Seriously? You think you're an extreme couponer? If you've ever watched the popular TLC Series, "Extreme Couponing," you know that you probably don't come close to being "extreme." If you're like many frugal grocery shoppers, you know how to work the deals. Combine this coupon with that catalina and a BOGO, and three containers of sour cream are yours for free.
Don't know the lingo? A catalina coupon is one of those coupons that comes out of the register printer next to your receipt and a BOGO is a "Buy One, Get One" promotion where you purchase one item and get a second one free of charge. Human ingenuity is a powerful thing. If there's a loophole to be found, someone will eventually profit from it. Thanks to the light being cast on these extreme couponers, stores are slowly changing their policies to curtail not only the bending of the rules, but the outright theft that occurs when people try to use coupons in ways that are against store and manufacturer policy.
Rite Aid no longer allows a buy one get one free coupon to be used with a BOGO promotion in order to get both items for free, nor can you use a "cents off" coupon along with a BOGO offer for more than the purchase price of the item. (In other words, they aren't going to pay you to purchase an item)
If you plan to take a coupon to Target to land a free item without a purchase, you're going to be disappointed when you get there. That's no longer allowed. Like Rite Aid, no BOGO coupons can be combined to get both items free. Finally, you can't redeem more than two Target internet coupons. If you shop at a Publix, combining three coupons is no longer allowed. It only allows one manufacturer's coupon and one Publix or competing store coupon.
Why the Regulations?
Why are stores' coupon policies now reading like a complicated legal document? People are abusing the system. Some organizations, like the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), a nonprofit that helps to monitor and contain fraud for food companies, said that the TLC series highlighting extreme couponing may be to blame.
Don't Be This Extreme
Extreme couponing can be fun, but crossing over to the illegal isn't as hard as you think. Here are a few ways to avoid making your couponing into a criminal enterprise.
Photocopying a coupon is just as illegal as counterfeiting money, although the penalties aren't as stiff.
Misusing a Coupon
If your coupon is for a 24 ounce tub of ice cream, trying to use your coupon on a 12 ounce package isn't only unethical, it often violates federal, state or local laws. The CIC compares it to shoplifting.
Although you probably won't receive jail time for purchasing coupons, coupons are nontransferable making purchasing coupons a violation of your coupon's contract. Regardless of what the website says, it's illegal.
Don't Resell Products
You're likely in violation of the coupon and possibly local health codes if you attempt to resell extra items you purchased as a result of your couponing.
Don't Pick Through Trash
For most people, picking through someone's trash for coupons seems a little over the top, but people do it. This may be considered trespassing which is a criminal offense.
The Bottom Line
If you use coupons appropriately, legally and ethically, being proud of the money you save is certainly appropriate. Consider shopping during off peak hours, having your coupons organized and don't take all of a product on a shelf because of your coupons. The CIC advises couponers to be courteous and kind because you may be holding up the line behind you.
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