Guess Who Clips the Most Coupons?

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CouponsPop quiz: Which group do you think is more likely to use online coupons when shopping -- households with average incomes of $100,000 or more, or those bringing in less than $35,000?

You might think that the less wealthy household would be the more active coupon user, but you'd be wrong. The wealthier household is twice as likely to use coupons. So is the college-educated consumer, as opposed to one who did not finish high school.

The folks at Coupons.org recently released some startling data on trends in coupon usage in America. Here are some additional interesting tidbits:

  • The recession has had an impact on consumers' overall shopping habits, with coupon redemption up 63% last year.
  • Shoppers leave a lot of money on the table when they forget to grab coupons before they head to the store. It's estimated that $470 billion in coupon savings was available to U.S. shoppers last year, and only 1% of that was redeemed. Online shoppers had $2,504 available to them in savings, and only about 2% of that was claimed.
  • Coupons continue to evolve -- from Sunday circulars to online offers, and now delivered straight to users' smartphones, with some coupons accessed by simply scanning an image with a smartphone. Just last year some 15.6 million smartphone users used mobile coupons -- that's about 20% of them, more than double the number from the year before.
  • Traditional coupons are far from obsolete: Despite our new electronic age, 89% of coupons appear in print, in newspapers.
  • The top product categories for coupon use in 2009 were cereals, baking ingredients, bathroom tissue, entertainment (via magazines, DVDs, and games), and nutrition and diet.

The Millionaire Coupon Clipper Next Door

It isn't so surprising that wealthier Americans are the ones more likely to use coupons. The best-selling Millionaire Next Door books by William Danko and Thomas Stanley have shown us how typical American millionaires live -- and it's not in mansions, with expensive cars and hired help. As the authors point out, it's counter-productively expensive to look wealthy.

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One time when it's not so smart to use coupons is when you're buying something you don't really need. Sure, getting 20% off of a $100 pair of shoes will save you a significant $20, but if you don't need those shoes, you're wasting $80.

An effective way to use coupons online is to seek them out just before you roll your shopping cart into the virtual checkout line -- or before you head out to a store, as many printable coupons are available online. Visit a search engine and enter the name of a store and the word "coupon."

When I searched for "coupon" and "Target" (TGT), for example, I found coupons for 15% off kid's furniture and free shipping on orders of $50 or more, among many other offers. Doing the same for Staples (SPLS), I found coupons for 20% off copies and print orders and free $10 gift cards with certain purchases. Searching for Sherwin-Williams (SHW), I found 25% off paints and stains. Those are just a few of many money-off deals available to those who want to get in on the couponing craze.

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