By Katie Little, CNBC.com
Constance Atkinson, a 20-year veteran of couponing, estimates that she saves more than $1,000 per year by scouring the newspaper for deals.
Consumers redeemed 63 percent more coupons in 2011 as they increasingly looked online and used their smartphones …Atkinson, a Brooklyn resident, and other bargain-seeking consumers fueled a 63-percent surge in coupon redemption last year, according to new data from Coupons.org.
But the changing face of the coupon user may surprise you.
Households with incomes of $100,000 or more are twice as likely to coupon as those who earn less than $35,000. College-degree holders are also twice as likely to use coupons as those who did not graduate from high school.
Atkinson, who made a beeline for the CVS coupon dispenser during a recent trip to the drugstore in New York City, has grown so accustomed to using coupons that she has a hard time imagining paying retail at Macy's a department store that she frequents.
"It would be very difficult for me to do that unless I had to buy a gift," she said. "I would say nine out of 10 times, I would have a coupon."
Although coupon redemption is increasing, distribution by marketers is not. After two years of increased distribution, marketers of consumer packaged goods reduced coupon distribution by 7.5 percent last year, according to a report about the industry by Inmar.
Still, consumers are clipping their way to savings with renewed enthusiasm compared to before the recession.
"Shoppers continue to love coupons," said Bob Carter, president of Inmar Promotion Services. "With consumer confidence flat, unemployment rates still a challenge and prices for most consumables on the rise, it's now cool to be frugal - to shop smartly. And, coupons are the vehicle consumers are using to do just that."
Online and mobile access to coupons is helping to fuel this growth. Since before the recession, online coupon use has increased by 360 percent. One in five smartphone users used mobile coupons in 2011 - more than twice the percentage the year before.
Although smartphone and online coupon use is on the rise, Crystal Paine, who pens the blog MoneySavingMom.com, said her readers are often hesitant to download coupons and often do not own smartphones. Still, she is seeing mobile growth in the industry.
"Smartphone coupons are becoming more and more prevalent," she said. "I still feel like they have a lot of kinks to be worked out. A lot of the time, there are so many steps. A lot of people are hesitant because of all the steps involved - they would rather just clip a coupon or sign up for an e-mail newsletter."
First introduced to coupons by her mother, Paine began to rely on them more while her husband was in law school and their budget dropped to around $800 to $1,000 per month.
She began her blog in 2007 shortly before the recession began and interest in bargains began to take off. Although the economy has improved, Paine has noticed a shift in her readers' interests to applying frugality to all areas of their life and away from merely finding cents-off deals.
"There's still very much of an interest," she said about couponing. "There are a lot of people who are still struggling - who are still unemployed or underemployed."
Paine added that many consumers have experienced difficulty redeeming as many coupons as they did in the past due to the increased media spotlight around extreme deal seekers.
She said that shows such as TLC's Extreme Couponing, which profiled bargain hunters who can save hundreds of dollars during a single shopping trip, have caused some stores to crack down and change their policies.
For those consumers who choose to tighten their budgets with coupons, Paine recommends starting slow.
"Don't go out there and try to save 95 percent off your grocery bill," she said. "It's better to shave 1 to 2 percent off your budget every month than to go gung-ho with it and burnout."
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By Katie Little, CNBC.com