Is Couponing Still a Thing in 2023?Couponing is the act of searching for deals and steals on goods and services by cutting out ads (from newspapers and catalogs), searching for online promo codes, and sometimes even using extreme measures (like using expired coupons) to save money.
While the practice of couponing nowadays has an (unfair) label as a cheapskate’s habit, for some people, couponing is a practical way of life. It’s a fast and easy way to save money on groceries and bills while putting your hard-earned cash to use on something else—like saving up for a much-needed home renovation or your next family vacation. For others, it is a no-fail way to save a dollar or two on things you were already going to purchase.
In this article, we discuss why couponing is enjoying a resurgence in 2023, especially as inflation levels reach a 40-year high and necessities such as food and gas have never been more expensive.
With the Great Recession in the late 2000s which left millions of people out of work much longer and with much less financial assistance than they would receive during the pandemic recession a decade later; mainstream news outlets first started taking notice of people who turned saving money with coupons into a lifestyle. Reality TV soon noticed all the buzz and produced numerous shows focused primarily on extreme couponers. “Couponing” became a widely used verb courtesy of the reality show “Extreme Couponing,” which brought people into the practice with promises of stackable discounts that could bring the cost of a shopping cart’s worth of purchases close to zero.
That was the last time couponing became something of a national craze, with the practice waning as the economy began to pick up after 2010. But with the world emerging from a post-Covid19 pandemic economic standstill as well supply chain issues stemming from the Ukraine-Russia conflict contributing to the highest inflation rates in 40 years, it seems that we’re currently experiencing some extreme couponing déjà vu in 2023.
While it may seem like we’re on the cusp of history repeating itself, it also appears that a spate of recent news stories about couponing is being fueled either by those who are just discovering couponers on social media and don’t really remember the last time couponing exploded in popularity, or by those who are trying to make an old penny-pinching fad popular again.
Either way, based on the growing amount of media attention it has been getting recently at least, couponing seems to be cool again. But will it become as popular, or as profitable, as it once was?
Many couponers profiled in various recent news reports seem to think so and couponing is proving to be an irresistible hook for many news articles—like this one.
But while extreme couponers relied on stacks upon stacks of newspaper clippings in 2008—and later sharing deals on blogs, message boards and Facebook—today’s new generation of couponers is apparently turning to the newer online couponing platforms of YouTube and TikTok.
“The same audience that gravitated toward the TLC show ‘Extreme Couponing’ back in the 2010s now has an even more immediate outlet on TikTok,” Michigan’s MLive reported. “I actually take the TikTok in the store with me and I pause it so I see what item she grabs and then I grab it,” postal worker Holly Hansen said as she described how she learned to shop and save from her favorite how-to coupon TikToker.
While the preferred platform may change, the lure of big savings remains the same from the time of voluminous Sunday inserts. “If you’re not cutting your grocery bill in half, then you’re not doing something correctly,” couponer LaQuita Jones told Memphis, Tennessee’s WATN-TV. “Now is the perfect time for a lot of people to get into couponing and learn some of the techniques and tricks.”
Many people “think that they have to go hunt for a newspaper to get coupons,” couponer Karla Benavides told Huntsville, Alabama’s WZDX-TV. “They think they have to sit at a desk and cut thousands of coupons. It’s not like that anymore.”
Despite the rush of recent reports suggesting that extreme couponing is back, however; couponing is not nearly as popular as it once was in the late 2000s. Even with inflation at its current peak, the latest figures show that a nearly decade-long decline in the total number of coupons redeemed is showing no sign of reversing. In fact, fewer coupons were redeemed last year than at any time since the early 1960’s, long before digital coupons, “extreme couponing” or reality TV even existed. In 2021, Kantar Media estimated 168 billion circulated, across both print and digital formats. That was down from about 294 billion in 2015.
Coupon distribution is also down dramatically. So even if more shoppers do want to use coupons, there are far fewer coupons available for them to use. Furthermore, redemption rates declined to 0.5% of all print and digital coupons in 2020 from about 3.5% in the early 1980s, according to a paper by economists at Harvard University, Georgetown University and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
The economists see a larger phenomenon: Increasingly time-strapped consumers don’t want to deal with even small hassles to save a few dollars on cereal.
That may change, though, as a TV show featuring couponing that fits “the new technology of 2023” and bite-sized how-to videos on TikTok put a shiny new sheen on a tried-and-true savings strategy.
