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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Coupon Ethics

I hope you will all allow me to stand on my soapbox today and talk about using coupons the right way. I hope that I have gained the respect of you, my readers, and that you will let me nag you for a minute. This subject is something that I think is really important for several reasons.

Number one,
 my integrity is more important than saving a few dollars {and you all know how I feel about saving a few dollars!}. Many of the cashiers at my local stores know me and know that I use coupons in the right way. Consequently, they trust me and do not feel the need to scrutinize every coupon, therefore expediting my check out. But more importantly than that, I can feel good about the purchases that I make.

Number two, 
when someone uses coupons in the wrong way, it ruins the experience for others. If a cashier has had people try and use coupons in a way other than what is intended or try to use a fraudulent coupon, he or she is likely to be more suspect of coupons.

Remember when we printed those awesome $1/1 coupons for Quaker (from a legitimate site) and then the store refused them thinking they were fake? That was because someone in WA copied them and tried to redeem them at the store.


Remember the Purex catalina deal at Fred Meyer? Two people bought up 800 bottles in Cincinnati and others were buying the product and returning it without a receipt to get there money back and keeping their $4 catalina. The Catalina Co turned off the catalina due to ABUSE!

Here are my rules for using coupons in an honest and ethical way:

Don’t Use Coupons On Items They Are Not Intended To Be Used For. There are several ways that this can be done. For instance a coupon says $1.00 off shampoo but you use it on a bottle of hairspray. Many times these coupons will go through just fine. However, that is not the intention of the manufacturer. They put the coupon out to promote the shampoo.

The second way to use a coupon in a way in which it was not intended is to not buy the amount that is listed on a coupon. For example a coupon say $1.00 off of 4, and you buy only 2 of that item. Many times the coupon would still scan. However, again, this was not the intent of the manufacturer.

The third way to use a coupon in a way other than what it is intended is to use a coupon that is only intended for a particular merchant at another store. Like if a coupon is good only at Walmart, and you cut that part of the coupon off and take it to Target to use.

You may even have a cashier who allows you to do these things, but it really isn’t up to the cashier because it is not money coming out of the store’s pocket, it is coming out of the pocket of the manufacturer.

Never Use Expired Coupons unless your store has a policy to accept expired coupons. Many times you can use an expired coupon without a cashier noticing, but the store may not get reimbursed for the coupon since it was expired.

Never Photocopy Internet Printable Coupons. There is a reason that manufacturers limit most coupons to print 2 per computer, it is to enforce limits. Photocopying coupons is fraud. Some stores do not take IP coupons because they are leery of photocopied coupons. Many times internet printables are for a higher dollar amount than you can find in your newspaper. 

Only Use One Manufacturer’s Coupon Per Item. Pretty self explanatory.

Be Careful About Coupons In the pdf Format. We are really careful about the coupons we promote here on this site. Coupons of the pdf variety are frauds a great deal of the time. A year ago their was a pdf coupon circulating for Colgate. It turns out it was intended to be given to customers in a booklet. Someone scanned the booklet and distributed it via a pdf file. The only pdf coupons I ever list here come straight from the manufacturer’s website.

Be Kind To Your Cashiers. Some cashiers do not understand the rules of coupons. Some do not understand that their store will be reimbursed for the coupon you are using and that you are not trying to steal from the store. That being said, getting nasty with your cashier will get you nowhere. If a cashier will not accept my coupon, I nicely ask them to remove the item and then take up my concern with customer service or simply ask for a manager.

Original post written by our friend Nicole of beingfrugalisfabulous.com. We miss you Nicole. You always blogged with the highest integrity.

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Swanson Family said...

Thanks for the reminders - we want to keep Manufactors sending the coupon love our way!

I have a question: I was told by a local bargain blogger at her coupon class that you can use $off Cats from one store in another store. For example, I get a $4 OYNO from Albertson's (it has thier name/logo on the Cat) but I can redeem it at Safeway....any truth to that? She said that the "redeem at.." wording on the Cat is a suggestion....Does anyone have any experience with this?

Shelley said...

Thanks!! Can you add a search function to your blog? This would have been easier to find :)

Cathy said...

If your store will accept competitors coupons, you can use it. And although technically it is a manufacturers coupon, if it has a store logo on it, many stores would NOT accept it (saying that they don't accept competitors coupons).

Albertsons used to accept these (like Walgreens register rewards), but changed their coupon policy to NOT accepting competitors coupons... so we can no longer use them at Albies.

Cathy said...

