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As Prices Skyrocket, Coupons Are Harder to Find Than Ever

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Jill Cataldo is a master of coupons.

She began cutting them out to save a dollar here and 50 cents there in the Great Recession, when she had two children in diapers and money was tight. Starting with a training session at the library in her Chicago suburb, she shared what she learned with others, and now has a syndicated column and a website where she writes about coupon deals and other ways to spend less.

The pandemic, however, upended Ms. Cataldo’s world. Paper coupon inserts in the Sunday newspaper seemed flimsier. Even increasingly popular digital coupons were hard to come by.

“There are brands that I’ve followed for over a decade that are just not issuing a lot of coupons right now,” Ms. Cataldo said. “It’s kind of frustrating, because it’s something we came to count on for a long time.”

Now the steepest rise in the cost of living in four decades is making bargains even more coveted. “With inflation, this is what should go up tremendously as a tool to help customers,” said Sanjay Dhar, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

But that tool is getting ever harder to come by. In 2021, Kantar Media estimates, 168 billion circulated, across both print and digital formats. That was down from about 294 billion in 2015.

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