With so many people using coupons to try to save money, it is important that you understand not only how to use them to save – but even more so, that you know how to do so ethically.
As we have seen, coupon rules have become more and more strict. Why? That is because of people who have found ways to push the boundaries of using coupons beyond extremes. It is also because of people who commit fraud.
Whether there is a policy in place at your store or not, there are some things you should do to make sure you are couponing and saving money ethically and honestly.
1. Only use a coupon as intended. Most coupons include size limitations or restrictions. If the coupon states it is valid for a 24 oz product, do not use it on a 16 oz item. If it says that is valid only for Huggies Diapers, do you use it towards the purchase of Huggies Wipes. If the coupon is item specific, such as Honey Nut Cheerios, it is not OK to use it on Original Cheerios.
If a coupon says it is good on 2 products it is not ok to use it on just one product. Manufacturers issue coupons for products to attract consumers to those specific products. Just because a coupon will scan for an item, that does not mean it is ok to use it on anything other than what it was intended for.
Make sure you only use the number of coupons allowed in the fine print. Many times, coupons are limited to 2 in a single transaction. In this case, do not try to purchase 3 products and use 3 coupons. Instead, make multiple trips to the store or run different transactions.
2. Expired coupons are just that, expired. Just as coupons are issued for specific products, they are also issued for specific ranges of time. When you use a coupon outside of its expiration date, it is considered fraudulent coupon use. Remember, you can always donate your expired coupons to overseas military families!
3. Follow store coupon policies. I know this is frustrating when the policy doesn’t make much sense. Keep in mind that it is at the store’s discretion to even allow coupons to be redeemed. If you find that the policy is confusing or you need to see if they will make a change to it, just speak to the manager (the cashier can not help you).
If you run in to a cashier that seems to be making up their own policy as they go, that is a much different story. Always go by the store’s printed coupon policy. At this point, it is always wise to get a manager involved.
4. Know what a fraudulent coupon looks like. It is sad, but true. People will always make fake coupons to try get items for free. A good rule of thumb is if a coupon is emailed to you from a friend, it is usually fake. If you need to ever find out if a coupon is valid or not, you can visit The Coupon Information Center as they have a list of the known fraudulent coupons out there.
5. Making copies of internet printable coupons is illegal. This is one of the most frequent newbie couponer mistakes out there. I mean, you printed it out and if you ran it through the copier, who would know if it was real or fake? Well, the store would ultimately pay the price.
When coupons are released, they are done so in a certain quantity. For example, if a coupon is released with 50,000 prints, but 60,000 coupons get turned in, the last 10,000 turned in do not get paid! That means they are all out the savings you claimed and eat that cost.
It is not only that, but if you are caught making copies of coupons, you can actually be banned from printing them. When you print a coupon, information including your IP address is coded into the print. When they are redeemed, they can find out if you redeemed 1, 2 or more of the same coupon. If you are found to have submitted more than the allowed number, your IP address can be blocked from printing from their site. You can read more about how to read the coupons you print HERE.
6. Shop honestly. We all want to get a good deal. It is frustrating when you go to the store to find out that the shelves were wiped clean. Most people will just pick up one or two items when they find a bargain, but there are those who will walk in and take every item from the shelf. That doesn’t make for fair couponing.
I’ve had people say that they are clear shelves to donate to those in need. While I LOVE that people want to pay it forward with coupons, doing so prevents those who can’t visit those centers for donations, from purchasing the items they need. If you find a good deal and want to make a donation, just pick up a few items and leave some for others. Of course, if you pick up the last 2 on the shelf, that is different and not deemed “shelf clearing.”
Others just say “I got there first and it is my right.” Sure, you did get there early and picked up more than you probably needed, but doing so can result in that store’s policy changing. They could reduce coupon redemptions, limits and more – all because people cleared a shelf.
If you find you need more than the quantity on the store shelf, talk to a store manager about what you could do to get more ordered so you can purchase them. That allows you to get the items you need, while still leaving product for others to purchase.
7. Don’t be rude. When you go to the check out, there are times when coupons will not scan, prices do not ring up correctly or the deal doesn’t work the way you thought it would. The first thing to remember is NOT to yell at the cashier. They are doing their job. Stay calm and try to work with them to resolve the issue by reading the coupon together and/or even reviewing the store’s coupon policy.
8. Don’t take all of the coupons in the store. When you see coupons in the form of booklets, on products or anywhere else in the store, take them in the right way. Here are tips:
- If it is a booklet or coupon pad, take no more than 2 coupons.
- If it is a hangtag, meaning it is attached to the product, do not take it without purchasing the item.
- If it is attached to the product, do not remove it unless you are purchasing the item.
If you find that the cashier is the issue, of course, then you should immediately ask for a store manager. Discuss the issues with him or her (rationally and calmly). There are times when a manager can push through prices and coupons which cashiers can not. This is one of those instances where you certainly can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
As couponers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are participating in honest coupon use. I hope that this post has helped to shed some light on some areas that you may have been confused about. Also, I want to add that I was confused about some of these items when I first started to coupon, so if you’ve made one of these mistakes don’t be too hard on yourself!