Shelley - there are two places to help you find what you're looking for. You can either type a search word in the box in the upper left hand corner, or look to the label cloud on the right (in your case, you would have clicked on "ethics" to find this post).


Sara S. said...

Thank you for this post. I also feel very strongly about couponing ethics and try to live up to my ideals, even pointing out to cashiers when they have made a mistake that may have been in my best interest, but not the store's or the manufacturer's. (Not to pat myself on the back--I just feel it's right.) I am wondering, though, how you feel about the current Albertsons's catalina promo that had us all in an uproar a few days by it's fineprint: Minimum purchase requirement is calculated after manufacturer and store coupons. It seems that this is not the case and that the catalina is printing just fine, whether you make the $20 before or after coupons. I appreciate that the scenarios you have created seem to be in accordance with what the fineprint states, but I feel like everyone else in the couponing blogosphere is saying that since the catalina prints anyway, and if you feel like taking a chance, go ahead and ignore the fineprint and coupon the way we're used too--making the $20 before coupons. Wouldn't ignoring the fineprint in a store advertisement just because you can get away with it also be considered unethical? Or am I being too prudent and going way overboard here???

Monica said...

Sara S:
It is pretty gray isn't it? Cathy and I have been going back and forth on this for the last two days.

We want to promote ethical behavior and be ethical ourselves.

What does everyone else think?

Tyree said...

THanks for this post unethical couponers are literally shooting themselves and everyone else in the foot (or sometimes the back.) Doing things wrong to get a good deal just might make it so no one can get good deals at all. I say : BE GOOD AND BE GREATFUL FOR ALL THE GOOD DEALS WE GET no need to try and get dishonest deals when there are so many honest good deals to get!

Heather said...

Keepin it real. Love it!!!

Claudia said...

Hi, I have a question on how to use coupons with logo of stores , I read on another blog , that I can use a kmart internet manufacturer coupon ,on another store like walgreens , Is this right ?

Thank you !!

GingerS said...

Well, on this particular catalina issue, I guess the real question would be: where does this $7 come from? Is it paid by the manufacturer(s) or the store?

If the manufacturer is paying the $7, then, yes, there is an ethical issue with using coupons to bring your OOP under $20, because then not only is the MF giving you a free $7, they're also paying to reimburse the coupons.

But, if it's the store paying for this $7 catalina, then it really shouldn't matter to them whether the MF is paying for the value of the coupons, or you're personally paying. It's all the same; the store gets the same money in the end.

Fabulessly Frugal said...


If your store will accept competitors coupons, you can use it no probelm. Technically it is a manufacturers coupon, BUT if it has a store logo on it, many stores will NOT accept it (saying that they don't accept competitors coupons).

Albertsons used to accept these (like Walgreens register rewards), but changed their coupon policy to NOT accepting competitors coupons... so we can no longer use them at Albies.

So you will have to check into the stores coupons policy.

Jennifer L said...

I had a situation at Target where I purchased a trial size herbal essence shampoo & full size mousse. I used the buy shampoo get styler for free coupon. The cashier took off the shampoo price since it was lower. I questioned the way she gave the credit but she only gave me the lower price item free. I thought about the purchase the next day and knew that she COULDN'T give me credit for the shampoo because the coupon was for free styler only. I went back to Target to the customer service counter. The cash register wouldn't allow the free item to be the higher priced. I elected to return the items only requesting to get back exactly what I paid. I was upset that they had to give me the full value of the items. There's a possibility that the mfg won't give them the $ for the value of the coupon because she gave credit for the wrong item. They were really nice but I walked away with a sick feeling in my stomach.

sla545 said...

If you are having trouble with doing more than transaction, think about it this way. It says Limit one offer per "customer". I have a family of three and we are all customers of ALbertson's. The food that I buy we all consume, so I don't feel bad about doing three transactions, as it benefits us all. More than that though would be hard to justify for me. Just a suggestion!

iJustCoupd! said...

I don't know about everyone else, but I'd imagine you wouldn't get that same "thrill" of getting a good deal by abusing coupons and store deals. I like to be proud of myself for getting a good deal and getting it HONESTLY. Thank you for the reminder that we all need to get good deals the good way :)

Mindy said...

I believe with the current catalina promo with albies is unethical to ignore the fine print just because its working. It is the exact same reasoning that was just posted for not using expired coupons or using a coupon for the wrong product. I would feel bad doing it the wrong way.

Leslie said...

