Reader Gripe: ‘Couponing Favors the Rich’

Question:

“I’ve read quite a few of your columns and have always wondered when or if you would address how financially poor people could save money as well as you are able to. To me, people who make $20,000 are doing pretty well. People making $50,000 on up are practically rich. Your column comes across as a joke to me. It’s apparently only for rich people who can get to a computer to be able to print coupons. I would love to see rich people go without their computers and cell phones for a month or two. You’re discriminating [against] those who are not able to afford a computer.”

Answer:

It’s never my intent to discriminate against anyone. The reason I initially became a Super-Couponing shopper was to help our family’s budget when our third child was on the way. I began sharing my methods via live Super-Couponing workshops and this column because I realized how many people’s lives changed when they learned to use coupons effectively.

To address your concerns, you do not need to own a computer to be a coupon shopper. Most of the coupons I use each week come directly from newspaper coupon inserts, not from the computer.

That said, computers and Internet access have forever changed the way people shop with coupons. Websites devoted to couponing abound. There are printable coupons, digital coupons that can be loaded to a shopper’s grocery store savings card and mobile coupons that can be loaded to smart phones. The information age has made coupon shopping easier than ever, with websites that provide shopping lists of the best bargains, matching newspaper coupons to the best sales and telling shoppers precisely when to use a particular coupon. Coupon forums and blogs, like mine at www.jillcataldo.com, buzz with shoppers sharing news of deals in real-time.

As a coupon columnist and instructor, I would be remiss not to discuss the tools available to shoppers online. According to the Census Bureau, 77.3 percent of households in the U.S. have Internet access. Add in the number of people who access the web at work and the number grows.

It’s true that Internet access dramatically reduces the time one needs to easily plan shopping trips to achieve maximum savings. And, as I’ve previously acknowledged, I do realize that not everyone has a computer at home. I know several coupon shoppers who cannot afford Internet access, but they take an hour a week to visit their public libraries, where access is free. There, they visit coupon websites to plan their shopping trips based on the current week’s sales and coupons they’ve printed. Yes, it takes longer than planning a shopping trip from the comfort of home, but they still swear by the time they save versus matching up coupons to sales on their own, without the help of the Internet.

I understand that hearing about all of the great coupon tools online would frustrate someone without Internet access. But the reality is that manufacturers and stores are ramping up coupon delivery over the Internet. Digital coupons continue to surge in popularity. Stores offer both printable and electronic coupons with increasing frequency, too. One major supermarket in my area offers a free product nearly every week (a 2-liter of soda, a cake mix, free produce items) but you must visit the store’s website to load each week’s electronic coupon to your shopper’s card.

Without a computer or Internet access, you can still effectively cut your grocery bill by matching coupons to sales, but it’s much more time-consuming. Instead of accessing websites that alert shoppers to the best time to buy, you’ll need to become a pro at learning and knowing the best prices for the products you buy throughout a store’s pricing cycle, then matching your newspaper coupons to them manually. I’ll discuss some of these methods in next week’s column.

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