coupon stigma

Growing up we lived in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment, shared by 2 parents, 5 siblings, 2 turtles, 1 bird and an occasional fish. To describe our family as poor would be an understatement, but as kids we were oblivious to our financial situation. We thought everyone wore the same pair of shoes until their feet touched the pavement, and then traded them in for a raggedy hand-me-down pair that still had a good 3 weeks left in them before the soles completely blew out. We figured all kids held yard sales to earn enough money to feast on the gourmet cuisine at McDonald’s. We didn’t realize things came in brand names and that there were places besides Pic-N-Save that sold school clothes.

Being poor never affected our happiness. We couldn’t afford gymnastic and dance classes, so we choreographed and performed our own routines to Madonna’s Material Girl for the whole neighborhood to enjoy (that is if you could afford the hefty 5 cent cover charge). We never had money for the latest toys, so we created elaborate carnivals with games, “rides” and prizes. We wrote, directed and performed our own plays and even made up our own version of Mancala using old egg cartons and rocks, all the while unaware there was a struggle to put food on the table.

I knew my mother used coupons. As I got older and the reality of our financial situation was better understood, I began to resent those coupons. As I became more aware I was a “have-not,” I hated those coupons for how I believed they classified me. Coupon use defined social class. Coupons=poor.

When my mom would send us to the store a block from our apartment with a fistful of coupons and a pocketful of change, I would do everything in my power to conceal those coupons. After I carefully arranged my purchases for the cashier, I would scan the store for anyone I knew. I would not be caught using coupons for fear those coupons would label me. I swore to never use a coupon when I grew up.

Fast forward 20 years. Happily married with two kids and a comfortable life, I never clipped a coupon. The maturity of adulthood had wiped away the coupon stigma and the potential embarrassment was the farthest thing from my mind, but my non-coupon use had become a habit. I soon realized how ridiculous that non-coupon use was.

I was paying FULL price when I didn’t have to. If a company was willing to cut me a deal on their product and I chose to instead pay full price, well that doesn’t really make me the sharpest tool in the shed. I began  implementing coupon use in my life and never looked back.

Sadly, I think many people don’t recognize how smart couponers are.  Like I naively did as a child, too many people view those who use coupons as poor or lower class and actually look down on us, as if couponing is beneath them.

I am a proud coupon user. I am not poor, but who cares if I was. I am not lower class, but who cares if I was. It doesn’t matter what our social standing is or how much money we have in our bank accounts or what drives us to coupon. It makes no difference what side of the tracks we live on or what car we drive to the grocery store. As couponers we share something regardless of our differences: common sense.

When given the choice, we choose to pay less. We choose to save money. We choose to take control of what we are spending  at the grocery store. And contrary to what I believed as a child, that certainly doesn’t mean we’re poor. It means we’re brilliant!

Get started couponing here.


  • Becky FabFruGal


  • Amber, I love this article! In fact, with your permission, I would like to share it on my blog http://www.livinglifeonadime.com so those who read it might be inspired and know how important couponing can be in our lives! Let me know if that would be okay. Thanks!

  • Neva

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. I also used to believe that my family must be “poor” since we didn’t have all the things that other kids had. Then I grew up a little and realized that my parents had terrific credit and were financially solvent while kids who had more “stuff” had parents that were going bankrupt. New cars and brand-name clothes are flashy, healthy bank accounts are not. Things are not always what they seem!

  • Trisha

    Good for you. The sad thing is it’s still looked down upon by older people. I ran into an old neighbor mom that I grew up by while shopping at Winco. I had mentioned how I had just started couponing and getting stuff at amazing prices or FREE. The only comment I got from this lady and husband was… well, unfortunately some of you do have to do that. I knew I still wasn’t fond of that lady. She talked bad about me when I was little to my friends and she still hasn’t grown up. Some women will never grow out of their snotty upper class thoughts. It’s very sad.

