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Tampa remains one of nation's most 'frugal' cities based on coupon use

Published Feb. 5, 2013

Frugal: Sparing or economical with regard to money or food.

• • •

On a U.S. map, the most "frugal" cities in the country — including Tampa — are clustered all around us here in the Southeast. Based on this year's ranking by the popular website coupons.com, which gauges how frugal a city's population is by the volume of online (not from newspapers) coupons clipped, Atlanta retained its No. 1 status once again this year.

Orlando sneaked by Tampa for the first time to be No. 2. Tampa was right behind. Then comes Nashville and Charlotte, N.C.

I'm a big fan of frugal. It resonates that living reasonably, stretching a dollar and minimizing conspicuous consumption are smart habits to practice (and pass on) for better stewardship on this planet. It's also a legacy of my Depression-era parents.

I also can't forget the influence of my West Virginia grandfather, now gone, who insisted that his sole toy when he was little was a doorknob. My grandmother, who lived to 99, frequently reminded me how, as a child, she helped dig coal out of the hillside behind her farmhouse to keep warm in winter.

I asked coupons.com — a California company run by an ex-Wall Street guy who ran JPMorgan's "global emerging markets derivative technology" — why its most frugal cities were in the Southeast. The company cited many of the reasons you would expect to hear about Tampa:

• The area tends to be older. And older people tend to be more cost conscious and more likely to use coupons to save money.

• Regionally, the unemployment rate remains higher, in general, than the national average.

• Area wages tend to be lower than the national average, encouraging more cost-conscious buying.

• Food prices are rising, prompting more people to adopt coupons in their ways to stretch a budget.

While Southeastern cities rank highest in using coupons, 11 Midwest cities appear on the top-25 list. That concentration is a reminder that the Midwestern culture — which, of course, is alive and well in the Tampa Bay area — is one that prides itself on frugality.

But there are other reasons that coupon usage ranked high in the Southeast. Coupons.com happens to operate the online coupon gallery for Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, the top grocery chain by market share in Florida and one that is aggressively expanding in other Southeastern states. That heavy volume of online Publix coupons may tilt this ranking geographically.

Five cities dropped off the list this year: Raleigh, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis and Providence.

Coupons.com says most customers use its coupons to save on food, but health and beauty aids is a fast-rising sector for coupon use. And other industries less associated with coupon saving are also getting into the act, including paint and other home-improvement products.

Speaking of frugal, more than once in recent times, business and political leaders have raised a version of this question: Is Tampa Bay so frugal that we can't (or won't) support three major-league sports teams?

Maybe the Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning just need to offer more coupons.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

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