Coupon clippers hotter than ever, says New York Times

I just came back from the grocery store, and I couldn't wait to share my victory story with my husband. A local chain had a great deal on Seventh Generation products and I was stocking up on diapers. Not only did I end up with 40% off the retail price, but... drumroll... the packages were festooned with coupons! I ended up bringing home $45 worth of product for less than $25. A budget hunter fresh from her kill, I carried the packages into the house as the trophies they were. His eyes lit up with pride.

Sure, moms are well-known for their love for coupon clipping. But the love affair has waned these past few decades; coupons hit their peak in 1992, says logistics company Inmar, with 7.9 billion coupons redeemed. As the '90s wore on and became the new millennium, shopping pundits decried the end of an era. Coupons, like soap operas, were an anachronism in this digital, busy-busy culture. In the early part of the 21st century, everyone began talking about time in its dollars-per-hour value, quantifying everything with the bizarre concept that, were you to forego washing your car, walking your pet, or preparing your own dinner, you could instead be making an hourly wage. That 25 cent coupon cost me $1.79! I might have thought. Professional moms and adults of all stripes breezily swiped their credit cards at the checkout stand, skipping the messy coupon stage and hurrying off to bask in their market value. In 2006, only 2.6 billion coupons were redeemed, a number that remained unchanged through most of 2008.

Hold on to your imaginary time clocks, ladies and gents, because coupon clipping is back. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the latest period for which Inmar has released data, coupon redemptions were up 10%. According to the New York Times, in the first half of 2009 redemptions have vaulted forward, up 23%, for a total of 1.6 billion coupons redeemed, on track for over 3 billion for the year and a clear reversal to the coupon doldrums of the past several years. I've certainly noticed that the coupon pages in the Sunday paper have expanded greatly over the past few years, from two meager groups sprinkled with ads for collectible figurines and no-iron pants to four fat folios in last week's paper.

What's going on? Well, obviously, this is a recession-fueled renaissance. People need to save money any way they can, and it's no longer un-hip to clip. The New York Times says coupon clipping has begun to transcend demographic stereotypes; no longer is it only lower-income young families, but also teenagers, middle- and upper-income families, and older single adults and couples.

As I see it, there's something else going on, too: rising unemployment, reduced hours, and a general skepticism with big business has led to more Americans letting go of the illusion that one's career is the sum and total of one's value, and that it can all be put in dollar figures. Embracing the value of one's time beyond mere dollars allows a person to reconnect with the old discarded pastimes. Along with vegetable gardening, canning food and cleaning your own bathroom, coupon clipping no longer need be a calculated pursuit. Saving money on groceries doesn't cost you money, unless you could forego the purchase altogether.

And for now, saving money with coupons is enough.
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