I am a devoted coupon shopper, and I never lose a sense of awe about the savings coupons allow me to enjoy. I can't imagine going back to shopping for groceries the old way, without my coupon wallet firmly in hand.
I've always championed the ethics of couponing, too. I get frustrated when I hear stories of shoppers who try to beat or cheat the system or who intentionally use coupons in incorrect ways. Photocopying coupons is common, but it's also coupon fraud and shoppers may risk a counterfeiting charge if they engage in this illegal practice. Altering or cutting off the expiration dates of coupons is another form of misuse.
Here are two topical tales from the checkout lane, one from a cashier and one from a shopper:
Question: "I need your help. I use coupons, but I also work grocery retail. Yesterday, a woman came into my store with several coupons for 40 cents off two jars of pasta sauce. They were blatant photocopies of coupons from the Sunday paper. She redeemed five of them, saving a total of $2 on this trip. I highly doubt this was the first or last time she used this maneuver. I am outraged by her audacity! She said she printed the coupon from the Internet. We don't have Internet access in the store and we couldn't confirm that, so we ended up allowing her the discount. I donated one of my real pasta sauce coupons to the cause to use as a training aid so cashiers can see the difference."
Answer: This shopper committed an act of counterfeiting to save a paltry 20 cents per jar!
If stores continue to accept photocopied coupons to avoid upsetting or losing customers, their business will suffer in the long run. Manufacturers do not reimburse stores for photocopied coupons. And in accepting photocopies even once, store management is encouraging the shopper to try the same thing on her next shopping trip.
Sometimes shoppers write asking for advice after an altercation with a store employee over coupons. And sometimes it's my duty to let them know they were wrong:
Question: "I visited a local supermarket to buy toilet paper that was on sale, using a coupon. The problem was, I accidentally clipped off the date. I knew it wasn't expired because I clipped it out the same week I went to the store and the expiration date was two months away. But neither the clerk nor her manager would budge on accepting it. I asked the clerk why she couldn't scan the coupon to verify that it was current. She said she had already asked the manager to do so and the manager declined the coupon. The next time I visited the store, I used the coupon with no date in the self-checkout aisle. Bottom line: fight for what you know is right."
Answer: While the bar code contains a coupon's expiration date, many stores' coupon policies stipulate that they will not accept a coupon with the expiration date cut off under any circumstance. (The rule likely originated back in the day when bar codes did not contain expiration information.) The bottom line is, manufacturers do not have to reimburse the store for expired coupons or coupons with the expiration dates cut off. So, resorting to the self-checker in order to push the coupon through after the store turned it down was not the answer here.
• Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.