Tight budgets force "crazy couponing"

BY DEREK KELLISON | MAY 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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A slowly recovering economy has inspired more shoppers nationwide and locally to go online for coupons to stretch their dollars.


University of Iowa graduate student Kari Shaffer said she saved almost 90 percent on shopping trips since she started using online coupons. She first discovered online coupons in a class on loan costs versus shopping costs her freshman year of college.

"It made me think: Is it really worth it if I'm going to pay student loans?" she asked.

A 2011 study by online researching company Knowledge Networks found national consumer use of coupons has risen almost 30 percent since 2008.

Sara Roberts, the creator of the Knoxville, Iowa, based online-coupon blog The Millennial Housewife , said she moved to online coupons after becoming a stay-at-home mother.

"Going from two incomes to one, we had to make changes," she said.

Roberts said the although there are fewer opportunities for big savings in Iowa, she manages to spend only $50 on groceries for her family of five for two weeks.

"Looking online is very different from going through the Sunday paper," she said.

Mike Constant, the creator of IowaCityCoupons.com, said he agreed.

"For a lot of people, it's definitely a way of life," he said. "It won't be long now before online coupons are redeemed faster than print."

Constant said he has seen a rise in coupon blogs in Iowa.

"There are a lot of blogs popping up in central Iowa and the Des Moines area," he said. "You wouldn't think it, but usually the coupon users are from the middle-class to disposable-income range."

The slow return of the economy creates the unusual distribution of coupons, said UI economics Associate Professor John Solow.

"As jobs get scarce… if you can't spend your time working, that means there's more time to cut coupons," he said. "Most people who have to work several jobs to make a living won't spend their time cutting coupons."

Yet the versatility of online coupons present a unique marketing opportunity, he said.

"The idea behind coupons is to separate people willing to take time and those who aren't," he said. "The Internet is perfect for this because people can print off however many coupons they want whenever they want."

Constant said online coupons have disadvantages for businesses because of their low profits. According to the Knowledge Network study, online coupons return less than 70 percent of investments in comparison to print, which return almost 80 percent.

Either way, store managers would like to see coupons continue to grow, said Jeff Canfield, the store director of Hy-Vee, 812 S. First Ave.

"We've seen a steady increase of coupon redemption over the years," he said. "It's a win-win for all: customers, stores, and manufacturers."

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