Thanks for the great post! I did the $7 cat twice before reading this and now I feel kind of bad because it seems to be the same sort of thing. Unless it was a misprint, their "intention" was listed in the fine print...it's just not working the way it was intended. Don't get me wrong. I like that it works but at the same time it's hard to feel good about getting a good deal the wrong way.

Question about IPs...Do you know if it is OK/Allowed to print them from more than one computer. i.e. is their anything in the software aggreement that says you can't?

Cathy said...

Leslie -

You can print two coupons from each computer!

GaoyouMom said...

Well, since you asked, here's my opinion on the $7 GM catalina.

I'll preface my reply by explaining that I've worked for 20+ years in a distribution industry, both in IT/computer programming and marketing, so I have that perspective in addition to the perspective of a consumer.

I think it's perfectly acceptible to accept the catalina if it prints. Unless someone has some insider information, we don't have enough information to know how it was supposed to work. Simply put, GM sets up a promotion, the stores advertise it, and Catalina Marketing programs the machines. When the ad says one thing and the catalina machine does another, we, the consumers do not know which is right and which is wrong. Opinions here have indicated an assumption that the machines are wrong, but maybe it's the other way around and the ad is incorrect and the catalinas are being printed correctly according to what the manufacturer intends.

Either way, GM, Albertsons, Catalina Marketing, and any other organizations involved in these promotions have a responsibility to get it right. If it turns out that the catalinas should in fact print only if the minimum of $20 is reached pre-coupons, then they will figure it out and react however they see fit.

That said, I also think that if something is clearly wrong, we consumers have a responsibility to be part of the solution and not just turn the other way. One time, back when gas was very expensive at over $4 per gallon, I filled up my gas tank but was only charged $.40-something cents per gallon. I didnt' notice until after I was done filling up and went to pay that the price on the gas pump was off by a decimal point. I went inside to tell someone and pay for my gas because I'd have felt like a thief driving off having paid only $6.50-ish for gas that should have cost $65-ish. The guy at the gas station called a manager, and he thanked me for bringing it to their attention. They changed the price going forward but wouldn't charge me any more than what the pump charged, so I got a very cheap tank of gas and drove away with a clean conscious.

But for situations like the GM promotion in question, where the line is gray and it's not a clear-cut mistake, I wouldn't worry about it.

This is a great post. It's good to be educated and/or reminded of the correct and ethical use of coupons.


Electra said...

I was wondering about a phenomenon I've seen twice in recent weeks, when you have a coupon for a free item up to a certain amount, but the cash register automatically rings the coupon up as the maximum amount, regardless of what the item actually cost. For me, I saw it at Walgreens last week on a pack of Oreos, and at Target yesterday on a bottle of creamer. Both times I didn't notice it until afterwards when I was looking at my receipts.

This isn't something I did purposely as a couponer, or even anything the cashier did, it appears to be the way the cash register works. I have to appreciate the overage it gives me on my check, it was two extra dollars on the Oreos deal! But it seems borderline unethical, since the mfg has to compensate more than what the item actually cost at that store. Is it something I should be worried about? Is there anything I could even do about it, seeing as how it's a register thing?

Electra said...

Sorry, that should've been Walmart above, not Walgreens.

Liberty said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am beginner and not very confident at using coupons for the very reason of doing it wrong. This really gave some excelent guidelines.

Marne said...

Bravo, Bravo!

Fabulessly Frugal said...


I was not aware of the Walmart phenomenon. I NEVER shop there.

At most stores the cashier has to manually enter the item price.

Sounds like Walmart has their cash registers set up to milk the manufactures for all they have got!

That does not seems right. If it were me I would point it out the the cashier next time and see if they would override it or something. If they can't I am not sure there is much you can do.

Any other opinions?

Roxanne said...

I'm curious about your opinion on purchasing coupons on Ebay or from clipping services. I have seen a few bloggers mentions purchasing coupons and it always seems alittle unethical to me.

Camille said...

Perfect reminder, thank you! We need to remember that we have our kids in the cart and they are watching/listening. Let's not embarrass ourselves or set a bad example just to save a few dollars. Watching mommy cheat at the store every week kind of overtakes our "honesty" speech right?

Amber said...


The money people pay for those coupons goes towards the time it takes the seller to clip and sort them NOT for the actual coupon. That would be illegal. We can only hope the seller was ethical in how they came to possess the coupons!

Many are allowed access to thousands of excess inserts and take the time to clip them and put them on eBay. In that instance, the manufacturer chose the number of coupons they wanted to produce and so I see nothing unethical about getting those coupons into the hands of consumers who WILL buy their products!