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Why we love coupons

They're making a big comeback

By Karen Datko Sep 24, 2009 6:00PM

Americans are crazy for coupons again -- clipping at rates not seen in years, and the attraction is not just the 30 cents off the canned corn, The New York Times reports. It's a psychological boost, a feeling that we're proactive and therefore better than those who pay full price.

 

As the Times puts it, "Because it takes more work to acquire them, the people who do so feel they have outsmarted other shoppers." It's kind of like that "delicious feeling of self-denial" inherent in frugality that our pal Frank Curmudgeon likes to write about at Bad Money Advice. We're saving money and feeling good in a way that's kind of creepy.

 

Our collective renewed love of the coupon is also good timing. Food prices have fallen by 2.5% since an ugly high point last November, with the biggest single decline between July and August.

Here are some interesting coupon factoids from the Times and other locations:

 

(As an aside, we found the Times story quaint, discussing how shoppers match coupons with sales, file them away by food category, and paper clip them to their shopping lists -- as though regular Times readers would be unfamiliar with standard coupon operating procedures.)

  • Paper coupon redemption -- still the most popular form -- was up 23% in the first half of 2009 and may reach 3 billion for the year. It's a big increase but nothing near the 7.9 billion in 1992, another recession year.
  • Everyone's doing it. The numbers are up among all kinds of people, like young single folks, and families with incomes of $70,000 or more.
  • Redemption of printable coupons has really caught on in the last year.
  • Digital coupons, while growing in popularity, amounted to only 10 million in the first six months of 2009. 

Other good news is that the face value of coupons increased last year by 9% and is just a bit lower so far this year. Actual coupon distribution was up 29% in the first half of 2009.

 

Not only that, The Washington Post says chains like Safeway are cutting prices to appeal to newly frugal customers. That chain reduced prices on thousands of products by as much as 25%, and Giant Food has doubled the number of items on sale and is heavily promoting sales within the store, the Post says.

 

Prices have fallen for everything from milk and cheese to Costco's rotisserie chicken, The Associated Press reports.

 

Stores can afford to cut prices in part because commodity prices are down. Corn -- which seems to be the cornerstone of the food chain (think high-fructose corn syrup and animal feed) -- has dropped 26% since July of last year. Supermarkets are also cutting profit margins in order to get penny-pinching consumers to spend.

 

 Related reading:

Published Sept. 24, 2009

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