  • Heather

    To me couponing has never been about being poor. I just love saving money so I have more to spend on things on I want to spend it on, like church donations or donating more food to food banks or shelters. I love that I can do more of that with couponing. Also, it’s nice to be able to afford the occasional dinner out with the hubby. I just ignore the stares, because those people don’t mean anything to me if they are judging me. Their thoughts are their own and I prefer to keep it that way.

  • Jan

    I also never equated couponing with being poor. And add to the “smart” column that figuring out all these deals and how to spend as little as possible out of pocket hones our math skills and keeps our brains sharp!

  • Jo

    LOVE IT !!! You are right ….. We are BRILLIANT. I also feel that a lot of people have no idea how much money you can save with coupons. Those people behind you in the register line, that are always in a hurry, and they get all uppity because they just can’t believe you would actually slow down the line by 2-5 minutes to save a dollar or 2. How wrong are they to think it is only a dollar or two! I love it when they actually do pay attention and watch my total go from $50 down to a dollar or two. Even if I only did save a dollar or two, it is my turn in the line and it is my money, and it is my right to use coupons if I want! I want to know where are they going in such a hurry all the time!

  • Seriously? I feel sad when I see people paying full price. (been known to hand out coupons in store :P)

  • Rebecca

    They actually say that the modern couponers are usually middle or upper class people, who have attended at least some college. At least that’s what the news stations are reporting. It just shows that we are the brilliant ones :o)

    • TLH

      How lucky you are. I am a couponer, but I am not middle or upper class and I did not attend college. So, I guess I am not brilliant. I am just one of the poor stupid people that need to coupon to make ends meet.

      • SJL

        I don’t think the idea is that you have to be of upper or middle class or college educated – it’s those people who make up a majority of today’s couponers. Negative talk isn’t going to change your situation. Most of us out here love (and need) to save money–we do it by being positive and sharing our finds with one another. Keep on couponin’!

      • Lindsey

        Wow. You must have read that post completely different than me. She never said that she herself went to college, she said that is what news stations are reporting. I think your post was completely unneccesary. Anyone who chooses to coupon is brilliant in my eyes. Great, positive post Rebecca!!

      • Ami

        I hate the whole “class” discussion. I admit I was a little irritated by that mention in the original post. BUT the more important point, in my opinion, is……….applied knowledge is power. when folks (rich, poor, PhD’s, HS dropouts, etc) know more they can do different and have more choices. TLH how can you say you are “stupid”- you are a couponer! couponers aren’t stupid. They are organized, patient, creative individuals who know how to stretch a dollar. It doesn’t take much genius to pay full price for something BUT to get that same item for FREE or almost FREE…..now that’s GENIUS! Most folks I encounter who have a negative reaction to coupons simply don’t understand the monetary power of coupons.

  • NM

    we are well off. before I saw couponing on tv, i knew nothing about it. i used to spend A THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH on food and eating out. i didn’t know i was spending that at all, until i added it up after seeing couponing on tv and i was like ENOUGH!!! no more that has to stop, it’s just rediculous. AND THAT WAS SHOPPING SALES AND “BARGAINS” and that was for TWO FRICKIN PEOPLE!!! as I type this it just sounds insanely rediculous. I was like “I’m NOT paying that any more”.

    We just bought a new car and I wasn’t sure how tight things would be and the couponing show came out of the sky with like a message from the goddess above.

    I’ve only been couponing a month and a half. This week alone I got $450 worth of items for $79.00 <<hey, i like math a lot so I've picked this stuff up well.

    I am SOOOOOOOOO thrilled to not be spending a thousand dollars a month on groceries, household and eating out ANYMORE, and I really don't give a *$(# who think's i'm poor or whatnot. If you're a confident person and you care about yourself and your family, you shouldn't care who looks down on you or what others think. THEY DON'T KNOW U. Smile and coupon on people!

  • It’s a choice… I choose to save money too!

