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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Start Saving Part 11: Couponing Ethics

In this Start Saving series, I'm trying to share some of my experiences and advice with people who are new to the couponing world. If you missed the first 8 parts of this series, you can catch up by clicking one of the topic links below.


Well, this post will wrap up our Start Saving series for now. Hopefully you've gotten enough information to get started navigating this crazy coupon world! It really can be fun to see what great deals you can get and how much money you can save your family. We used to dip into our savings account each month when the bulk of our bills were due, and then we would replenish the savings the next time we got paid. It was not a productive cycle, one that we're no longer on. We attribute that change to making frugal choices, planning ahead, and couponing like crazy!

Today's topic is ethics. Most of us are very ethical people in most areas of our lives. There's no reason that this shouldn't carry over into our bargain shopping endeavors. However, because the Internet is a place where many times anything goes, and because people don't understand all of the ins and outs of couponing, you can easily do something that's not ethical without even realizing it.

I speak from personal experience on this topic! I used to print CVS coupons like $4 off any $20 purchase from the a website. Every time I used them, they would beep. The cashier would put them through, but now I realize that they beeped because I was not supposed to be using them. The coupons had been emailed to a specific person whose name had been removed from the coupon before it was posted for everyone to print. Now that I know this, I don't print them any more. I only use the coupons that CVS emails directly to me. Those have my name on them, and they don't beep when they're scanned. That's because they were intended to be used with my CVS card.

So how do we know which coupon practices are ethical? Sometimes we just have to learn by trial and error. But here are a few guidelines to start you off:
  1. Read your coupons. Some people try to use coupons for items that they are not intended for. Each coupon will state specifically what should be bought with the coupon, and that's what the coupon should be used for. Asking a cashier to just "push it through" isn't ethical. I've recently heard some rumblings about people decoding coupon bar codes. This is a way for them to figure out which of the company's products the coupons will work for, even ones that the coupons weren't intended for.

  2. Photocopies aren't legitimate. When you print coupons from the Internet, the print limit for each offer is usually 2 copies per computer. If you have access to more than one computer, then it's perfectly fine for you to print from each one of them. In fact, we just bought a printer for my husband's laptop so that I could print coupons. (Okay... we couldn't figure out how to network our computers to share my printer, and I really wanted to print from his computer!) Once you print a coupon, that's it. Each coupon has a unique bar code, and copying a coupon means that the same bar code is going to be used more than once. This will cause problems, and stores won't get reimbursed for the copied coupons.

  3. Printing to a PDF file isn't allowed. Most companies make this known when you're printing coupons. They use special coupon printing software, and you need to print to an actual printer. You may find Rite Aid coupons in PDF format, and those are okay. If anyone sends you other coupons in PDF format, you need to question the validity of the coupons. (You can read about the Velveeta cheese coupon that recently made its rounds HERE.)

  4. I just read about people who use self-checkout lanes at bigger stores, scan high-value coupons, and then slip different, lower-value coupons into the coupon slots! They keep their high-value ones to use again. Eeks! This is obviously unethical.

I guess that the biggest thing to keep in mind is that we want the stores to continue to accept our coupons. If people try to commit fraud by using coupons that aren't legitimate, it makes it harder for the rest of us to use coupons, even if we're using them ethically. The cashiers and managers get suspicious of anyone who is using coupons. And who can blame them? They need to make sure that their stores will get reimbursed for the coupons that they accept. And we want them to get reimbursed! Every time they accept a fraudulent coupon and don't get reimbursed, it's another chance for prices to go up. Someone has to pay for the fraud, and it's most likely everyone who shops at stores that are victimized.

Hopefully we can continue to promote the ethical use of coupons. By using coupons that we know belong to us, and using them for the products that they were intended for, we can make a good name for couponing!


Hunie said...

Thank you for posting this! I have been reading other blogs and was thinking the same thoughts expressed in this entry. I really appreciate this!