Why don’t minorities use coupons?


You see, it’s because no one talks to me that I assume no one is talking to me. It’s a vicious circle. I rarely get “opened” by strangers. Perhaps it’s my inadvertent “no trespassing” mannerisms that scare people off. When I hear a stranger speaking in my immediate vicinity, the last person I expect the talking to be directed at is me. Turns out, today I went to the store to pick up some items because I had a host of coupons that are expiring tomorrow. I’m a coupon hound. I wouldn’t call myself “extreme,” but I do indulge in coupon clipping with a degree of unusual devotion. Coupons frequently expire on the last day of the month and I usually try to round up and use those set to expire in one fell swoop in a last-ditch, end of the month shopping putsch. I was off work today and I imagined a Wednesday afternoon is as good a time as any to shop if you really don’t care to be around groups of shoppers.


So I heard a woman in line behind me say something in Spanish as I paid the cashier. Naturally I didn’t assume she was speaking to me so I tuned her out completely as is my custom. She repeated the question, more insistently, and this time I looked. She was a middle-aged dark stout Mexican woman and I didn’t hear her complete question but I did make out a couple of snippets. “Donde and “cupones” with a “?” inflection. Ah! My spoken Spanish skills suck and it takes me a long time to recall proper words and usage so it wasn’t until I was walking back to my car that the word struck me, too late (periodico). I had just told her, in English, “the newspaper,” and she understood. She had asked me where I got the coupons. Evidently she was impressed by my vast discount savings!



Obviously I’m being facetious. A 17% coupon savings is nice but not as much as some of those lunatic coupon junkies you see on television. I use coupons and treasure the small savings I gather here and there and over time. I’ve had many occasions where I saved more. Couponing is something I “discovered” since the economy took a dive in 2008. I learned many, many ways to save money which I instituted with fanatical (some would say sick) devotion since. There were a few moments back then when the well-being of my job seemed a tad precarious, but things have gotten better. Still, my penny-pinching ways became an integral part of my allure and I partake in many avenues of personal austerity measures. Coupons are a habit I’ve taken up and rather enjoy. Couponing is not purely an act of saving money, not if you’re honest with yourself. It is a very nerdy activity. Shuffling through store aisles and planting yourself in front of displays excitedly while you rifle through your coupon holder is not the penultimate definition of style or hotness. I don’t care. Typically, you don’t expect men to coupon, but shockingly, 48% of coupon cutters are men.


Another thing I’ve noticed is that you rarely see Hispanic couponers at many of the stores in East L.A. The fact the lady had to ask me where to find coupons illustrates this quite well. Even in many of the middle class Hispanic neighborhoods, you don’t see a lot of Hispanics using coupons. This is one of my unofficial obersvations, and apparently there is survey data to back up this assertion. Marketing surveys show that African-Americans and Hispanics are predominantly non- and low-users of coupons, while White households account for almost 80% of heavy coupon usage. More counter-intuitive is the fact that affluent households are more likely to be heavy users of coupons. The driving motivation for coupon usage appears to be “saving money” as opposed to “eeking out” survival. One theory (and they are scattered all over the place) is that those who are indeed eeking out survival are more likely to use government assistance and are therefor unlikely to devote much effort into saving money (why save money when it’s not even yours? This is an extension of the principle that renters degrade the value of a neighborhood because of their lack of personal pride/ownership).


Another theory as outlined by an AOL financial blogger, Tom Barlow, is that there is a perceived sense of shame which dissuades Blacks and Hispanics from using coupons which is implicit in the cashier’s disapproving body language when presented with coupons. The thinking is that a sense of shame accompanies coupon use and it is minorities who experience the most shame whereas affluent Whites (those most likely to use coupons) experience the least “eye-rolling” and “sighing” feedback loops from cashiers they greet when when producing coupons. I don’t entirely buy this. As I noted, I don’t see a lot of middle-class Hispanic coupon usage even in stores where most of the cashiers are Hispanic. Perhaps Hispanic cashiers tend to be less receptive of coupons? There sure doesn’t seem to be a sense of shame when the girl with 3 kids stuffed in the shopping cart pulls out her WIC coupons or the ghetto soldier pulls out his EBT card with a flourish. I don’t believe shame is that strong a deterrent to coupon use. Shame is a strong consideration if there is nothing to be gained, but if you use coupons wisely, you can save a lot of money. The savings in themselves should counteract any pangs of shame you may entertain. People are notoriously shameless when it comes to personal profit. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I think some people don’t use coupons because they are lazy and short-sighted. As I said, coupon clipping is a nerdy, overly cerebral (yes!) activity which requires forethought and devotion to trivial detail. It requires a studious mindfulness and application and the ability to carry this mindset with you into the most mundane of real-life activities: grocery shopping. There is something going on in the Black and Hispanic cultural perspective that inhibits such painstaking behavior.


Interestingly, according to the USA News article, African-Americans and Asians were equally likely to be non-users of coupons, despite the fact Asian economic and educational standing essentially parallels that of Whites. My theory is that Asians are more likely to entertain the aforementioned “shame” outlook in regard to coupon use. Asian-Americans tend to be inordinately class- and status-conscious, materialistic, and even a bit more pretentious. The supposition that coupon use is dissuaded by shame and self-consciousness works well in describing Asian coupon behavior.


When it comes to Mexican and Black coupon behavior, I think it’s safe to say that usually they just don’t care enough about saving $4.25. They don’t fetishize minutiae.