  • KD

    Once I tried to pass out a coupon to a woman who wouldn’t take it. She looked at me like I was crazy. (My husband did point out I was a perfect stranger handing her a coupon for tampons. Hehehe.) I want to shake her and scream, “This is like I’m giving you a dollar. You want to spend a dollar more for those tampons? Free money woman!”

    P.S. This has not stopped me from handing out coupons to total strangers in the store. I can’t stand watching anyone pay more than they have to!

  • Nickie

    I didn’t realize so many people felt the same way I do. My husband has a wondeful corparate job and makes more money then we really need. With 2 kids, most of it goes to college funds and future needs. Before couponing I would hit up Costco and spend about $300-$400 a visit because I could and wanted to try everything they were offering. Now that I am a couponer I go to Costco about once a month and spend SOOO much less. There are times that I really don’t need to be there at all. I have to say that I am addicted to couponing and saving money. My husband is so proud of me when I get home to show him how much I have saved and then gives me a hug when I tell him the looks I got from people and checkers as I am paying with a handful of coupons. All in all it is worth it.

    I don’t need to use coupons, I want to use coupons.
    Thank you to people like you (FabFruGals) that opened up a whole new world of couponing to me!

  • FrugalMT

    I too have started couponing a little over a month ago. I associate couponing with being smart enough to get the best deal possible and make your money work for you. For a family of 4 i’ve spent a little over $200 in 5 weeks on what would have cost me well over $700. I have 3x as much food, oral care, & cleaning supplies than I would have, my average weekly cost is the same – just more for my money and i’m loving it. Now to figure out how to make it work for my sister in rural rural mt with out internet or sunday paper delivery. Might have to stockpile for her and deliver occassionally 🙂

    Smart & Happy MT Couponneer

  • Susan

    Mavis — well said. It’s a choice, and I choose to not pay full retail price for most things. I went many years without realizing how easy it really is once you figure it out and find a system that works for you. Once I saw the light, there was no going back. Now it’s just my lifestyle, and I don’t care what anyone thinks.

    I once tried to give a coupon to a woman in a store and was berated for it. For cheese, not tampons, but still. 🙂 So now I am much more cautious about doing that. But still I continue to give coupons I won’t be using to someone in a store who is buying those items, every now and then, and usually it’s appreciated. I only got my head bitten off the one time. “I wouldn’t be caught dead using a coupon!!!” she hollered. Sorry lady, I was only trying to be nice. Okay alrighty then, I’ll just leave the coupon on the shelf for someone else.

  • D

    I don’t HAVE to coupon. I like doing it because it’s a game to me and it’s a lot of fun finding great deals. I have a Bachelor’s degree and my husband recently obtained his Master’s. He encourages my couponing because it just makes sense! I’ve only been doing it for a month now and I’ve never noticed looks because I’m too busy making sure my coupons are scanning correctly. I can see why some people would be offended if they were offered coupons in-store or even told about the process. There is that stigma, unfortunately. I don’t think a lot of people “get it” so they don’t realize how much they could be saving. It’s not just 50 cents here and 75 cents there. It’s strategic shopping. Oh well. Not my problem 🙂

  • Nancy

    Thanks for your story. I recently found your website because I want to get into couponing. Im trying to figure it all out and so Im reading alot of info. Now I just have to figure out where to start. lol Between the price of gas going up,up up and the price of food, going up and my husband now works less hours I really need a way to help our less money go further!!

  • Sara

    This is awesome. Well written. Thanks for sharing, amber.

  • Jaime

    I watched a news show, probably in the last year, and this guy was talking about who uses coupons. He said it isn’t the poor but the majority of those who use coupons, from his research, made 75, 000/ year or more. I don’t remember who the guy was but I think it is the people who make something happen when something seems impossible, like saving loads of money at the grocery store. Those are the couponers-we make it happen.

