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The Power of the Coupon Compels You

This article was written by in Frugality. 30 comments.


My birthdate is public knowledge. I’ve entered it on credit card applications, brand loyalty program forms, and websites like Facebook. Computers all over the world know when my birthday is coming, and companies use this information to help fake a personal relationship. It’s not a bad approach, but it certainly is fake. No individual marketing employee knows or cares that my birthday is within the next few weeks, but when the date approaches I get emails thanking me for being a customer and a coupon to make me happy (that is, make me spend).

My responses to receiving these coupons vary. I have a favorite restaurant that I visit only once or twice a year. When I receive this annual coupon I save it and use it. Although I don’t shop at Best Buy often, surprisingly they occasionally have the best price for a product that interests me. I accumulate rewards at a 2% rate (on top of my credit card cash back) in the company’s loyalty program. When I get the rewards certificates, I make an effort to visit the store before they expire. I still don’t buy anything, though, unless it’s a good price.

I get a package of coupons in the mail every week for local vendors. I don’t bother looking through the envelope any more. I might have used a coupon from this package once in the many years I’ve been receiving them. I also get circulars for the local grocery store. Most of the time these are not coupons, just a catalog of the latest deals that I qualify for with my loyalty card.

Social coupons are the latest trend. I discussed Groupon recently, which changed their advertising campaign after the Super Bowl fiasco. (The company removed the controversial commercials from Youtube, but you can still find them.) Groupon negotiates discounts with retailers and then sends a promised number of customers. Often, the deal expires when a limit is reached, and sometimes, a deal might not be available unless a certain number of people sign up. Given Groupon’s popularity, that latter aspect may no longer be an issue.

LivingSocial is another social coupon service designed to help you spend your money. Through the power of social media, customers become advertisers. This company entered mainstream consciousness with a great half-price Amazon.com gift certificate deal — a $20 benefit for $10. If you’re wondering why so many of your friends were telling you about the deal on Facebook and Twitter, it’s because if three of their friends signed up using their link or reference, they got the $20 gift certificate for free. Once signing up for the coupon, you had the opportunity to advertise for LivingSocial as well.

I still haven’t used my full $20 gift certificate.

Coupons are designed as tools for saving money, but they often encourage you to spend money on something you might not have otherwise. This is why I’m very wary about spending significant amounts of time clipping coupons and comparison shopping between any number of local grocery stores. Time is valuable. Unless I could save a significant amount of money, it’s not worth the effort.

Do you feel compelled to use all the coupons, for loyalty or otherwise, that you receive in the mail, and will you take part in social couponing?

Photo: Lomo-Cam

Published or updated March 4, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

I only use coupons when I have already decided to purchase something I need and then search for coupons or deals on that specific product. I receive those local coupons as well and they go right in the garbage without even opening the package.

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avatar cubiclegeoff ♦896 (Dime)

I only use them if it’s for something I want and would do anyway. I use GroupOn because there have been good deals. I will not bother friends or family to sign up just to get a deal though.

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avatar Steve

I feel compelled to look through the local coupons, despite rarely using the ones I put aside. The only ones I do use are oil change coupons, but we get far more of those than we need. I also feel compelled to keep looking at groupon etc. despite only finding 5 or so coupons I chose to buy in maybe a year of seeing 5 or more a day. I got some good deals (for me, the Amazon deal was 10 free bucks, since we buy diapers there regularly) but probably not enough to give me a half decent hourly rate.

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avatar The Latter-day Saver ♦706 (Dime)

There is a reason that companies utilize coupons. They are a great form of advertising. They get people to spend money they might not spend otherwise. Most coupons do offer the purchaser value, but I prefer, like Flexo and the above poster to only use coupons on items I had planned on purchasing anyway.

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avatar Pat S.

I agree. My wife and I will certainly use coupons. They are like free money. But we wont purchase items just because they are on sale. That’s the opposite of saving…

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avatar Shellye

I am a serious couponer. I clip coupons from the Sunday paper and match them up with store coupons for even more savings. I only do this though, on products that I need and use. I regularly save 30% on my grocery bill. I love Groupon, and have recently purchased several Groupons, but again, only for things I’ll actually use. I used to be a couponer out of necessity, but now it’s become somewhat of a mental game for me to go into a grocery or drug store and see how little money I can spend on the stuff I need to get. I always try to be very organized and buy exactly what’s on the coupon so there’s no problems at the register. Shopping without coupons would feel weird to me.

