Home / The Coupon Economy: Reprogramming Your Consumer Habits

The Coupon Economy: Reprogramming Your Consumer Habits

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It’s a story about grit, and determination. It’s a story about sacrifice and success. It’s a story about America and…coupons.

This is the story of extreme couponers Cathy Yoder, mother of seven, and Monica Knight, mother of two. These women, in their 30s, have experienced economic hardship during the past few grueling years coming out of the recession—especially Cathy. With $40,000 in credit card debt, a new child, and a job loss hobbling her financially, she was living on the razor’s edge…until she got into extreme couponing.



Yes, indeed: out of sheer desperation, Yoder (known to her public by her first name, Cathy) turned to couponing. She fell in with the couponing crowd, which was only a gateway for her ascent into extreme couponing. She began her extreme couponing career in order to feed her family, but you have to imagine that she continued after a certain point out of sheer love of the art—not to mention the national attention she was already starting to receive. She later teamed up and through dedication and drive, her family learned how to shave thousands of dollars off of their annual grocery shopping budget.

The fact is that most Americans’ grocery-budget composes itself on auto-pilot, defaulting one way or the other due to our appetites and impulses. We go to the grocery store and we sort of free-associate our way up and down the aisles, picking up things on our list but also coming up with new ideas of what we’d like on the spot.

So depending on your palette and your level of self-awareness, you are likely to end up allotting more money to groceries than you otherwise would if you processed your buying decisions with discipline and critical distance. And this is exactly what the art of Extreme Couponing consists of.

It rejects the lackadaisical way of life mindlessly accepted by most Americans in favor of a stringent, new ascetism—a kind of budgetary austerity and cleverness that rarely manifests anywhere other than in the accounting offices of major corporations. The numbers, prices, and values of food get fuzzy when these ladies start getting creative.

At least, that is to say, Extreme Couponing was sort of austere before it became a reality television show.

The schedule of an Extreme Couponer can be taxing, to say the least. Cathy has a room in her home which functions as a storage area containing months of both food and non-food items. Days and evenings are focused on coupon organization and targeted shopping. While these women shop, research, and clip, they also blog. All of this is chronicled in the show devoted to the lifestyle that these two women have pioneered.

One almost has to step back and wonder at the sort macro-economic, mass-psychological irony and obviousness of the show. In an age of reduced incomes and reduced hours at work, people are almost bound to fetishize and become fixated on reduced prices. One wonders if a show like this could have taken off anytime during the period book-ended by 2007 on the one side and 1945 (the end of the Great Depression and WWII—when “war-rationing” was a hip way to be patriotic). From Groupon’s IPO and the proliferation of Groupon clones, to the bounty of online coupon sites that can help you save money on anything from a pizza to a haircut (like Valpak, for example), our collective consciousness seems to be expressing our relatively new cultural anxiety about our weekly and monthly budgets in the form of coupon mania!

But this is not just the story of how fearless women struggle to obtain the best food discounts. It is a story about how two very smart women have taken a newly learned skill and used it, with no financial investment of their own, to build a successful business. They are beholden to no one but their audience, and according to statscrop.com, their business/blog, Fabulesslyfrugal.com, is only three years old and currently worth $241,325. It brings in $157 a day or $57,305 per year.

You’ve got to be impressed by these fabulous moms, who with no money and no MBAs are forging a successful living from a hobby developed out of desperation.

For the moms, couponing may be a way of life and it is certainly a business. But without direction, it can probably be dangerous to many consumers. Most food coupons are for processed food. If discounts on this type of product are tempting buyers to eat less healthy food items, then people are putting their health at risk. It is possible to save hundreds of dollars in food bills, just by eating a more vegetarian diet and seasonal produce.

On the other hand, it is likely that huge amounts of money can be saved on cleaning and other non-food products with coupons. Stores benefit by bringing in customers who save money and may even feel a bit triumphant about it.

Coupons are really hot these days because times are tough economically. Coupon sites like Valpak offer a smorgasbord of promo codes that save customers an average of $15 per item. There is a generally positive attitude towards cellphone-based coupon marketing as well. As long as everyone remembers to buy what they need, and not make purchases just in order to get a discount, buyers and sellers can profit. Some may have discount thrills, and others like Cathy and Monica will have a fabulous business.

One new high tech discount system is offered by Google Offers Beta. It is geographically oriented and can be trained to look in specific areas for the types of products you’re interested in. Discounts on anything from haircuts to theatrical performances are available. One of the most fabulous offers in my area is 50% off a dolphin watching, catamaran trip. That’s a lot of fun for $11 per person.

These days, many others are joining Monica and Cathy in their use of coupons to get by. Since 2008, usage has increased by 35 percent. In 2011, 3.5 billion coupons were used by shoppers nationwide. Coupon bloggers have increased substantially too. They are also very influential in supermarket marketing. When bloggers post negative reviews of products, the effect can be immediate and devastating. So much so, that many supermarkets employ social media coordinators to create a positive social media impact for their business, by working with these bloggers.

It appears that hi-tech discounts and eCoupons (along with traditional coupons) are here to stay for a while. They have already become a traditional marketing mechanism.

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