published Friday, September 20th, 2013

Continuing coupons: Despite improving economy, coupon use seems here to stay

TIPS FOR SAVING

Kacey Trenum encourages consumers to find an efficient way to organize and store coupons.

"First and foremost, you have to find a system that is efficient for you," she says, noting that she uses the Whole Insert Filing Method. "You don't want to get overrun by coupons because it's an easy way to get discouraged and give up early in the game. Instead, experiment with a few different options for getting organized and decide which one is best for you."

Here are her organizing tips:

* Binder: You will need a 2-inch binder, plastic sheet protectors and labels. When you clip coupons, you will place them in the plastic inserts by categories. The categories will be divided up and listed on the labels. You can have various, labeled categories such as "Breakfast," "Frozen Foods," "Canned and Boxed," "Refrigerated," "Personal Items," etc. The clear sheets make coupons easy to see -- you can put several inside one sheet -- and keep them protected. The binder also is easy to carry in your car when you head to the store.

* File box: Use a small box such as a recipe box, but keep your coupons organized by category, just like in the binder. The file box is convenient, compact and easy, however, you'll only be able to see one coupon at a time.

* Whole insert: You'll need a file box and folders dated by the week inside. When you get coupons each week -- for instance, from inside your newspaper -- place them in the appropriate dated folder in the box. You can then easily locate coupons by date as you need them.

Kasey Trenum is a coupon guru. For good reason. Couponing helped her family survive a financial crisis, she says.

It was about eight years ago when Trenum, now 38, realized that using coupons allowed her to feed her family of four. She was a stay-at-home mom in Cleveland, Tenn., her husband had just lost his job, and they were trying to sell two houses they had built in years past to supplement their income with rent money.

"My family went through a very difficult season financially. So with three houses and no job, I had to find a way to save money. Couponing helped my family survive," she says.

While continuing her couponing ways today, Trenum also shares her knowledge with an international audience on Time2SaveWorkshops.com, a website she co-founded, as well as in her book, "Couponing For the Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More."

Couponing has been around for more than a century. Coca-Cola is believed to have issued the first coupon in 1887, one for a complimentary glass of Coke, says Meghan Heffernan of Savings.com. But it wasn't until the 1990s that coupons skyrocketed to popularity, she says. Since then, at least 3 million have been redeemed in the United States every year.

As would be expected, the use of coupons spiked when the economy started to tank years ago, she says, but it ushered in a new era in which shoppers are more educated about the ins and outs of coupons and use them more efficiently.

"The biggest spike in distribution and redemption came as a result of the poor economy in 2006. Even though the economy has picked up, this spike created a new type of consumer that is more savvy," Heffernan says. "Couponing is now a way of life. There has never been more coupons and better discounts. You should never purchase something without looking for a coupon first."

Trenum says her original source of coupons was from the Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Today, she continues clipping them from the newspaper but also grabs printable coupons from the Internet. And she, too, saw increased interest in coupons during the Great Recession.

"As a result of the economic climate of our country, many people have found that coupons are an incredible resource to save money," Trenum says. "Various research has shown that digital coupons and mobile apps are increasingly popular.

Smartphones have even gotten into the action with mobile apps such as The Coupon App, Valpak, SnipSnap and Yowza.

"Print is still very popular," Heffernan says, noting that 89 percent of coupons appear in print, in newspapers. "Valpak still directly mails coupons to over 40 million homes every month. Mobile apps such as the Valpak app and websites such as Savings.com are the fastest-growing channels.

In a recent study from Inmar, a digital technology company, more than two-thirds of shoppers said they'd use more coupons if they could easily find them online.

And it's not just people who are struggling to make ends meet who use them, Heffernan says.

"According to a 2011 study out of the University of Arizona, 61 percent of noncoupon users reported incomes of $35,000 or less, but a surprising 26 percent of coupon users were what researchers called 'coupon divas,' defined as high-earning (24 percent reported at least a $75,000 household income)," she says.

"Research has also shown that millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) are emerging as the best savers. A recent study revealed that 68 percent of millennials are searching for coupons on their mobileand are twice as likely to use the Internet to make a shopping list."

While folks used to get irritated if someone in line in front of them at the grocery store started pulling out lots of coupons, that attitude has changed, Trenum says.

"Several years ago, when I first got started couponing, it wasn't as popular is it is now," she says. "People behind me in line at the grocery store would follow me to my car and ask what happened to my grocery bill. They would usually share a story with me as to why they needed to save money. I began to ask for people's emails so I could share deals that I found.

"At the end of the day, it's not really about coupons, instead people are looking for hope in their finances."

Donna Morse of Ooltewah says she uses coupons at Publix on Wednesdays when they offer an additional 5 percent off for seniors. While she averages savings of around $20 each week, she says she saved $30 last Wednesday at Publix.

Trenum says she saves at least $1,000 each month using coupons.

"I look for ways to save money in every area of our life, whether that be grocery shopping, eating out, shopping, travel or entertainment," she explains. "When I combine all the ways we save money, it easily adds up to over $1,000 a month."

Novice coupon users tend to purchase coupon-friendly products they wouldn't ordinarily use, Trenum says, but that changes as people begin to get more familiar with couponing.

"After a while, you become more experienced and have a better understanding as to what your family uses," she says. "I don't buy items now that my family wouldn't ordinarily purchase unless I am buying just to give. Even when I bought items we didn't use, the amount of money that I was saving didn't compare to the small amount that I spent on things I wouldn't normally purchase."

Online sellers now offer promotional coupon cods, free shipping and exclusive sales, she says.

But even with the upsurge in coupon use, there will be items that you buy that won't have a coupon available, she says, so "I still purchase items without coupons."

And couponing isn't just for items your family uses, Trenum says, they also work when you're buying gifts, "not just at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but all year long."

Ultimately, though, coupons are just another way to save money, she says, and they don't have to be an "all or nothing" deal.

"I always like to stress to look beyond the transaction. It's not really about coupons," she says. "Whether you save 5 percent, 20 percent or 50 percent, you are still saving your family money."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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