- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2006

All hail the bargain hunter, the cent saver. Here is the truth: More than three-quarters of us are coupon clippers. A full 76 percent of the nation has yielded to the siren call of that itty-bitty rectangle that causes big domestic jubilee:

Oh my gosh. Oh, honey, look. A $1.50-off coupon for those Dainty Puppy Meat Wafers with Microencapsulated Liver Bits. Give me the scissors, quick. Oh, honey, the dog will be so pleased.

And, of course, so will the coupon clipper. The humble coupon is one of the most satisfying bits of instant gratification left on the planet. Here and now, we get some hard cash shaved off the price of paper towels, maple syrup, engine additives, fancy ice cream, perfumed cat litter or some other item we have long coveted but sworn off in a moment of virtue.

Gee, nobody deserves the mix-in vanilla caramel coffee lightener/ self-squeezing mop head/mascara with arc-shaped comb because it’s too expensive/ too impractical/too trite.

Then along comes the coupon.

Huzzah. Yee-haw. Now we have an excuse to purchase some snappy little luxury — the microencapsulated, mix-in, self-squeezing stuff o’ our dreams — with our coupon as both permission slip and admission ticket. We stand guilt-free, proud and possibly even smug in the checkout line, knowing we’re making $1.50 as the meat-wafer coupon is scanned into the cash register.

Ah, it is a thing of beauty. We become the envy of all our friends — not to mention every dog in the neighborhood.

This is what the Promotion Marketing Association (PMA) calls “the deal-enjoyment factor.” Yes, we can add this to our list of modern mental conditions, but this one comes with an added bonus, otherwise known as the ka-ching factor. According to the New York-based consumer group, savvy Americans save $3 billion a year using coupons.

The Federal Trade Commission puts the figure even higher, at $4.7 billion.

It stands to reason, then, that the U.S. government also should engage in coupon-clipping as a nod toward fiscal conservatism. Just imagine the Joint Chiefs of Staff feeling groovy over in the Pentagon because Boeing just sent over a coupon for 15 percent off on our next order of F-22s. Maybe the White House would enjoy receiving a coupon from the Saudis for 50 cents off each barrel of oil we buy, or even a two-for-one deal on, say, our imports of strategic rare earth minerals.

Why, coupon-clipping could become a major new diplomatic protocol in which our leading diplomats sit together, snip out their savings chits, drink coffee and eat doughnuts.

“Ah, Mr. Bolton. We appreciate so much your kind 20-percent-off coupon on the wheat exports. Oh, and please pass the Entenmann’s.”

World leaders soon would pine to participate, what with all the coffee, doughnuts, constructive conversation and extra change jingling in all those treasuries. Presidents, premiers, queens — which leads us to another truth as well. The coupon thing is not — to use an alarming phrase — gender specific. Like sneaking ice cream or skipping out of work early, men and women coupon-clip on a similar footing.

Our friends at PMA inform us that 84 percent of all American females and 68 percent of all males use coupons they find in magazines, retail fliers and newspaper inserts. Coupons are also a common denominator between generations.

Seventy-one percent of those from age 25 to 41 use them, rising to 80 percent among the over-65 set. The experience is the same, though. We rifle through mailers or patiently cut out the 50-cent coupon from the macaroni box with glee.

No wonder. Coupon clipping is therapy. According to those statistics, 84 percent of coupon shoppers say “they feel they’re doing something good for their family,” a precious, easily accessible rarity in this day and age.

“You better believe it,” says a friend who has used so many coupons at Giant that the food-store chain has awarded her “Top Banana” status, mailing her coupons for new products along with little smiley banana seals to stick on her Giant Bonus Card.

“See? I got two of ‘em on there now,” she adds. “That makes me a general or something.”

Of course, coupons and their clipping are subject to abuse; online scams, fundraising frauds and the unsavory marketing and selling of coupons is on the rise. The Coupon Information Corp. — a nonprofit founded by a consortium of major manufacturers including Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Co. and Unilever — offers free advice to those who want their “deal-enjoyment factor” without getting bilked.

The online address is, appropriately, www.cents-off.com. The mailing address is P.O. Box 19315, Alexandria, VA 22320; the phone, 703/684-5307.

Now get those scissors ready. We hear that the Splendo-Kitty Scoopable Rose-Jasmine-Scented Powder-Fresh Cat Litter with Extra Baking Soda goes on sale at midnight.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and microencapsulated liver bits for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] washingtontimes or 202/636-3085.

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