Most of my reader mail is positive, but I also receive comments from readers who aren't completely on board with the whole idea of coupon shopping. Occasionally, the questions that show up in my inbox surprise me. Here's one.
Q: "Jill, don't you ever think about what you are doing on a larger scale? In encouraging people to not pay high prices, wait until products go on sale and use coupons to get them at extremely low prices, people are going to get used to paying less for everything. If everyone did this, people are never going to want to pay full price for anything again. Not just groceries but clothes, travel, cars and more. I just can't help but think you could be responsible for an economic collapse."
A: I suppose I should be flattered by the idea that I, merely by encouraging people to save money on groceries with coupons, could bring down an entire economy. Coupon use is nothing new. It originated back in the late 1800s. Coca-Cola and Grape-Nuts were among the first products to offer coupons in magazines and via the mail to encourage shoppers to buy their products.
While couponing has seen highs and lows in popularity, it's never truly gone away. Certainly, since the recession began in 2008, coupon use has enjoyed resurgence. CNN reported that coupon use increased 27 percent in 2009, noting that this was the first time in 17 years that shoppers had used more coupons than they'd used the previous year. So, there's no doubt that many more people are using coupons.
But, here are a few truths about couponing that are important to keep in mind:
* Manufacturers would not offer coupons for their products if they hadn't already budgeted for the cost of redeeming them. Whether it's to raise recognition of a new product or to boost sales on an existing one, coupons are here to stay. If a manufacturer provides a $1 coupon for a $1.99 product you like and use, why wouldn't you want to save half the price on it?
* Legitimate coupon use does not hurt stores. Excluding coupon fraud in all its forms, stores receive the dollar value of the coupons they accept from the manufacturer. So, if a shopper buys a $1.99 product with a $1 coupon, the store still receives $1.99, the price it charges for the product.
You mentioned that if people become accustomed to saving significantly on their groceries that they will likely want to pay less for everything - and this is true. But again, most people already do this on many levels. Do you decide to buy a new car and look for the worst possible deal on it? Do you plan a vacation and choose the flights with the highest prices? Given a choice, most people want to save money and gravitate toward better prices instinctively, especially if cost comparison is easy.
Not everyone who uses coupons on groceries will become a Super-Couponer, either. It does take some time, effort and desire to want to achieve lower grocery bills. Effective coupon shoppers also use stockpiling techniques, buying enough of an item to last until the next time it goes on sale. Not all shoppers care to do this. The "average" coupon shopper looks at the coupon inserts in the newspaper on the day they arrive, cuts the ones they'll use this week and tosses the rest in the recycle bin. Super-Couponers know these people are throwing away money.
I don't think the economy is in danger because people are coupon shopping, and I don't think it will it get worse due to coupon shoppers' thriftiness. On the contrary, I think people are waking up to overspending in general. But for every person who cuts their weekly grocery bill by 50 percent or more, there are plenty who don't plan shopping trips based on getting the best prices at the store that week.
Next week, we'll discuss the demographics of a coupon shopper. Who's using coupons and who isn't may surprise you.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.