Since When Does “Clipping Coupons” Mean You’re Poor?

by Darwin on December 28, 2009

In today’s economic environment, more and more people seem to be using – or at least talking about – coupons.  While we’ve used them for years (I dutifully pull them out of the weekly circular in our newspaper and store them in a designated spot for the next shopping trip), apparently, now people are “admitting their dark secret” or citing their use in jest in a self-deprecating manner with quotes like “Heck, I’m gonna start using coupons at this rate”.  While I’d heard this a couple times in various mediums, I saw it again in a DVRd mainstream show my wife and I watch (remember Happy Wife, Happy Life so cut me some slack, guys!) – Desperate Housewives.  In the episode, one of the main characters lost her job while the husband was pursuing a college degree so neither of them were working.  In a statement of desperation decrying their situation, she cried, “We’ve resorted to clipping coupons” and broke down crying.

What’s Up with the Portrayal of Coupons as Being Only for the Poor?

While this was just one more show, this type of attitude is portrayed commonly in pop media and it perplexes me.  I could see how perhaps there’s a stigma associated with using food stamps which require specific hardship qualifications, but coupons?  Why wouldn’t people use coupons?  The only somewhat logical explanation I’ve come across is that for the extremely affluent, the time required to clip coupons and selectively shop is beneath their pay grade.  I get that – if your assess hourly rate (however it is you value your personal time) is $500/hr and you’re going to save $30 for the 15 minutes it spends to clip coupons for the week, perhaps it’s not worth your time.  For the vast majority of us, saving $30 for 15 minutes of time ($120/hr) is a pretty darn good use of time.

It’s Actually the Affluent that Use Coupons!

Contrary to the pop culture message that if you use coupons, you’re poor, a major study as recently as 2009 from Neilson demonstrated the following:

  • More affluent consumers ($70k+) are considered super heavy coupon users (39 percent compared to 35 percent for total U.S. households) and coupon enthusiasts (42 percent compared to 35 percent for total U.S. households.)
  • Those likely to be low or non-coupon users: low-income, 1-member households, male-only head of households, African-Americans and Hispanic consumers, residents in rural and struggling urban areas.
  • Just under one-third (32 percent) of all U.S. households didn’t use any coupons during the first half of 2009.
  • The recession drove heavier coupon usage as lighter coupon users in 2008 became heavier users in 2009.

Evidently, there’s a disconnect between perception and reality.  The perception is that you should be embarrassed or ashamed to be using coupons.  If you do feel this way around people you know, and you’re not incredibly wealthy, you may want to question the company you keep – because the data show that they’re probably using coupons themselves and judging you for actually doing something rational and intelligent.  The reality is that those who are using coupons are likely well-off, not poor.  Perhaps it should be the other way around and coupon-clippers should be questioning why others aren’t coupon-clippers, right?

If you don’t get a weekly circular or subscribe to a newspaper, there are plenty of good coupons to be had online these days.  The most popular and user-friendly site I’ve come across is  You can print them for free use use them at tons of major retailers and for many major brands.

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1 FinanceDad December 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm

I’m just too lazy, I know I should do it, but I can’t. I guess I need to really start clipping them. Interesting stats to say the least though.

2 Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog December 31, 2009 at 12:20 pm

The results don’t totally surprise me. I’m big on using coupons and shopping sales, almost never pay regular price for anything.

On the other hand, people I know that complain about not having money always buy on impulse, constantly go out to dinner, have 20 pairs of shoes, etc.

3 January 2, 2010 at 6:37 pm

It is so foolish for people to not use coupons. I don’t advocate spending hours clipping coupons, but doing it now and then is a great way to save money.

4 Roger January 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I never understood the idea that only poor people use coupons; it seems to have roots in the idea that rich people never bother to do something as mundane as clipping coupons (or worrying about reducing their spending; that’s just for us non-rich folks). It seems pretty silly to me, but then, so are things like ‘Cribs’ and other shows that celebrate excessive and sometimes stupid spending.

5 Coupon Dad January 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I couldn’t agree more! Nothing embarrassing about getting the best price for the products your buying.

It is so easy to save 20% to 75% on groceries, clothes and just about everything with a little bit of time and learning the system. Collectively these are one of the top expenditures of families. Imagine the amount that can be saved.

6 The Krazy Coupon Lady May 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

What an awesome article! The stigma surrounding coupons baffling to me too! I feel like I’m living in bizarro world, where the people who are saving $500/month+ by using coupons are the “krazy” ones. I say the woman with the $180 cart load of groceries behind me is the krazy one!

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