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avatar Ridwan ♦295 (Nickel)

I’m the kind of coupon user companies hate. I’ll use the coupon for a purchase I would have made anyway, so they lose money, but I let coupons expire if I have no use for them. The $20 for $10 Amazon deal on LivingSocial is a great example. I buy almost everything online from Amazon, so it was just a $10 savings for me.

eBay’s “ebucks” or whatever they’re called, on the other hand, are useless. I buy maybe one or two things from eBay a year, so when they send me an “ebucks” certificate that expires in a month, I just shrug my shoulders. I’m not going to buy something on eBay just to redeem a $2 or $3 coupon.

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avatar Beth

My advice for anyone who is thinking about using coupons is to only get coupons for what you are already going to buy and ignore the rest. For online shopping, that means looking for promo codes after you decided what to purchase. For the grocery store, that means clipping coupons only for products your regularly buy. That way you get the advantage of the discounts without being sucked into buying things you would not have otherwise purchased. It takes a lot of discipline to effectively use coupons beyond that and most people do not have the time or commitment to achieve it.

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avatar emizar ♦329 (Nickel)

I use a large number of manufacturers coupons for groceries or household goods. I do find that the work involved in clipping and organizing is worth it, particularly since I generally take care of the task while enjoying a little TV time. I have grabbed a few Groupon and Livingsocial deals that were for items I had plans to purchase anyway. I bought half-price oil changes and 2 half price massages. A massage is the kind of splurge I generally don’t take on, but I snagged that deal because the email showed up just a week after my husband and I decided we would have massages for our birthdays. Many more Groupon deals have looked tempting, but I’ve managed to keep my participation with in reason so far.

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avatar Saidah@AProverbsWife.com

I use coupons on groceries and follow most of the well known group deal site. I have bought group deals for everything from Amazon to Blockbuster. I am very prudent in what I decide to spend my money on so I don’t feel compelled to buy things I don’t need even if a coupon is available unless it’s FREE. Whenever I find a great group deal I deal share it with my readers via my blog, Facebook & Twitter. The primary mission behind my blog is to help wives become good stewards especially over their finances. One of those ways I demonstrate that is by budgeting in advance for expenses. This allows them to feel free to spend money on deals they know there family will benefit from. Statically, women do over 75% of the households shopping, so it would seem a bit difficult to ignore coupons & deal sites which work to help us stretch our families budget. My husband doesn’t look at any coupons or deal sites but he always comes and asks me if I know about any good deals before he purchases most things. From time to time you can get things FREE when people you refer buy as well, but I feel like it’s a win-win.

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avatar Yana ♦218 (Cent)

I like mail and newspaper coupons, and my local grocery store’s website offers coupons and a free item each week with purchase. I don’t use that many coupons, and don’t buy something just because there is a coupon. Recently I got an e-mail regarding a Challenge butter coupon, but the company is apparently partnering with coupons dot com – a site that forces a software download in order to get the coupons. There is no need for that. So I have to assume there is some kind of tracking within the software. I will not download anything like that, because I know there is no reason for it, since I can print coupons directly from other sites like my local grocery store. I would have used the coupon when I need to get butter, if it brought the price down so that it was the cheapest butter. My concern is what the product is, not the brand.

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avatar Bobka ♦13 (Newbie)

I have used both Groupon and Living Social a few times because they have offered half-price or better deals on some things (like concert tickets) that normally aren’t discounted anywhere else. Those discounts are often substantial. I also routinely search for free shipping discounts and similar codes before making online purchases, again because they offer worthwhile savings. Grocery coupons, however, seem to be nothing more than an attempt to generate sales by offering practically nothing in return. Unless the coupon is for something we use regularly, most of them go immediately into the trash.

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

I have used Groupon in the past and enjoyed the savings & massage! I didn’t NEED a massage, but at the price it was I couldn’t resist. As for other coupons, I only use them for things I already get. I try not to fall into the ploy of spending more money to save a buck.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I’m very careful about the coupons I use. Also, I just stopped getting the print newspaper and not seeing the sale flyers has saved me money. No more, “oh, I have to grab that, it’s on sale.”

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avatar nimrodel ♦42 (Newbie)

I use coupons to make things I’m already going to buy cheaper. I don’t feel like I’ve ever felt pressured to buy something just because I had a coupon for it.