Due to the massive popularity of TikTok, couponing might actually be cool again – because no matter the technology or the times, saving money is one thing that never goes out of style.
So, if you’re looking to get in on the savings action in 2023, here are some up-to-date couponing strategies and mindsets you’ll want to keep in mind:
Make Sure You Need the Item
"The very purpose of coupons from the manufacturer's standpoint is to get you to buy their product. Make sure you're using coupons in a way that helps you get ahead," says Bri Bell, a registered dietitian in Toronto who is an avid couponer. "For example, getting a $5 item for only $1 after coupons sounds like a great deal. And it is, unless you don't end up using it. Then you just wasted that $1." In other words, just because you have a coupon for a product doesn't mean you should buy it if you don’t actually need it.
Use Reputable Coupon Websites, Apps and Blogs
Reputable coupon websites, apps and blogs such as Capital One Shopping, Rakuten, TheKrazyCouponLady.com, Hip2Save, Coupons.com, Honey, Ibotta, and Dosh make couponing not only conveniently t your fingertips, but are able to aggregate the best deals and organize them by filters such as by Store, Product Type, Price, Rewards, and more.
Stack Coupons on Top of Other Incentives
Bethany Hollars, the content director for the retail savings website BrickSeek.com, suggests being strategic and ambitious when couponing. "For the more extreme couponer, it's all about combining manufacturer coupons with store coupons, store sales and store rewards programs," she says. "Extreme couponers will only buy an item if they can stack these different ways of savings to bring the cost of an item down to pennies on the dollar."
Be Ready to Invest Time and Effort
Hollars points out that how much you save, “all depends on your level of involvement. With just a little bit of effort each week, you can easily expect to save $20 to $50 on your routine grocery shopping.”
Of course, what Hollars calls a little effort, you may decide is a lot. But the point is – if you work at it, you may accumulate some pretty significant savings. But if you just look for a coupon here and there, you may not end up saving so much.
“Consumers who commit to shopping at multiple retailers, studying the coupon policies of each store to learn how to best stack sales and coupons, stockpiling items that are a great deal, as well as those who regularly check coupon sites and are willing to download digital coupon and rebate apps on their phone, can save well over 50% to 75% on most household essentials and grocery staples,” Hollars says. “Extreme couponers like me can confirm that it’s actually possible to make money using coupons. The more time and effort you’re willing to put into the deal chase, the more profitable couponing will be for you.”
Get the Most Out of Couponing at the Grocery Store
Grocery shopping is where extreme couponing really comes into play. It’s smart to look for coupons when you’re shopping online for holiday gifts, clothing or anything else. But since you’re probably going inside the supermarket or on its website every week, and there are so many food manufacturing coupons that you may be able to take advantage of, if you’re really interested in extreme couponing in 2023 especially with inflationary prices on groceries, couponing at the supermarket will net you the best savings.
Teri Gault, a Los Angeles-based publicist, who wrote a couple of books on grocery shopping, including “Shop Smart, Save More” and who created the now-defunct website “The Grocery Game,” offers several tips for saving money on groceries:
Look at the store’s sales ads. You can find them in newspapers, but your grocery store should also have them. You might also want to try the website Flipp.com, where you’ll type in your ZIP code to find your local circulars.
Buy the limit. “If there is a limit to how many you can get at that sale price, such as ‘limit two,’ that's an indicator of a loss leader which tells you it's a stock-up item, so you don't have to pay full price later,” Gault says.
Combine digital coupons with paper coupons as much as possible. “That's called stacking coupons in the biz,” Gault says.
Download the supermarket app. Join your grocery store's loyalty program. “Some of the supermarket chains give away full-size free items on your next shopping trip,” Gault says. “It's all based on what you spend on your last shopping trip, but it's always free, except for the tax on non-foods.”
Look for paper coupons in your mailbox. Gault says paper coupons often turn up the day before the next sales week begins at your supermarket. This is also when store circulars hit your mailbox. You can even rummage through your neighbor’s junk mail trash for discarded inserts and circulars.
Unlike the recession of the late 2000s, couponing in 2023 isn’t just about clipping coupons. It’s about instilling smart shopping habits—a way to cope against all of the dispiriting inflation prices. Most importantly, it’s about saving money so that you can have some more to spend on other things and not be forced to deprive yourself or your family.