When It Comes to Coupons, Shoppers Prefer Paper, Survey Shows

Molly Blake

Sunday morning newspaper coupon clipping sounds antiquated in this age of "e" everything, but new research indicates it's happening more often than you think.

Sixty-three percent of U.S. credit and debit cardholders who use coupons when they shop said in a survey by that they find them in newspapers and other paper mailings.

A woman sorts through coupons while shopping in California, Md.
Astrid Riechen | Washington Post | Getty Images

Surprisingly even 18- to 24-year-olds, arguably the most mobile and tech savvy generation ever, use paper coupons more than twice as much as any other method.

Given how many online and mobile offers are available to consumers, this surprised senior industry analyst Matt Schulz.

"It's just the way it's been done for decades," said Schulz. "It can be a hard habit to break over time."

True. Tassie Irwin, 68, sits down and pours through the San Diego Union-Tribune on Sundays and clips relevant coupons. She'll even cut ones for diapers or baby wipes and share them with neighbors who have young children.

The retired real estate broker says it's easier to glance through the pile of paper coupons before she heads to the store so she keeps a stack in her kitchen, her office, and a few, like the large cardboard mailings from home goods stores, in her car just in case.

"I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to save money," said Irwin. "I grew up in a frugal household and I've carried that mentality my whole life."

Lauren Greutman, 34, came face to face with frugality in 2007 when she and her husband found themselves buried in crushing debt. Couponing became a way for her to maximize their food budget and put the savings towards bills.

But the author of "I Am That Lady" (as in she's the lady in front of you in the grocery store line with a heap of coupons) admits couponing is an art that comes with a steep learning curve.

"I eventually got good enough that our grocery bill went from $1,000 a month to $200," said Greutman. "But it does take some time, strategizing and meal planning to get efficient and effective."

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Companies like American Express and Visa want to capitalize on this — the survey showed 42 percent of credit and debit cardholders would prefer to have discounts automatically applied to their payment cards — to keep their customers loyal and happy.

"More banks and retailers are diving further into what can be done to integrate smart phones into the shopping experience while making it easy for the consumer to save," said Schulz.

As that happens, Americans — 85 percent of whom use a coupon at least occasionally — are eventually expected to shift away from paper coupon use.

"It's not going away anytime soon, but people will embrace electronic coupons more and more as the process becomes more seamless," said Schulz.

One retailer that's already made tech-couponing simple is Target. As Greutman explains she can score what she refers to as a quadruple-dip savings using a paper Target store coupon, Target's Cartwheel in-store app, a paper manufacturer's coupon and cash-back rebates or price adjustments from apps like Paribus.

She cautions amateur couponers, however, against falling into bad habits that include buying something just because you have a coupon or buying off-season items, again, just because.

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"You are not going to save on sunscreen in the winter with a coupon," said Greutman.

In the meantime, if clipping isn't your thing, Schulz encourages consumers to visit their credit card's website to see if there are any reward programs or offers, particularly as the holidays approach.

"Consumers shouldn't ignore these opportunities to save money and earn more rewards," Schulz added. "These can be great benefits people don't even know they have."