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avatar Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog

I sometimes give in to the coupons, although I make sure to ask myself if I have the coupon, would I be spending more. For instance, it’s not a savings of 10 bucks if you weren’t going to buy the item anyway. It’s actually a net loss of whatever the item ended up costing. I live in a small(er) city, and we dont have groupon or living social, so I dont participate in them.

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avatar Craig

Funny you mention this. My birthday just passed and I received a bunch of coupons and offers such as free shipping and discounts.

There is some compulsion to use a coupon if it’s something like x dollars of and I would shop there anyway. In general I’ll try to keep an eye out for a coupon if I know I’m shopping, like looking for BJ’s coupons before I head out.

The best b-day one has to be my free drink voucher from Starbucks.

I’ve used Groupon a few times and Living Social once. There are lots of great offers.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

I use the coupons that I get for my birthday (free food) but I haven’t used groupon and I only use coupons for things I need.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

It can be tough to resist a great deal on something that you don’t really need. I mean that is the whole point of them offering it right?

Nothing is sweeter than finding a great deal on something you are already planning on purchasing though.

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avatar gotr31 ♦224 (Cent)

Coupons are only a good deal if it is something you are going to buy anyway and if the price is reasonable. This applies to coupons for grocery items and sites like groupon.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I am an avid couponer and I do think about the trade off of time and money. But in the end I do think that the time is well spent. I make money for myself and have fun in the process. I heartily recommend it.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i take the time to look for and use coupons, but only for those items that i would be buying already. i am not sure i am the target the industry is looking for. as for living social, i got my certificate for free and still have not used it. free money is always the best.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

I’m the type of person who uses the coupon if it’s something I really want or if it will be free after coupons and sales and I know that someone will use it or I can donate it. I can afford to pay the taxes on something I’m donating anyway because I’ll get to claim it at the end of the year!

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avatar Financial Samurai

I haven’t used an online coupon yet…. partly b/c I don’t buy much, except for sporting stuff, which is not high priced enough, and is too specific to bother.

Happy b-day!

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avatar krantcents

Yes, Yes and Yes! I use coupons only if I need the product or service. I started using coupons for restaurants, you know pay a token amount for $25 coupon. I only use them at restaurants I frequent anyway. My credit card has a dining network that motivates me to try new restaurants to earn miles. So far it has worked out. Do coupons motivate me to spend? Yes, but I saved money on an expense I would made anyway.

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avatar MoneyIsTheRoot

Im not a big fan of social coupons, they certainly have a place, but I tend to find that most items that livingsocial and groupon offer are items that I wouldnt otherwise purchase unless I was receiving a steep discount…and even then I dont need the items, its not as practical as I would like. Id like to see more online coupons, and I see us trending that way, but we have a long ways to go still.

http://www.moneyistheroot.com (new Yakezie Challenge member!)

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avatar SavingMentor

No, I don’t often feel compelled to use coupons unless it for something that I tend to buy or do normally. Then if I happen to receive a good coupon for that item/service, then I DO feel compelled to use it.

For example, if I receive a good discount coupon for the cinema then I do feel compelled to go watch a movie even if I wasn’t planning to go right away because I do like going to the theater to watch movies. So in that regard, coupons can influence my spending happens a little bit – but I don’t really mind because I get something out of it that I enjoy.

However, most of the time like the others who have commented I seek out coupons when I need to make a specific purchase anyway and just clip coupons for products and services that I am going to use anyway.

I honestly wish we lived in a world where there were no coupons and everything was just reasonably priced – but I know that will never be so I take advantage of the game as much as I can.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I know all my friends are not into couponing or any of the sites such as groupon . So I refuse to be free advertising for them and hound my friends. I have told them and told them about how I save money using methods such as this. But if they express disinterest why keep hounding them? Their friendship is worth more to me than a $20.00 gift certificate.

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avatar rewards ♦31 (Newbie)

My wife and I use groupon mainly to try out things that we never would have otherwise (flying lessons, horseback riding, welding classes, cooking classes, etc.) It’s been a great way to find out about local adventures that we didn’t know were in our neighborhood. A great way to spend our fun money without breaking the bank.

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avatar dawgette ♦199 (Cent)

I use coupons for things that I purchase on a regular basis and if they are on sale. If you are using coupons just because you have them, most likely you are not getting the bang for your buck.

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