Dear Jill: You seem adept at using coupons. Are you ever embarrassed at using coupons? Do you think they make you look low-income at the store? I have read your column awhile and you have said that even affluent people use coupons. I am not sure that I believe that fully. It has been years since I cut a coupon, but I got the newspaper over the weekend and saw there are some higher dollar values than I remember. For instance, I discovered a $4 coupon for razors for a brand I buy regularly." - Madeline H.

I've never been embarrassed to use coupons - not even once. I've always considered carrying coupons to be the equivalent of carrying cash. There's nothing embarrassing about carrying dollar bills, is there? If I have $20 in coupons, and another $20 in cash, I have $40 worth of purchasing power. Each coupon I use represents actual money that isn't coming out of my own wallet.

It's true, too, that coupons are popular with all demographics, but statistically speaking, affluent shoppers do use more coupons. According to CNBC, households earning more than $100,000 annually are twice as likely to use coupons as households earning less than $35,000.

According to Valassis, 42% of consumers save more than $30 each week with coupons, and 30% save more than $50 each week! Let's take that $30 total and think about it longer-term. Over the course of one year, that's a savings of $1,560! Why anyone would willingly give up that kind of money each year is astounding to me. Additionally, if you use coupons effectively, your savings will likely be greater than this as well. I don't keep track of my savings every year, but one year I kept a spreadsheet totaling every coupon I used. It totaled more than $4,000 saved!

Knowing how much I am able to save each year, I'd be embarrassed if I didn't use coupons to their fullest potential. Coupons do not make me feel that I belong to a specific income bracket or class. That said, I understand that not everyone feels the same way.

Why not "test the waters" and use a coupon or two on your next trip, then see how you feel about it? I think you'll find the vast majority of shoppers you might encounter in the checkout lane don't care whether you're using coupons or not.

You may find that your store also offers online coupons or a coupon app. If you opt to use these, you'll be couponing in an even more discreet manner as the coupons will be electronically applied to your purchases when you check out. No one other than you and your cashier will see what you saved!

If you do start using coupons, you'll be in good company. According to Inmar, 83% of consumers said that coupons have changed their shopping behavior. That's not a minority of people - it's a majority.

In another column, I discussed how different couponing is around the world. Americans have a wide variety of discounts and coupon strategies that simply aren't available anywhere else. Why not celebrate and embrace couponing?

Dear Jill: We have it pretty good here in the U.S.A.! That said, coupons still have a bit of the poverty stigma here as well but Americans need to get over it. It is part of the culture and part of the game. Knowing some of the rules of the game make it easier to strategize when purchasing. Not planning ahead is the biggest violation of the rules and can be very costly. Couponers know this since pricing for many items and stores is based on the use of coupons. Why pay more if you don't have to? You won't get richer or be able to put extra money in your account if you are paying more. I don't care if people in line behind me think I am struggling financially. I am taking it to the bank!" - Susann T.

CTW Features Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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