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Sinead Ryan: Sharpen those scissors, our love affair with the money-off coupon is only beginning

We all have our own ways of trying to beat the recession but, according to the National Consumer Agency, more of us are once again turning to cutting out coupons -- beloved hobby of the 1970s, to save a few bob.

Thirty per cent more people are playing cut-out-and-keep with money-off tokens in newspapers and magazines in a bid to chop the shopping bill a little this year.

We're still way behind the Americans of course. They have dedicated drawers in their kitchens for all the coupons and no self-respecting shopper would turn up at a cash register without an armful of discounts -- some in colour-coded wallets -- so they can keep track.

They lunch only in restaurants that take coupons and avidly regale each other with news on where the best value ones can be found, roping in family and friends to collect tokens on their behalf. They even have a national coupon month every September.

Here, we might still prefer the more elegant 'loyalty' card, but canny savers will be anything but, as they sign up to each and every one offered. It's a nice lift from the doom and gloom of getting brown envelopes and bills in the post to find a letter from the local supermarket with money off your next visit and coupons for products you would have bought anyway, as long as you can stay away from the temptation of 200 extra points if you buy a certain dog food without having a pooch in your house.

We all have this great plan that we'll save up all the points and splurge at Christmas on a bottle of champagne or some chocolates just for us, but in reality they end up being used to fork out on yet another pair of school trousers or a tin of beans you ran out of on a day you're short of cash.

Still, the thought is what's important. You can imagine that you're building up thousands of points for a nice treat even if the reality doesn't always make it there.

Advertisers have caught on, of course. Every day we see coupons in the newspapers (your favourite one included: our coupon day is Wednesday when you can get loads of bargains from companies only too happy to offer a discount if you cut out the page).

And the stores where staff are proactive about helping you save money are always a delight. We all love Boots because their three-for-two or free gift offers seem to be on all the time. And they have a pink loyalty card for extra points -- what's not to like?

And those of us who claim we hate getting junk mail in the letterbox actually like keeping those pizza company coupons offering two for one for a lazy Friday night when you can't be bothered cooking.

The only problem is putting the coupon away somewhere safe only to find it covered in dust a year later when you're clearing out a cupboard. Even worse is planning to take it shopping with you, but forgetting and finding it's gone out of date when you finally remember. Crumply bits of paper being fished out from the bottom of a handbag don't go down well with the queue of people behind you at the checkout. So it's no surprise thato nline coupons have also taken off. Companies such as Pigsback have become hugely popular as customers collect points by purchases or sometimes even just signing up for an email.

But coupons aren't a modern phenomenon. They were first used by Coca-Cola to market their new drink in 1894 to stores, but it wasn't until the Great Depression that they really took off with householders as they found their dollar had to stretch further and further as the slump took hold (sound familiar?).

By 1965, it was thought that one in every two Americans was clipping coupons regularly.

So, who are we to turn our noses up at free money? As hobbies go, coupon cutting is the only one that will save you cash, so get those scissors out.

Don't forget every Wednesday is voucher day in The Herald with discounts on major stores. Pages 61-62