Who uses coupons?
Thanks to the penny-pinching rep couponers have earned, you might guess people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, who need day-to-day savings more than those with higher incomes.
But you’d be wrong.
Over the last few years, research has shown that many coupon users are actually affluent. According to a 2011 study out of the University of Arizona, 61 percent of non-coupon users reported incomes of $35,000 or less, but a surprising 26 percent of coupon users were what the researchers called “coupon divas,” defined as high-earning (24 percent reported at least a $75,000 household income) white women.
Then there’s the the 2012 data from Coupons.org, which found not only that households with incomes over $100,000 are twice as likely to use coupons as households earning less than $35,000, but that college graduates are twice as likely to coupon as those who didn’t graduate high school.
It’s hard to imagine a household earning over $100,000 needing coupons more than a household making a third of that—so why are so many coupon users people who might not actually need them, per se?
The New Approach to Couponing
Overall coupon use saw a 17 percent decline last year. While the number of coupons being offered remained the same, consumers reported feeling that the number of coupons worth using were fewer. And your emotions play a key role at the checkout.
“Using coupons is about feeling good about a purchase as much as it is about saving money,” says consumer expert Andrea Woroch, and in the age of “deals,” fewer coupons were proving attractive, or worth the effort, to consumers.
“Over the last few years, consumers have come to expect discounts and coupons, and retailers understand that offering such deals will attract shoppers and drive sales,” she says. “I continue to use coupons because I enjoy the opportunity to try new brands at lower prices, and it helps me stretch my budget so I have resources to do other things I enjoy.”
In fact, she operates like a “coupon diva,” searching daily deal sites, coupon apps on her smartphone as well as the Facebook and Twitter pages for her favorite brands.
The difference is that Woroch spends the majority of her time searching for coupons that offer big savings over smaller, easier-to-find daily discounts. “Shoppers who use coupons beyond the grocery store will find some of the biggest value,” she said. “Whenever you can use a coupon for a large-ticket item, the savings will really add up. For example, a 20 percent off coupon for a couch, mattress or high-end flat-screen TV could result in a few hundred dollars in savings.”
The Lure of Internet Savings
If regular coupon use is on the decline, perhaps not surprisingly, online coupon usage is on the rise. “As more and more people turn to the internet for their shopping needs, it just makes sense,” says Woroch. “Whenever you see that coupon code box, don’t skip over it. Run a quick search online to see if there are any deals available. Shopping online is the best place to find savings, anyway, with the opportunity to compare prices among multiple retailers to really find the lowest options.”
With social media and news coverage changing the way it is, it also makes sense that a new generation of tech-savvy shoppers will rely less on traditional newspaper coupons and more on smartphones, tablets and websites for digital savings opportunities. In fact, that 2012 data from Coupons.org also found that households with an average income of $105,000 are most likely to print digital coupons, and that in 2011, one-fifth of smartphone users used mobile coupons (a 117 percent increase from the previous year).
It’s expected that by 2014, 35 million people will use online coupons.
Are Coupons Worth Your Time?
A coupon’s actual value is only as good as how much you save minus the time it takes you to find it. To get a sense of how much money that clipping absorbs, use our Time Worth Calculator. Then ask yourself: Are you saving more money than you’re spending in time?
In order to really get the best deals, Woroch suggests always using sites like FreeShipping.org, which aggregates coupon codes by category, retailer name and various holidays, or printing coupons from places like CouponSherpa.com.
“When it comes to grocery coupons, I don’t know if it’s worth your time to search for deals across multiple stores and drive around town to take advantage,” she admits. “However, signing up for the store’s loyalty program that automatically applies coupons to your order at checkout is an easy way to still get those savings.”
Tell us: Are you a coupon user? Where do you find most of the coupons you use?
More from LearnVest:
Why My Parents Take Savings to Extremes