Monday, August 07, 2006

Couponing and Refunding as a Hobby?!

Couponing and refunding can be acceptable hobbies and also a way to maximize the household grocery budget. I began using coupons and sending for refunds rather intensely (not simply using one or two coupons at the checkout lane) a few years ago. I have gone through many phases of using coupons, from excessively to moderately to just a few, depending on how my dietary habits were at the time. (Unfortunately, many items that coupons can be used for are for prepackaged foods that are not typically healthy options.)

Couponing can be a fun way to maximize grocery savings. Often, a shopper can get free or nearly free items when using coupons. There have been several regular occasions when I have saved a substantial portion off my checkout total. I once got over $90 of groceries for just under $20. It is somewhat odd to think of using coupons and sending for refunds as a hobby in the traditional sense of the word, but couponing is referred to as a hobby by the many shopping enthusiasts who spend their weekends clipping coupons, scanning store circulars, checking online forums to be alerted of possible sales, and strategizing ways to maximize coupon use.

Many national drug store chains allow shoppers to use a store-name coupon along with a manufacturer coupon. This maximizes savings for the shopper and is actually one of the reasons savvy shoppers find using coupons so enjoyable that they often refer to it as a hobby much like knitting or scrapbooking. Shoppers who use coupons frequently often meet informally with other shoppers to exchange coupons, offer advice, or plan large shopping trips. Now with the popularity of the internet, coupon users can accomplish these same goals all without leaving their homes. A coupon club is not much different than a book club: people with similar interests coming together to pursue something they all find enjoyable.

Sending for refunds is also something that most serious coupon users do. Shoppers who love using coupons also love when companies send checks to their mailboxes on a regular basis! Often a national drug store chain will offer a refund on an item at the same time the manufacturer offers the refund. If the drug store chain offers the opportunity to submit information from a receipt online, shoppers can send their receipts to the manufacturer. Not only do they receive reimbursement for the item they bought, but they end up with a profit! Refunding is so much fun for serious shoppers that they often send refund forms to individuals in other parts of the country where the refund forms might not be available. Coupon users in other states become penpals with one another. Coupon users also exchange full coupon inserts that accompany the Sunday paper to their coupon friends across the country simply to marvel at the different coupon selections in different parts of the country. Couponing becomes a mini analysis of geographic regions and the differences in store competition and economies. Every serious couponer knows which states typically do not offer double coupon savings.

Just as hobbyists and collectors scour flea markets for rare collectibles, couponers eagerly await the arrival of the Sunday newspaper. Sitting at the dining room table armed with java and a pair of scissors, couponers clip the manufacturer coupons that arrive with their newspaper subscription. One set of coupons is never enough. Couponers have friends and family members save their unused or unwanted coupon inserts so that they can get multiple deals. Some studies have shown that at least 70% of American households use coupons, but couponers often use 70 coupons on one trip to the grocery store. It is easy to spot a couponer in the grocery store too. We are the shoppers with a cart full of groceries and a stack of coupons to match. The internet has made it even easier to find coupons. Many websites allow shoppers to print coupons directly from their websites to be redeemed at local stores. Savvy couponers can easily tell you the exact rotation of sales at your local supermarket, because these sales occur following a predictable sequence.

Another other novelty of being a couponer is that it is a rare hobby that few people pursue. Many consumers use a few coupons, but few consumers use many coupons, and rarely do you see many people willing to plan entire shopping events around major sales. It is the coupon users who are dressed and out of the house by 6 a.m. on the day following Thanksgiving to take advantage of extraordinary sales at department stores. While the commitment may be time-consuming, the rewards are in the savings.

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