Coupons can come in handy when you don’t have a job, or an income. But once your employment situation improves, it’s time to toss the coupons and blow your money on full-priced groceries!

Ok, so that’s not such a smart idea. But it’s happening. According to third-quarter statistics from the coupon processing company Inmar, coupon redemption plummeted nearly 23% compared to the same time last year. One reason: unemployment is down. “The unemployment rate is predictive of coupon redemption,” Inmar reports. As the unemployment rate slowly but steadily dropped in the last quarter, “a drop in redemption is not seen by the company as a surprise.” People with more disposable income, apparently dispose of more of it by not using coupons.

But a 23% drop? Last quarter, the decline was just 7.1% from the previous year (read more about second-quarter statistics here: “It’s National Coupon Month! So Where Are All the Coupons?”). Of the 79.2 billion coupons distributed in the third quarter, only 680 million – less than 1% – were redeemed. The unemployment rate hasn’t improved quite that much. So what gives?

It seems the coupons themselves are kind of lousy. You’ve probably noticed, every time you’ve wondered whether it was even worth the effort to clip that “$.25 off” coupon for a product that used to have “$1 off” coupons available. “The offers shoppers have to respond to are just not as good as they’ve been in recent years, and that appears to be dampening the drive to redeem,” writes Inmar’s Matthew Tilley. More coupons were offered in the third quarter, but coupon values are down, expiration dates are getting shorter and more coupons are requiring you to buy multiple products to get any savings.

So is there hope for improvement sometime soon? Inmar expects coupon use to rebound in the next quarter, but mostly because more coupons will be available – not because they’ll necessarily be better. Still, improved economy or not, Inmar doesn’t foresee a time when people will turn away from coupons altogether. “We don’t think for a minute that consumers are any less interested in coupons or deals,” says Inmar CEO David Mounts. “While shoppers are in a better mood lately… coupons will continue to be a ‘go-to resource’ in the long term.”

If only the coupon values would improve. That would really put shoppers in a better mood.

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