More people use savings from coupons to buy necessities, survey finds

I carefully organized my coupons and remembered to bring them with me when I went grocery shopping this week. My reward was about a 10 percent savings off my total bill, and I was pleased with that. A couple of years ago, I would have taken that savings and treated myself to a little something -- a gourmet coffee, lunch out at work. But now? That bit of savings translated to a few more groceries in the cart -- and, apparently, that's the new norm for a lot of people.

A survey released last week by coupon company RedPlum found that more than half of those who used coupons put their savings toward buying basic necessities. Another 26 percent of respondents said that they use the money they save to pay down debt.

They're not just saving chump change, either: Sixty-five percent said they save as much as $50 a week. Not a bad payback on an hour or so worth of time.

RedPlum's "Mom Saver-in-Chief" Lisa Reynolds, host of radio show "Viva La Value," says she saves about $30 per shopping trip by using coupons, and invests only about 20 minutes of time each week searching for savings. "You look for the categories you care most about," she suggested during an interview in New York. Before coupons, she used to spend about $500 per shopping trip on her family of four. Now? "About $325," she said. "It's all about choices."

Another trick is to be aware of what you buy and where you shop. "Big warehouse stores don't always make sense," she pointed out. "Canned goods may actually be better at the grocery store."

The RedPlum Purse String Study, which was based on information gathered from more than 16,000 participants, shows that people are more money conscious than ever. While so-called "coupon queens" may rack up some spectacular savings -- Kathy Spencer of How to Shop for Free says she ends up spending less than $10 a week to feed her family of six, including pets -- their techniques might not work for everyone. "I don't think most people can do that," Reynolds said.

But searching for coupon codes online and spending a few minutes paging through the circulars can make sense. "With about 20 minutes of work per week, you can save more than $1,000 a year," Reynolds pointed out. "Frugal isn't a bad thing any more."

September is National Coupon Month. Do you use coupons? What do you do with the money you save?

Lylah M. Alphonse blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. She's the managing editor of Work It, Mom!, where she writes about juggling career and family at The 36-Hour Day, and she writes about parenting issues for The Boston Globe. Follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

[Image: Thinkstock]

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