A year ago I had my first experiences with cultural coupon clipping in the deep south when I was driving though Alabama. I mistakenly thought that the practice was rampant because the areas I was driving through were really poor. Gradually, as my trip continued I would find myself getting more and more antsy waiting in line at stores. People were always ahead of me presenting their coupons to the cashiers. And honestly it was worse than waiting for the beer & cigarettes people to buy lottery tickets at gas stations. These coupon clippers that I was experiencing seemed to slow everything up because they were just plain disorganized. If they were that slow on the draw in a poker game they’d be shot.
Anyway, one day during my trip I drove into a Hardees and what happened next really shocked me. Inside the restaurant out of the corner of my eye I saw a family come in through the side door and congregate at a table. The father was a good ol’ boy with a ball cap and he was using scissors to cut out coupons so he, his wife and 3 girls could eat. I overheard him say things like, “OK, here are your fries and drink… you can have this hamburger and take this one, that’s your Coke. I was memorized at what I was seeing. A few days after that at KFC I got stuck in line behind a woman who insisted that she be able to use her expired coupon. I waited 10 minutes before deciding to leave and eat somewhere else. I had to admire the woman for digging in like that but I couldn’t wait to get back up north where people weren’t slowing up my game as much.
The unmasking of a movement
Today, a year after my trip through Alabama, I did some normal grocery shopping at Publix and had an eye opening experience. During the checkout the cashier saw that I had 2 Liberte yogurts and remembered that the store had a coupon for them. After rummaging through her drawer she found the coupon and rang me up with one dollar in savings. Surprised at what had just happened, I confessed that I NEVER use coupons despite running a financial blog. As I said before, I hate to wait and I could never understand why buying 5 frozen spinach packs to get one free was worth anyone’s time.
Well, the Publix cashier set me straight and she also told me that if I go to their website, I could click through their coupon section to get even better deals. Then all I would have to do is go to the store to buy my stuff and the savings would automatically be calculated in. Folks, if you can believe it, my education didn’t end there. A minute later I was in the store’s eating area and began overhearing two millennial girls talking about using coupons! How they talked about it made me do a double take. It was as if buying things with coupons was a part of everyday life. All they had to do was go to Groupon.com and get what they needed for the day. It was a groundbreaking conversation that showed me how the young people of society are turning a traditional habit into something trendy.
When I saw that they were about to leave I reached out to them to find out more. One of them told me that her friend was in love with the coupon resource called “Living Social”. If her friend doesn’t find her coupon on that site, she just doesn’t buy anything. That goes for regular shopping, yoga classes or whatever. The two girls also tipped me off to retailmenot.com and gave me a cursory introduction to it on my computer. Like the other coupon sites, all you need to do is pick what you need and go. And with mobile devices, you can do your coupon picking on the fly as you venture across town.
I have to confess that today was the first time that I’ve been clued into how prevalent coupon usage is in the US. And how interesting it is that clever startups like Groupon are the driving force behind this phenomenon. Of course I’ve heard of the company a couple years ago when it was advertising for investors, but I never knew how far it had come since. My feeling is that the coupon craze is far from over. No doubt the folks down south have caught onto it and by this time next year, it should be entrenched up north. I believe I’ll be making a few lifestyle changes to tap into this new wave frugality. Taking my Android tablet with me during my shopping binges could actually help pay for it over time… and a whole lot more.