Article Image

Coupon users save about $2.6 billion annually, according to Promotion Marketing Association research. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s comfortable repute hasn’t kept its residents from joining the 89 percent of Americans who said, in a poll by the Promotion Marketing Association’s Coupon Council, that they save by clipping coupons.

The statistic is up from the 2003 poll, which reported that 77 percent are using coupons.

PMA Coupon Council co-chairman Matthew Tilley said that in 2008, “CPG marketers haven’t really changed the number of coupons available, therefore consumer redemption is steady with last year. That’s a significant change because until last year, we saw 15 years of declining coupon redemption in the U.S.”

Consumers have only begun to cash in on the multibillion-dollar pot they’ve let lie for many years — .007 percent of the more than $350 billion in savings manufacturers offer per year. According to PMA research, coupon users save about $2.6 billion annually.

Local sources say the unpredictable economy has, predictably, created a more thrifty Santa Barbara consumer group.

“We’ve already had way more calls to order than in the past,” said Karim Kaderali, president of discount membership program Santa Barbara Axxess. “I think that proves our theory that, on the consumer side, people are being more resourceful. At least a dozen new schools have come on to fundraise.”

Local businesses, Kaderali says, also have begun to adapt marketing strategies to keep clientele from falling away. “We’ve seen more business owners step up and call us,” he said. “Tourism is down, there’s less traffic on State Street. They’re realizing they can’t discount the local customers.”

Judy Light, the local representative for Clipper Magazine, said she has received reports from advertisers on a surprising new demographic of wealthy coupon users.

“This is a national trend,” Light said of the increase in discount shoppers. “The most striking comment I got was from Ian’s Tires. They are seeing people from Hope Ranch who would never think of using a coupon coming in with $40-off discounts.”

Ian’s Tire and Auto Repair Shop owner Ian Miller said he is seeing more coupons coming in now than ever before, even from higher-income patrons.

Article Image

Maxwell Moore reads up on Santa Barbara Axxess, a discount membership program. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

“I’ve spoken with people who never in the past flipped through (a coupon magazine),” Light said. “Now they understand it’s a tangible real value.”

Many savings nowadays don’t need to be clipped at all. Web sites such as Naughty Codes and Coupon Mountain provide promotional codes for online shopping.

David Vo of Santa Barbara said coupon-clipping brings to mind “housewives who spend like three hours each Sunday clipping coupons and doubling up with bonuses.”

“I don’t do any of that,” Vo said. “I do use coupons online whenever I get a chance. It doesn’t take much extra effort to cut and paste in a code.”

Kaderali says that through talking to consumers he has noticed an increase in VONS (Club) Card and AAA membership discount use. “People are being more aggressive about shopping wisely,” he said. 

Sean Harwin of Santa Barbara says the economy hasn’t changed his eye for good deals. “I’ve always been more thrifty, and I really enjoy coupons,” he said. “I get a smile on my face when I put in my VONS card and get $40 or $50 back.”
VONS recently echoed Ralphs and restricted its double coupon policy, capping it at $1 in savings. Montecito VONS supervisor Tim Patterson said that despite signs alerting customers of the new limit, he has heard a few negative comments. Patterson said he has noticed a slight increase in coupon use overall.

Most small businesses looking to advertise discounts turn to a collective publication to do the work. In the end, Kaderali says, savvy owners aren’t taking on advertising by themselves because “it’s too costly” and not as efficient.

With tourism down and food prices up, however, Light says she has seen a restaurant client forced to remove their posting because they had to pay for food.

“It’s other than people who absolutely need it,” Light said. “Everybody feels it — friends from all walks of life, no matter how much they have; they are concerned about the economy.” 

As the Kinks lamented in their 1979 hit “Low Budget”:

“Circumstance has forced my hand
To be a cut price person in a low budget land
Times are hard but we’ll all survive
I just got to learn to economize”

Whether online, through a membership or clipping coupons, it seems this is exactly what Santa Barbara County residents are doing these days.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at