Couponing 2.0: How the Wealthy Use Them to Save

Cheryl Lock

couponsWho 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% of non-coupon users reported incomes of $35,000 or less, but a surprising 26% of coupon users were what the researchers called “coupon divas,” defined as high-earning (24% reported at least a $75,000 household income) white women.

Then there’s the 2012 data from, 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% 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% 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 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% 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, which aggregates coupon codes by category, retailer name and various holidays, or printing coupons from places like

“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?

  • Lenore

    I have used coupons for years. I don’t save as much as the Extreme Couponers but I do save quite a bit and it is a great feeling. I have even read where movie stars are using coupons too. Coupons are great and don’t take up too much time as long as you don’t get obsessive with them. I always try to use a coupon when I shop on line too. The money you save can be used to buy something else.

  • lab1281

    I have always used coupons. I realized that my family appreciated the cost savings when they regularly have asked if i had or could locate a coupon or deal for items they needed or even the date night out discounts to restaurants, movies or other places to visit. They have also learned to search for discount and free shipping codes when the merchandise they need is online including school books. My husband always asks for a discount at the suppliers he uses for business. My family thinks of these savings as SMART not cheap.

    • meekyn

      YES! I don’t care if people think I’m cheap, even. If I’m going home with $20 more in my pocket than I would have, I could not care less what anyone thinks about my using coupons!

  • Amy

    The coupons I dislike and don’t waste my time with are the “buy 5″ or “buy 10″ and save $0.50. That’s just a savings of a few cents per items and ONLY if you buy the specified amount. In many cases, I don’t need that many and buying more than what I need would be a waste. Also, coupons are offered mainly on brand named products. Unless the coupon is of a significant value (>$0.50) per item, I usually don’t waste my time because I could buy the store brand item for the same price or cheaper. The only time I use coupons is if it reduces the brand name item to below the store brand item cost. Perhaps that could be contributing to the decline? It takes a bit of time to notice these things, but eventually you do.

  • Lisa

    Brand name coupons for grocery stores: no. Don’t have the time any more to clip and sort and then remember to use…most of the coupons are for items I don’t buy (ie, highly processed foods, convenience items, cleaning supplies). I find stocking up on the store’s brand items when on sale to be much more effective. Department stores: yes — thru their mailers and emails. These have become so commonplace that I don’t shop without one. On-line shopping: yes – emails and search engines. Free shipping is a must for the places I shop at regularly. It’s more about comparison shopping than coupons. Restaurants, movies, entertainment: sometimes. Having a coupon might give us an incentive to go, but we’ll go w/o one too.

  • ambreen11

    Nice really truly impressed with your sincerity to help others and your willingness to empower others to be successful.Great tutorial. Really helpful.

  • Richard94611

    I don’t save coupons most of the time — occasionally I do — because I shop at lower-priced grocery stores that don’t accept coupons. I save more this way than if I spent hours clipping coupons and carrying them around. If you have a 50 cent off coupon for Safeway that charges $3 for something and another store that doesn’t accept coupons but sells the same item for $2, where do you think you should buy that item ? It is a no-brainer.

    • meekyn

      This is one of the reasons we started shopping at Target instead of (the ridiculously overpriced) Giant. WalMart is cheaper than Target even, but we always came home depressed and aggravated after grocery shopping at WalMart. Also, the Target card and app end up saving us enough that we end up with a lower bill anyway, with a better environment and overall shopping experience.

  • PhilChance

    Yes I am a coupon user and so are a few of my friends. One is obsessed really. We use what we can and donate everything else. I use those skills to get many things for others since coupons are usually on items I don’t consume. I usually donate to a veterans facility. I find most coupons in the recycling bin of our building as I don’t get the Red Plum mailer (or any other junk mail).

  • Jane Jestson

    I have stopped using or trying to use grocery coupons. I would spend a lot of time looking at comparable items and there was almost one that was less expensive. I think prices are boosted when coupons are released in some areas. The 2 for 1 s also seem to be priced higher than they are as singles. There is still a savings but not as much as we think.

  • Laura

    I’ve used coupons all of my life. Paper, online discount/deal sites/apps for eating out and other activities, and coupon codes for online purchases. With coupon codes, I typically save enough to pay the sales tax and shipping, at least, or I am able to purchase an item or two for no additional cost! Online discount/deal sites/apps, I can usually save 50% off or more (Travelzoo, AmazonLocal, etc), the caveat is there a timeframe to use the deal; else once expired, it’s only worth the paid face value. Being a loyal customer to my favorite beauty boutique brands or brick-mortar stores, I get occasional discounts or promo offers in the (e)mail which I wait for as they are fairly cyclic over the year. I usually go through mailed or newspaper coupons while eating breakfast, so I don’t feel my time is wasted. Also, a few local restaurants have BOGO (free) coupons in the city/tourist/community paper – totally worth it to pay for my husband or a friend, when I eat out! Comparison shopping or just being patient for big/holiday sales has helped me save a lot, too. I’ve used paper manufacturer coupons at Target, TJs, and even the DollarTree – if they have the brand name and correct size/count.

    Of course, not buying unneeded items is the best way to save.

  • meekyn

    We use coupons now and then, but most of the ones that come in the Sunday circular seem to be for makeup and brands we don’t use/like, or even with the coupon those brands are still more expensive than other brands of the same item. We do most of our shopping at Target. Here’s how we save:
    * The Target credit card (which I pay in full as soon as we get home from shopping every time) gives us 5% of the whole purchase
    * The Cartwheel app lets us add offers to our virtual cart (typically things like 5% off the store-brand lunch meat, 10% off certain soda, etc.) and gives us a barcode for all the items on it
    * We take advantage of any in-store deals when they’re for items we already use (for example, a $5 store gift card for buying four personal care items from a list)
    * We always get coupons at checkout, and sometimes they’re good deals on items we buy every trip

    Between the coupons (probably only about 5 this last time, most for 50-75 cents), the credit card, and the app, we saved over $40 on our last grocery run, and got $20 in gift cards for our next trip. On a typical trip we would spend about $320; we generally save at least $20 just with the card and app. Good coupons are a bonus!