Kathy Seaton spends hours each weekend with the newspaper, her menu for the week and a sharp pair of scissors.
On Monday mornings, the Chickamauga, Ga., resident emerges and heads to Bi-Lo with a wad of clipped coupons in hand.
“It’s kind of fun, I mean, why not use a coupon,” Mrs. Seaton said. “If they are going to give you 50 cents off something, then that means I can go play or shop.”
Staff Photo by Kelly Wegel -- Barbara Jenkins, left, and Loretta Lawson, of St. Elmo, shop at the St. Elmo Bi-Lo. The women said the rising cost of food has been affecting them, and they have been buying less food, especially eggs, milk and coffee.
Mrs. Seaton, who regularly shops with 6-year-old daughter Lauren, takes advantage of Bi-Lo’s double coupon program, which allows customers to double manufacturer’s coupons up to 60 cents for $1.20 in savings. Bi-Lo’s specials and buy-one-get-one-free offers also bring her into the store frequently, she said.
As some grocery prices — and the cost of seemingly everything shipped in a gas-powered vehicle — continue to rise, consumers are more conscious of every penny they are spending and coupons are a great tool for saving, said Valerie Taylor, Frank Varallo associate professor of marketing in the College of Business at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Stores use coupons to build loyalty in shoppers like Mrs. Seaton, whose coupon clipping has become a part of her regular grocery buying routine.
“Grocery retailers regularly offer direct mail coupons to consumers,” Dr. Taylor said. “The objective of these promotions is to establish consumer buying patterns over time and keep consumers coming back to this store for their weekly grocery shopping, week after week.”
Stores could see even more benefit of that strategy as many people struggle to afford even everyday items.
About 12 percent of the customers at Bi-Lo use coupons regularly, said John Gianakas, vice president of brand marketing and sales planning for Bi-Lo. But only about 25 percent of those are heavy users of coupons, he said.
“We expect coupon use to increase over time. It just makes sense. Consumers are looking for any way to be able to offset the high price of gas and most of the things they are buying,” Mr. Gianakas said. “It’s a great opportunity for 88 percent of consumers to cut their grocery bill if they want to take the time and clip the coupons.”
Often that time involves visiting Web sites of manufacturers or of the stores themselves. In recent years, sites such as CouponMom.com have popped up linking consumers to deals and other sites where they can print out coupons.
Chattanooga student Kevin Burke posted a recent entry on his personal blog about saving money.
In his blog entry, Mr. Burke, a 23-year-old student and entrepreneur, writes about ways consumers can save money using coupon clipping sites such as MyClipper.com and a grocery shopping service offered by Amazon.com. The service sells bulk items and offers free shipping on orders over $25, according to Mr. Burke’s entry.
“With the economy — gas alone — everybody’s monthly expenses have increased and people are looking to save money any way they can and if they can find a way to save money they are going to do it,” he said. “You have to eat, it’s not something you are going to cut out.”
For Mrs. Seaton, the evenings she spends clipping coupons pay off in an average savings of about $40 to $50 on each trip to the grocery store and some of her friends save even more than that, she said.
“You just have to be smart about it, you have to spend time,” she said. “Sometimes you pay nothing for stuff — but you have to do a lot of work.”