  • Penny

    What a touching story! Thanks so much for sharing it. I can definitely relate to some of those feelings and I appreciate you pointing out that couponing really shouldn’t be looked down upon. Sometimes I am embarrassed to hand the cashier my fistful of coupons and feel like everyone behind me is looking at me weird, but it is actually really smart – like getting cash in the newspaper each week!

  • What a great article!
    There are still people that give me looks when I am shopping with my coupons or hand them over to the cashier. There is still a great stigma on using coupons. I hope that as it becomes more common place, the stigma will be lifted.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Christine

    Growing up, my mom always used coupons. We were upper middle class and it never occurred to me that people would think of someone as being poor or “less than” for using coupons. I’ve always viewed non-couponers with some curiosity. Why *wouldn’t* you use them?? No one except a very small handful of people have unlimited funds, so there is always another use for the money you save, if for nothing else than to put it aside as additional retirement funds.

    I was in Albertsons on Saturday when they were giving away the free Sun Drop soda and my store was also including A&W, Sunkinst and 7up and telling customers they could have as many as they wanted. You should have seen the reactions of people. What?? Free?? Why?? You’d have thought they were giving away free diamond rings by the looks on peoples’ faces. It was great to get some free soda, but as a “coupon queen” since 1998, I get free things all the time. I thought to myself, do you guys know the store is using a *gasp* COUPON to give you that free??

  • Great post! I was raised the same way ….. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • TT

    Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that no matter what is or isn’t in our pocket book we can still show that we are intelligent people by how we “manage” those pennies! I am so glad that I came across the “fad” of couponing and that it has made me a MORE brilliant person despite the hard times that come into life. I am so glad that I can share my knowledge with my friends and family. Thank you again for this post. No matter the definition of poor-we can still prove brilliance!

  • Kelly

    We just started using coupons in January, before that we were spending about $75 a week for the bare essentials, and about $100 a week eating out. Now we are spending about $50 a week for 5x the food. In the last 5 or 6 weeks we have amassed so much food for so much less that we haven’t even wanted to eat out and if we do we feel like we are paying way too much. Our coupon shopping has even brought us to the point where we had to buy another freezer for all the food (We got the one with the Dent on it and asked for a discount from the marked price of course.) It is very comforting knowing that you have enough food in the house if something happens and you can live for a few weeks off of the supply of food on hand.

  • Christina

    Very well stated!

  • elisabeth

    My mother was single when my brother & I were little. She worked three jobs and still didn’t have enough money for things. I went on a performance with our school’s glee club when I was in 3rd grade and we were supposed to all wear white pants. I didn’t have white pants and knew my mom couldn’t afford them so I never told her. I showed up in the closest color to white I had, which was lime green! With my young mind, I thought it would be alright, but my glee teacher freaked out and at first told me (in front of the whole class) that I wouldn’t be able to go with them! I explained the situation to her and she decided I could go but she would hid my pants by putting me in the back row of students. This was a very embarrasing moment for me. My mom didn’t coupon because there wasn’t the internet to help out. She didn’t have time amongst her three jobs. I comment her for her efforts in how she made it through all that hard time. But now as a single mother of three boys, I coupon because I don’t want my kids to go through embarrassing moments like that. If it weren’t for couponing, I wouldn’t be able to keep extras like cable, internet, toys, & such. I did go to college but I choose to be a stay-at-home mom even though I am single. I want to be there for my kids, not raising them in daycares and paying someone else to be there when their own mother should be. But in order to do that, I work from home, freelancing everything I can think of to give me that liberty. Couponing helps that much more! We may not be rich, but at least my kids won’t have to show up in lime green pants!!

  • Full Price? NEVER! {Heather}

    I posted the same message a few weeks back http://fullpricenever.blogspot.com/2011/02/daily-money-saving-tidbit-its-cool-to.html . In my book, anyone who saves money where they can is smart!

    Thanks for sharing your story. It helps others see that there is a way to better yourself no matter where you came from or what your situation is.

