A resurgence in coupons, but people still hate them


We used 10% more coupons in the fourth quarter of 2008 than we did during the same time last year, according to Inman, a company that processes promotions. For the whole year we collectively reached into our wallet and pulled out 2.6 billion pieces of ratty paper. But that's nothing compared to the 7.9 billion pieces of indignity we used in 1992 at the end of the last recession.

The recession is leading us all to do things we'd rather not. Coupons are one of them. The company says coupon use was actually down for most of 2008, but really surged in November and December. Coupons are shifting from supermarkets to mass marketers and getting more valuable. And sellers are using them more: they produced 317 billion last year.

So it's still less than one in 100 coupons turned in, even in the worst economy in most of our lifetimes. Why? Because we hate coupons. They make us feel like we're being led around to not only buy what an ad sells us, but carry around little scraps of paper, treat them like currency and risk the wrath of some unruly clerk who finds some reason not to accept them. (And here I know I am biased from living in New York City, where grocery stores refuse coupons with impunity and glee.)

I just feel like a sucker using a coupon: surely for the cost of printing 100 coupons and processing mine, someone could have just lowered the price a little. Store coupons -- as opposed to those issued by a manufacturer -- are the worst: just have a sale, don't put me through the little song and dance. As the economy gets worse I may become desperate enough to use them, but for now I'm cutting back in other ways that don't feel so grubby.