Couponers share how they 'make each dollar stretch as much as possible' amid record inflation

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There's more to learning how to successfully use that coupon than just clipping it from the newspaper. Expert couponers share their tips for saving money while shopping. (Photo: Getty Creative)
There's more to learning how to successfully use that coupon than just clipping it from the newspaper. Expert couponers share their tips for saving money while shopping. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Feeling the pain of the rising cost of living? You're not alone. Many Americans are struggling to continue affording even the basics during this country's time of record-setting inflation.

From gas to groceries and everything in between, it's become quite expensive to get by these days. But passionate couponers say paying less is possible if you know how to clip coupons and use them digitally on your cell phone.

Who uses coupons? And why?

Couponing to save money is not a new concept. One of the earliest documented coupons was for a free Coca-Cola back in 1888. Fast forward to 2022, consumers now approach coupons and sales differently, thanks to technological advances.

According to a 1991 study from the Association for Consumer Research: "273.4 billion coupons (more than 3,000 per household) were issued in 1989 at an average face value of 49.7 cents. Of these, 7.1 billion were actually redeemed, for a total of about $3.5 billion."

Lynn Wiltse, a 40-year-old mother of three from Bluffton, S.C. who blogs at Always Moving Mommy, began her couponing journey before she was even out of her childhood home. "Growing up, there was always more 'month than money' and I knew I needed to make each dollar stretch as much as possible," she tells Yahoo Life. "Then I had kids and things got even more expensive, so couponing became even more important."

"My kids learned early on that if it wasn't on sale and I didn't have a coupon for it, it probably wasn't going to get put into the cart," she adds. "I couponed not only to save money for my family on necessities so we could do other things, but to also be able to donate throughout the year."

Buena Park, Calif. resident Chris Nddie, co-founder and CEO of the savings website ClothingRIC, says, "I come from a working-class family that valued money-saving above anything else."

"My mother championed herself as the smartest shopper in the neighborhood and collected coupons from magazines, newspapers and product packaging," he continues. "I often acted as her assistant. By the time I was in my late teens, I was a master at the art of couponing."

Nddie's website began as a way to help fashion lovers find coupons for their purchases. Over time, it's evolved to include coupons and promotional codes for everything from books to plane tickets.

Expert tips for saving money

Wiltse and Nddie both say one of the most significant ways to save money is to resist the urge to purchase things you don't need. "No matter how great the sale is or if you've got a coupon, if you're going to wind up throwing it out or never using the item, you don't need to buy it," Wiltse says.

Nddie says companies often have contests or sweepstakes offering free products or discount codes that can also save consumers money. While sweepstakes are more random than contests, there is no cost associated with entering either option, and the winnings could pay off big time in the form of free products or discounts.

Experts in the retail industry, like Aimee Englert, the executive director of client strategy at Vericast, say there's lots to learn from the spending habits of consumers in times of financial stress. "Couponing has always been critical to the consumer retail industry during times of financial crisis," Englert shares. "Consumer behavior during the Great Recession (2008) provided a clear case study on the importance of coupons in relieving stress and delivering savings to cash-strapped consumers."

Englert says, according to Vericast research, coupon redemption increased by 23% from 2008 to 2009. That momentum continued well into 2011, with 35% more coupons redeemed than in 2008.

"The research also showed that in this time of crisis, brands that maintained coupon strategies were less likely to lose 'share of mind' with consumers," she says, "thus improving their chance of maintaining or even increasing market share in the long run."

Vericast is a marketing solution company that publishes the Save coupon mailers you may recognize from your mailbox or newspaper. The first iteration of what is now their Save Free Standing Insert (FSI) launched as far back as the early ’70s.

How to coupon successfully today

During times of financial crisis, consumers still look to coupons and discounts on their favorite brands to save some cash. How can they do this in 2022? "Much of our coupon distribution comes out on a weekly cadence," says Englert, "so if you are noticing you receive your coupons on a certain day of the week, that's likely the day to watch for and plan your shopping. Additionally, the first Sunday of the month typically offers the largest volume of coupons across all flyers, including Save and P&G (Procter and Gamble) BrandSAVER."

"I recommend aligning your heavy shopping around these key distribution dates to capitalize on available coupon offers," Englert adds, "'Stacking' a coupon with a promotional price in your retailer print or online weekly ad will yield more savings. [It's] not only a smart move by the consumer, it's often the marketer's strategy designed to move maximum volume."

Siobhan Alvarez, a mom from Atlanta, Ga. says it's also important to be aware of which products most often go on sale at certain points in the year.

"Usually, this is most noticeable for things like seasonal items and fresh produce," sats Alvarez. "However, by learning your store's sales cycles, you can also start to anticipate when other items will be discounted throughout the year as well."

Alvarez is the founder of the website Budget Baby Budget, which aims to help households learn about budgeting and saving money to spend more time enjoying their family life.

What are the easiest things to save money on? According to Wiltse says it's all about personal care items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. "Digital coupons make it much easier to actually get coupons for items such as meat and fresh fruit and vegetables, too," she says.

Other items that often have coupons or discounts are clothing, household items, sports equipment, outdoor items, furniture and electronics. Items such as jewelry or luggage are considered "luxury items" and are not often sold at a discount. Paying full price for luxury items is usually unavoidable, but can be planned for if money has been saved elsewhere in the budget.

Many retailer coupons and discounts these days are offered through apps or brand websites. It's easier than ever to virtually "clip" a coupon or add a discount code to your mobile phone before checking out with your purchases. Coupons and discounts build trust and brand loyalty between consumers and retailers, and that loyalty remains even after the financial crisis is under control.

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