Monday, July 6, 2009

Hunting and gathering, recession style

We bought two $1.59 packages of hot dogs on sale for 97 cents this weekend, but got an even better deal. We used a manufacturer's coupon that knocked $1 off the purchase price of the two packages as well.

Ms. Ktnomics and I have always been coupon clippers. At first we had to, in order to stretch the princely $150a month that the U.S. Army paid back when. We continued because it became fun on those semi-frequent times when the subsequent savings were larger than what we paid the checkout clerk. Now, we're flirting with have to again.

So apparently is more of America, reports Anna Vander Broek at Coupon redemptions, which it a 2.6 billion milestone last year, are running between 17 percent and 50 percent ahead of a year ago, depending on whose data base you check. KFC has even become the target of a class action suit filed on behalf of disappointed consumers who weren't able to redeem Oprah coupons for free chicken recently.

Most of us use traditional strategies for piling up coupon savings. We look for offers on stuff we buy anyway and clip them either from papers, magazines or online sources. Then we wait for sales on the stuff we want to buy with them to make our money go as far as possible. Sometime we wait a while. I've got fistfuls of old no-expiration-date Wheaties coupons celebrating Mary Lou Retton's Olympic success.

Some of us go further, which alarms the industry when fraud is involved. The industry-funded nonprofit watchdog Coupon Information Corp. reports there were only two coupon fraud cases prosecuted in the U.S. between 1986 and 2001. There have been maybe 93 in the last 18 months now that the stakes are higher and higher-quality and vastly more affordable computer printers are available.

Authorities don't know how much money coupon scammers actually make. But they allege that one group, indicted in a recent major bust in Milwaukee, stole at least $250 million in the last decade. So bear with me if you're behind me in at the checkout and I'm trying to convince a kid at the register that my 25-year-old Mary Lou Retton coupon with no bar codes is legit. It may take a few minutes.

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