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On Parenting
Posted at 01:43 PM ET, 08/08/2011

The bad economy’s upside? Great coupons.

The good news about the bad economic news? Prolonged economic misery has created a heyday for bargains. Coupons are better. Maybe the best they’ll ever be.

Scouring for deals is nothing new. It’s been the American family norm for decades, and it only intensified recently as the economy nose-dived. What’s different now is that years of financial troubled times have provided the coupon industry the opportunity to grow and improve.
Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor is a veteran bargain hunter and teaches others how to shop with coupons. (Astrid Riecken - For The Washington Post)

The Post has a story today about a woman who has refined her couponing technique. So adept is Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor at clipping coupons that she gives lessons.

In many ways, Pepper-Hoctor and her kin on the TLC show “Extreme Couponing” are old-school. Her home is overloaded with her bounty, and she spends an inordinate amount of time looking for worthy deals. “The reality is that couponing is going to take some time. And then when you actually go shopping, it’s going to take more time,” she said. “Finding the best price is like putting together a puzzle.”

Not always. At least not for those with smaller ambitions and less enthusiasm for the score. The Internet-based social coupon services are for us lazier bargain-hunters.

At first, these services came with their own problems. Fifty percent off spelunking seemed great until it became evident that the only way to get a bargain was to actually spelunk. My colleague Petula Dvorak chronicled the pitfalls of early Groupon-ing in a Post column a while back.

But Chicago-based Groupon and its competitors, such as Washington-based Living Social, kept refining. With the economy still struggling, they had time. One of their innovations was to target audiences. Families first and foremost. It led to services such as Living Social family, launched this year.

At the same time, entrepreneurs have noticed the interest and are launching their own ventures. Smaller family-coupon sites such as MamaPedia Sweet Deals and Bethesda’s Certifikid and are intensifying up the competition.

The result has been a remarkable increase in the relevance and quality of the offers. Deep discounts on local summer camps, kid-friendly restaurants, fair admissions, indoor gyms, and toys have arrived in my inbox in recent weeks. There have also been a bunch for microdermabrasion, and one for a go-kart course that is my personal equivalent to skydiving, but even those never-to-cross-my-threshold deals are not wildly off target.

I do feel as if this is a peculiar moment for bargains. Eventually, the smaller companies will likely fold or be bought out by their bigger competition. The big guns will merge. (This presumption may be fed by too many years in the newspaper industry.) If or when this happens, coupons will return to the ho-hum, not-my-brand-of-tea variety. Until then, I’m hoping for a deal on ink to print out more vouchers.

Has anyone else noticed the difference?

By  |  01:43 PM ET, 08/08/2011

 
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