  • lindsay

    First of all I loved the post, I also grew up with a single mom so I also understand financial struggles. I coupon I guess because it helps our budget so much and because I have gotten such a nice stockpile and a feeling of security, that if prices skyrocket, or a disaster or my husband looses his job or something we will be ok because we are prepared. I do have a few friends that say I never use any of that stuff that there are coupons for, or I dont feed my kids that kind of food (basically saying we eat much better than that) I get a little frustrated because really you can coupon for almost everything you need. Then I realized I dont have to take offense couponing isn’t for everyone (really who wouldn’t want to save money) but I dont have to convert anyone, I am super willing to share if anyone around me is interested but no worries if they want to keep spending hundreds, I love couponing and it really has changed the way I shop for everything!
    A side note, my husband and I have degrees but I have never associated that with couponing but maybe a lot of poor dont coupon because they use goverment assistant, i am not trying to be offensive I just thought of that maybe that is one reason the news people, or whoever reports these things, say that the middle class coupon more, I am not an expert though.

    • elisabeth

      Ah, good point about the government assistance. You may be on to something there. If you get plenty for groceries, you probably wouldn’t find the need to coupon. Again, no offense, I have been on food stamps before, It just makes a little sense that someone wouldn’t feel like spending a few hours a week on couponing if their groceries are already free. Lindsey, insightful!

      • Dina

        I can see how that would be true for groceries, but Food Stamps don’t cover nonfood items. Oh, how they could benefit from coupons there!

  • Angel

    AMEN SISTER!!!! I grew up oblivious to brand names, and cool toys when I was a kid. Somehow (with God’s help of course) my mom raised my brother and I up without much, but it always seemed like we had more than what we should have. We found nice clothes at our thrift store (still my favorite place to go) that made us look like we spent more than what we had. We didn’t grow up without food and things like that, but my mom is a serious bargain hunter and she is still great at it.

    Funny, my friend and I were just talking about something like this today. She and I agreed that even if our husband’s won the lottery…. we would still coupon! 🙂

    I absolutely love this article! Thanks for the support. It’s nice to keep a positive outlook when other people shun you for the very idea of using coupons.

  • Chelsie

    Thanks for posting this! My life looked similar to to yours growing up (I’m the oldest of 5) but my mom didn’t coupon. She did other things to save money, including canning, buying used, gardening, etc, but my parents may have had an easier time of it if she had couponed. I am a happy couponer myself, after having been turned on to it by a friend. I love saving money, and finding a great deal. It gives me a thrill!

  • Katherina @ Zephyr Runs

    Love it!!! I don’t coupon (tbh because I don’t have a printer) but am frugal in every other way. It’s difficult because I get so excited when I get to talk about it because I think saving money is awesome, but my boyfriend and I definitely have a “cheap” stigma with our friends that’s totally unfair. They’re silly for wasting money 😛

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  • Wendy

    I’ve started couponing again after 18 years of not doing it. After having been un-employed for 10 months I’m busy re-building up our 1 year supply of food storage. I’ve even been able to donate some free food items to the local food bank. My husband had to go on long term medical disability 5 years ago and our income dropped by 1/3 (you would have thought that would be enough to wake me up to using coupons again). In one year he will be going on medicare and full retirement, I’m trying to prepare for our income to drop yet again by doing all that I can by learning how to shop the sales and using coupons. Thankfully I have a job now. Just discovered your blog today, love it.

  • Kristen

    I went to law school and live in a $1.2 million home, and I love couponing!!! Anytime I can save money I will. I brag about it to all of my friends. They think I am crazy but there is no shame!! If you pay retail you are a fool!! The deals have gotten worse since I started one year ago, but I still am able to find some good ones. To me it is like a treasure hunt. I love hearing that single moms are able to help out their kids with couponing. All kids deserve to have the necessities of life and a few luxuries once in a while.

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