2010: Huge Year for Coupons, Especially in the South

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Coupon usage records were set last year in the U.S., with 332 billion coupons redeemed for a total value of $3.7 billion. And according to one popular coupon website, the South is home to the most frugal consumers: Half of the top ten cities for coupon usage are in the South, with Atlanta owning bragging rights as the Most Frugal City of all.

Per Coupon Sherpa, a report from NCH Marketing announced that the 2010 numbers for coupons represent an increase in 21 billion coupons used, with a rise of $200 million in value, compared to 2009.

Even though the vast majority (nearly 88%) of coupons is the sort consumers must clip—from newspaper circulars and direct mail, typically—the rise of online coupons is especially noteworthy:

The availability of online coupons continued to grow last year, as marketers and users alike became more comfortable with this high-tech distribution method. NCH tracked a 37-percent increase in total digital coupon offers, the largest increase across all varieties of coupons.

Overall, consumers are more likely to use coupons, and use them regularly, than they did just a few years ago:

According to the report, consumer frugality also rose, with one-third of respondents saying they used more coupons in 2010 than the prior year. In fact, 78.3 percent of consumers said they regularly used coupons, up 14.7 share points from the start of the recession.

And which consumers are the kings and queens of couponing? By one account, Southerners are the biggest coupon fiends. Coupons.com announced its list of the Top 20 Most Frugal Cities of 2010, with Atlanta and Tampa holding the two top spots—as determined by the number (and dollar values) of coupons printed from the website by city residents. The average Atlanta resident printed more than $1,000 in coupons from the site last year, up from $531 in coupon savings in 2009.

Does this really mean that Atlanta is the most frugal city of all? Or does it mean that city residents are just more likely to use this one particular coupon website? Could be the latter. Nonetheless, some analysis from the website and one of its resident experts:

“Across the country Americans are incorporating couponing into their shopping routine to alleviate rising food costs and keep their grocery bill in check,” said Jeanette Pavini, Coupons.com household savings expert. “Especially in the South and Midwest, shoppers know how to keep their pennies in their pockets, racking up substantial savings throughout the year.”

The South is a mega-saver: more than one-third of the top 20 frugal cities are in the Southern region of the United States. In addition to Atlanta and Tampa, other Southland cities on the list include Charlotte (#6), Nashville (#7), Raleigh (#10), Oklahoma City (#13), Miami (#13) and Dallas (#14).

Interesting, but I have a quibble. To me, coupon usage doesn’t necessarily equate to frugality. Good old Yankee thrift starts with making due with what you have, not trying to get more at a discount. And when a coupon dupes you into buying stuff you don’t need and normally wouldn’t purchase, well, then you’re not being frugal at all.

Affluent Consumers Clip Coupons. Poor People? Not So Much