Tuesday Tips: Ethical coupon usage

Tomorrow we’ll see another episode of TLC’s “Extreme Couponers.”  After the episode last week, there have been numerous allegations that one of the couponers that was featured on the episode has used thousands of coupons incorrectly.  As I’ve read comments on various Facebook pages, message boards, and blogs this week, there are two main “themes” that stood out the most to me.

If a coupon doesn’t “beep” or a cashier pushes it through, who CARES – it’s the stores fault or the manufacturer’s fault

Have you ever been on a coupon trip where your cashiers stood there and read through to fine print on every single coupon you’re using?  Have you ever been faced with having to dig through your bags to match up coupons with the products you’re buying?  This is both embarrassing and time consuming and this is the direction that we’re headed in if people continue to function under the mentality that the store or cashiers have the responsibility to make sure that coupons match up.  As a consumer, you have a responsibility to use your coupons correctly.  Just because it “can” go through doesn’t mean you should use it incorrectly and if you do use it correctly, this is coupon fraud.

Who cares if someone else does this?  Just leave them alone – it doesn’t affect you.

If you truly believe that other people using coupons incorrectly doesn’t affect you, you are sadly mistaken.  I’ve been using coupons for several years now, so I’ve seen the cycle of what happens when there is a wave of fraudulent coupons or when coupons are used incorrectly.  Several of my grocery stores stopped taking internet printables for awhile a few years ago when several fake, high dollar printable coupons were released.  When you use coupons incorrectly, stores will not be reimbursed, which means that they lose money.  Guess who foots the bill for this?  We do!  Prices will be higher, stores will tighten up their coupon policies, and manufacturer’s will stop putting out high dollar coupons.

If you think there aren’t legal consequences for improper coupon usage, you are also mistaken.   About a year ago, on a message board that I belong to, someone posted this video about a woman who had been arrested for using thousands of dollars in fraudulent coupons. As a “couponer” I know how exciting the “thrill of the bargain” can be, but improper coupon usage hurts us all in the end.  Through the years, I have also learned that just because you read about a deal online, that doesn’t mean that it is “legit.”

Here are some tips for proper coupon usage:

Read “the fine print” ~ Most coupons have specifications such as size limitations included on them.  If the coupon says “good on any” then it truly should be good on any product, including trial sizes.  If the coupon says “one per purchase” that means that you can use one coupon for each item that you are purchasing.  So, if you are purchasing 5 items and you have 5 coupons, you should be able to use all 5 items.  If the coupon says “one per transaction” that means that you can only use one of those coupons in your transaction.  So, if you have 5 coupons, you would have to do 5 separate transactions to use all of those coupons.  Also, pay attention to the terms of the coupon.  For example, if a coupon says $1 off 2, you would need to purchase two products to use that one coupon.

Do not copy coupons ~ One of the biggest “newbie” mistakes I hear about is people copying coupons and particularly printable coupons.  Many printable coupons have print limits, which can be frustrating and they all “look” the same, so what’s the harm, right?  What some people don’t realize is that the printable coupons have a unique code that prints in the upper right hand corner of each coupon.  In addition, some have a special background that will not show up if you copy them.  Many store employees have been trained to look for this, and if you have copied coupons, it will quickly become obvious.  A visit with your store’s loss prevention is not worth that extra bargain and will not even end up being a bargain in the long run.  Many manufacturer’s are now changing the code on printable coupons, which will make it more difficult to “decode” and more difficult to copy.

Beware of fake coupons ~ If it looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just because you found it online or got it in an e-mail doesn’t mean that it’s “real” and you don’t want to be caught using a fraudulent coupon.  Read more about How to Spot Fake Coupons.

Be courteous ~ Don’t clear the shelves in one store and don’t plan big trips during “prime” shopping hours.  Read more about The Rules of Coupon Etiquette.

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  1. […] In my “Tuesday Tips” post this week, I talked about ethical coupon usage and one of the ….  Some people assume that all printable coupons are the same and that it’s OK to copy them, but that’s not true and when people copy coupons and then use them, it hurts all of us! […]