
Reynolds believes marketers are distributing more coupons in the marketplace to reach the value-centric consumer. According to the Annual Topline U.S. Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Coupon Facts Report by NCH Marketing Services (a Valassis company) shoppers saved $3.7 billion with coupons in 2010, a 5.7 percent increase over 2009.
“Coupons can really save money,” said Kevin Strawbridge, president of online savings hub DealTaker.com. “Becoming more aware of the great deals and coupons out there is the first step.”
“Consumers no longer need to sit down and coupon clip as coupons are largely now digital. Just by taking the time to search for a coupon before you shop for a wanted item, you can save yourself a significant amount of money.”
And, sure, those deals do still come from newspapers, but, like Strawbridge said, what has really taken the coupon world by storm is the advent of online coupon resources, like RedPlum.com and DealTaker.com. Other companies have grocery shopping down to a science, like Teri Gault’s “The Grocery Game” (thegrocerygame.com).
“Coupons have a bad rap, because most people don’t know how to maximize their value,” said Gault, whose subscription-based service helps minimize a customer’s time spent looking for savings by tracking local stores’ sales cycles and pairing them up with coupons. “In truth, the most money is saved on sales. You can cut your bill in half without even using coupons,” Gault said. “Coupons save about 17 percent to 25 percent off the regular price of most items. So, coupons by themselves are not where the savings are. It’s in combining coupons with a sale or even numerous other offers, that you can save on the average of 67 percent or more depending on what you buy.”
Ferra said the ability to combine grocery sales with coupons has pushed her to reconsider her shopping strategy, leaning more toward purchasing products that she has a coupon for, rather than shopping for specific brands.
“I try to buy what’s on sale and match coupons to that sale,” said Ferra, who is buying for a family of five, including herself. “I’m stretching our money as far as it can go.”
And Ferra feels like she’s part of “the norm.” She said many of her friends also use coupons, and have even turned her on to online coupon services, like the Grocery Game.
“I see a lot more people at the grocery store, walking around with coupon binders in their carts,” she said.
Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com, said, in addition to online services, the push for smartphone-friendly coupon apps has also made coupon clipping easier. For example, Frietchen said, an app called Grocery IQ (for iPhone or Android phones) lets you browse coupons by category rather than clipping them from a newspaper.
“If you spot a coupon you want, you add it to your ‘cart,’ then send all your coupons to your printer to print them out,” she said. “You still need to print the coupons, but the app makes browsing coupons a lot easier than rifling through pages of a newspaper.”
The general consensus seems to be that coupons can be of use in some manner, but that’s not to say everyone’s a believer. In fact, Cheri Powell of Louisville, said she thinks “coupons are useless.”
“They always seem to be for products that are unhealthy or offer so little off that a generic is still cheaper and just as good,” Powell said. “I tried once using coupons after hearing a news story about a coupon-clipping maven who got hundreds of dollars of groceries practically for free.”
“I could not find anything of value to help my grocery budget. And I spent a lot of time looking. My time is worth more than the few cents I could have saved buying brands that need an incentive. I wish I could get coupons for apples, broccoli, lettuce or other healthy alternatives.”
But Gault said the idea that “coupons are for junk food” is a common misconception, and one that she would like to see changed.
“That’s old news,” Gault said. “If you fall for that trap, you will continue to pay full price for groceries, health and beauty products, toiletries, vitamins, cleaning products, paper goods and more.
“The truth is that most coupons are not for junk food. I use coupons to buy all natural peanut butter, tofu, orange juice and organic cereal. Of course, I wait until they go on sale!”
Which, if there has been any lesson learned, seems to be the key: Coupons are more valuable when used with a killer sale.
“I’ve been using grocery coupons for as long as I can remember,” said Karen Hoxmeier, owner of bargain shopping website MyBargainBuddy.com. “I clip all the coupons from the Sunday paper.
“When the store sale ads come in the mail on Tuesdays, I match up the coupons with the items the stores have on special that week. Oftentimes, I can get products for free or at least 75 percent off using this method. With three kids, I need all the grocery savings I can get!”
Sounds like a match made in frugal grocery shopping heaven.

Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannon-Karasik@daytoncitypaper.com.

About Caroline Shannon-Karasik

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