WASHINGTON, DCBillions of dollars of coupon savings are wasted every year, and Americans are missing out on countless money-saving opportunities, according to a report issued by the federal Department Of Consumer Savings.
Despite the stagnating economy and the threat of inflation, Americans continue to pay full price for such items as salad dressing, conditioner, and laundry detergent. As a result, coupons cumulatively worth over $5.3 billion go unredeemed, a statistic that "concerned" DCS Secretary Edward Fellowes.
"Personal savings are down in fiscal 2005, primarily because Americans are unwilling to cash in on these amazing rebates," Fellowes said. "Simply purchasing any Boca-brand meatless product at a 75-cent discount could spur vast growth in other key economic areas such as cold-sore medication, halogen light bulbs, and the entire frozen-foods sector."
Although these coupons can easily be found in flyers tucked between the sections of a Sunday newspaper, in racks in front of retail stores, or even on the ground, the report revealed that as many as seven in 10 Americans have not redeemed a coupon in two years.
In a time in which personal debt is at a record high, Fellowes said that such financial lassitude is "America's shame."
"Twenty years ago, a 50-cent coupon for Mazola corn oil produced runs on supermarkets so large that rain checks had to be issued by the tens of thousands," Fellowes said. "Today, such a discount receives barely an acknowledgment from the public. Even two-thirds of all issued rain checks are unused."
The DCS report also connected the decline of take-home wages in the past five years to the public's reluctance to redeem a $1.50 rebate on Duracell AA-sized batteries in the fall of 1999.
To raise more awareness of the potential savings bonanzas available, the DCS has launched a campaign in which operatives hand coupons directly to consumers, often right in front of the establishment where they can be redeemed. The campaign, scheduled to last through the holiday season, will cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million, but the cost will be made up for as long as Americans use the coupons, Fellowes said.
"Brushing past the operatives or throwing their handouts in the trash only hurts the American consumer in the long run," Fellowes said. "After all, 30 cents off Downy fabric softener is 30 cents toward a new home."
Consumer advocacy groups such as the Foundation For Shoppers' Issues, however, contend that when it comes to coupon use, too many restrictions apply.
"There's a myriad of complications with coupon use," FSI spokesperson Leslie Frye said. "Certain coupons are not valid with other offers, and participation among stores may vary. Also, if consumers do not hurry, there is a significant risk that the coupons will reach their expiration dates."
Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appeared to side with the conclusions of the DCS report. A regular coupon clipper with a Sam's Club membership, Greenspan has warned against rash disregard of coupon use for years. In a statement reacting to the report's findings, he said that unless Americans start becoming "smart shoppers," families and possibly the country at large will experience a sharp economic downturn. He also called for retailers to offer more double-coupon days, and for coupon-issuing businesses to improve perforation standards, so coupons can be more easily separated from their promotional materials without tearing.
"Coupons need to be out of the kitchen drawer and into the cash register if this economy has any chance of turning around," Greenspan said. "I'd also like to draw particular attention to the recent two-for-$5 deal on all flavors of Doritos-brand chips, buy-two-get-one-free deals on Wizard air fresheners, and, perhaps most importantly, box-top proofs of purchase on many Betty Crocker products, which, when redeemed, raise funds for schools nationwide."
"Every little bit helps," Greenspan added.