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Good Question: Do Coupons Really Save Us Money?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- To a certain type of shopper, the words "unlimited double couponing" elicits a strong, emotional reaction. That's why Rainbow Foods is doing a test run of a new double coupon policy Wednesday, and Oct. 31. Instead of being limited to five coupons that the store will double, Rainbow will allow shoppers to double an unlimited number of coupons (with a limit of 5 coupons per product).

But do people using coupons save money or do they end up buying items they don't really need?

"My friends call me the coupon queen," said Christina Kjos, who keeps a stockpile of items in her St. Louis Park home purchased with coupons.

"Body washes, shampoo, conditioner, toner," she said, listing off the items in her pantry. In her garage, she keeps mouthwash, detergent and toothpaste.

"Christina, it would take you 40 years to go through all this toothpaste," said WCCO-TV reporter Jason DeRusha.

"But it's free! You get it because it's free," Kjos said.

Like many extreme couponers, Kjos has three computers in her home so she can print multiple copies of coupons from websites that limit the number of coupons per IP address.

"I'm the one who goes out and buys about 10 newspaper a week and is on my computer at websites printing coupons. I have 3 computers so I'm able to print more coupons. When you have a family of six and on a set income you need to find a way to save money," said Kari Zamyslowski-Anderson.

Kjos said she tracks her spending and her saving, and believes she now saves about 90 percent on all her purchases.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Americans redeem $3.7 billion of coupons. Most of us aren't as savvy as Kjos. Even Kjos wasn't as savvy as she is now when she started couponing in August 2010.

"If you're a first timer, there's this emotional high: 'Oh my god I'm saving money!'" she said.

Only about 1 percent of coupons are ever used. But if coupons weren't a good deal for manufacturers and retailers, they'd stop printing them.

"So clearly there is much more than just financial decisions being made," said Dr. James Heyman, the marketing department chair at University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

"For the heaviest of coupon users, it's as much sport than anything else," he said. "At one extreme is that, if you think about a one-dollar candy bar; people will react different to a $1 of coupon and a coupon that gives them the candy for free."

Researchers in Virginia found that the average coupon redeemer at a grocery store spends $12 more than they would have. The coupon triggers an impulse buy.

"I just buy things I use," Kjos said. "I learned my lesson."

She collects coupons, waits for sale prices, and then tries to pair that with store promotions like double coupon days or Walgreens Register Rewards.

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