Each year, I read through the new Nielsen Co. statistics on coupon usage with great interest. It's a common misconception among non-coupon users that coupon shoppers have low incomes, are disadvantaged or are struggling financially and need to use coupons to get by.
Nothing could be further from the truth! According to Nielsen, the biggest users of coupons are Caucasian women under the age of 54 with college degrees and average incomes of more than $70,000 per year.
Take a moment to re-read that statistic. It contradicts just about every preconceived notion of a coupon shopper. What Nielsen calls "heavy coupon users" are mainly college-educated younger women with higher incomes.
Nielsen tracks even more categories of coupon shoppers, too. In the "coupon enthusiast" category, things start to get even more interesting. An enthusiast is defined as someone who uses 104 or more coupons in a six-month period, and enthusiasts accounted for 65 percent of all coupon use and 18 percent of all unit purchases last yea. Avid coupon users purchased nearly 20 percent of everything bought with a coupon last year.
Exciting stuff, no doubt. Coupon enthusiasts love coupons and use lots of them regularly. But here's another surprising statistic from the report. Just 22 percent of shoppers are responsible for 83 percent of all coupons redeemed last year. Aside from enthusiasts and heavy coupon users, the remaining 88 percent of shoppers used just 17 percent of the coupons redeemed.
So who's not using coupons? Often, it's people who could benefit from coupon savings the most. Of 100 shoppers who make less than $20,000 annually, just 1.6 use coupons to their best advantage.
Why lower-income shoppers don't use coupons much has always puzzled me. Coupons represent free money, and even if you're not a heavy user or enthusiast, the savings add up. But quoting from Nielsen's report, "In essence, the better-educated and more affluent consumers are much better at looking for deals, as they recognize the value of money."
My experience as a coupon workshop instructor seems to confirm the study. My Super-Couponing classes are consistently well attended, drawing a hundred or more people a night, and often have long waiting lists. But I also try to reach specific audiences that I feel might also benefit even more from coupon savings, and attendance at those workshops has surprised me.
Once, a library that had hosted Super-Couponing many times asked if I'd consider translating my workshop into Spanish. The library is located in a community with a large Hispanic population where many families struggle financially. Each time I taught Super-Couponing there, the library consistently filled its auditorium to capacity. The staff felt there would be great interest in a Spanish coupon class, too. I agreed to translate my workshop presentation and materials. On the day of the class, 17 people showed up - in a room that held 200.
A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a group of residents who live in public-assisted housing -- people on limited incomes, who presumably could use ideas for stretching a budget. The coupon class was promoted well to hundreds of residents. While I have become accustomed to walking into a room packed to the walls night after night, here I was quite surprised to see just three people in attendance.
Does this mean that the Spanish-speaking population or people on assisted living don't want to use coupons? Not necessarily - and I sincerely hope that the people who did attend these workshops were able to benefit from them. But there are certainly other reasons people don't use coupons. We'll discuss these in next week's column.
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 email@example.com.