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Coupon Mom: What NOT to do when you use coupons

Updated on May 23, 2012

Couponing is a whole culture of it’s own. There are lots of rules to learn as well as courtesies you should take when using coupons. Here I will teach you about mistakes commonly made by new (and experienced!) couponers and how you can avoid them.

Don’t use fraudulent coupons

There are many types of fake or fraudulent coupons. The first kind of fraudulent coupons are photocopied. Most people would never think of photocopying an insert coupon (Don’t know what that is? Click here). Printable coupons however, are photocopied frequently. Aside from running the risk of a very large fine and possibly jail time, it is practices like this that cause harsher restrictions on couponers all over the country.

When a company puts out a coupon, it is embedded with a code that lets the manufacturer know which individual coupon this is. Usually printable coupons have a limited amount of prints and when it is hit, the coupon is no longer available. This code lets them know which of the prints this coupon was. The manufacturer only reimburses the store for one of each print, no matter how many copies were made and redeemed. When a store accepts ten of the exact same coupon they are losing money on nine of them, and the manufacturer has the option of trying to trace who printed that particular coupon. In turn, some stores no longer accept printable coupons because of rampant fraud.

PDF coupons can be another type of fraudulent coupon. Not all PDF coupons are fraudulent, but I would say about 90% of the ones I have see are fake. Often, department stores like Sears or Burlington Coat Factory do put out PDF coupons. But it is when you see one for a specific product like food or toiletries that you should be ware.

There are a few red flags that you can look for in any printable coupon. The first is that they are NEVER for free items. Most stores won’t accept printables for free items anymore because of fraud. I have not seen a printable for a free item in over two years. If it is a printable and it is free, it’s probably fraudulent.

Watch the expiration date. If there is no expiration date, or the date is past six months, it is probably fake. If it is a great coupon, or high value, the expiration date isn’t likely to be for longer than three months.

Look for a two-part bar code. There should be two separate bar codes. The first is a usual looking UPC for scanning; the second is much longer and complex looking. This stores the information for size, type, and which coupon number it is. If this is missing, this is a huge red flag.

Extreme Couponing the Un-Extreme way!

Don’t break the rules printed on the coupon

Coupons always have fine print that you should always read before using. Often the coupon will state that you can only use 4 like coupons in a single shopping trip. This means that you can only use 4 of the exact same coupon at a time, a shopping trip being when you walked in, bought something, and walked out of the doors of the store. The “single shopping trip” rules vary a little by store, but that is usually the standard. Sometimes, the fine print states that the coupon is only valid in certain states. Often there are milk and cheese coupons good only in Idaho and Florida.

Follow the expiration date. Just because the coupon “only expired yesterday!” doesn’t mean the store has the right to bend the rules for you. When this happens the store doesn’t get their money, and may decide to change their coupon policy to be less favorable to us couponers.

I try to check all of my coupons before leaving the house, but before I get in line at the store I pull out the coupons I will be using and scan them, checking for a valid expiration date and that I am within the limits of the coupon. Many food coupons don’t have a limit the way non-food items do, so it is easy to miss when one does have a limit.

Doing these things not only makes you an honest person, but it saves you from embarrassment at the register when you have to put back ten of something because you didn’t read the rules.


Don’t be a mess at the register

Have you ever gotten in line behind somebody and groaned when because they are fumbling for everything, didn’t have their wallet out, and at the end after they started paying exclaimed, “Oh! I have coupons!” and begins digging through their purse pulling out coupon after crumpled coupon? To top it all off, half of the coupons she hands the cashier aren’t for items in her transaction. Don’t be this person. Here is an easy way to be organized and helpful at the register.

· Tell the cashier up front that you have coupons. She/he may want them after the transaction, or before but that way they are able to tell you. If they aren’t too talkative you can always just hand them the coupons first – they can set them aside if they want them last.

· Have your coupons ready, scanned for correct dates/rules/ect, and make sure they are the right coupons! The way I make sure of this is I have an envelope system. I glued two enveloped back to back, and labeled them “TO USE” and “USED”. As an item goes in my cart, the coupon gets moved from “TO USE” over to the “USED” side. This way when I get to the register I can pull out the stack of coupons and am ready to go.

· Even if you don’t use that particular method, have your wallet and coupons out and ready to go. Using coupons takes more of your time and attention and having everything ready including your payment will make things easier.

Don’t be rude to the cashier

I have often heard a cashier say to me, “I can’t do this,” or “you can’t use this coupon”. While it can be very frustrating and annoying I try to remember it is not the cashiers fault. Many stores do not educate their cashiers well on their coupon policies. Sometimes the cashier may have gotten conflicting information on the policy from different managers, trainers, coworkers, etc. In this situation if explaining what you are doing to the cashier does not work just ask politely for a manager. I say, “I understand it’s not your fault, is it possible to speak to a manager?” It is better to do it this way because you are likely going to end up talking to a manager anyway. If you are rude first, they will likely have a private conversation with the manager before they get to you in which the cashier may persuade the manager to act more strictly than usual. I have worked retail before and can say first hand that it happens.

You also don’t need to ruin the cashier’s day. I have had customers that have been so rude and caused such a scene that I went home with a very bad headache, exhausted and no longer enjoying my job. Nobody should be the cause of that. Be sure to always carry your coupon policy with you. If you carry your stores coupon policy then you will be able to show the manager where it says you can do this, and things should work themselves out. If not then you can complain to corporate but by no means should the cashier be blamed for any of it. If things are worked out smoothly by a manager then you now know of a cashier who knows how to do your transactions!

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Don’t be a shelf clearer

Just because you can get fifty-five jars of mayonnaise for free, does not mean you should go in and buy fifty-five jars – particularly all at once. There are others who would like to take advantage of the sale as well, probably many who barely survive by couponing. Take what you need to stock up on the item but if you need a lot either ask the manager to make a special order for you, or visit on several different days to allow the store to restock. You hate finding an empty shelf and so do others.

Don’t waste a coupon

This does not mean buy things you don’t need! I mean, if you have a coupon that you don’t need or will expire soon there are two things you can do with it. You can leave it in the store next to the item. The “coupon fairy” has happily surprised me many times! The other thing you can do is to mail your coupons to overseas military, which are allowed to use them 6 months past the expiration date. A quick Google search will give you many addresses.

Don’t buy something you need just because you have a coupon!

This is a big one. People often find they spend more money when they coupon – and that is true. This is because they spend every coupon they have whether they would really buy that item or not. These people don’t even wait to match the coupon with a sale, they just shop. This is not the point of couponing at all! You buy what you need, what you can use or donate, and discard the rest of the coupons. The point is saving money, not buying things we wouldn’t use.

Don’t expect to spend a small amount of time and receive big savings

You get what you put in. It is as simple as that. An hour or two a week or so and you will save maybe five or ten dollars on your bill. Spend more time, save more money. You will never find a “quick and easy” method to couponing. I spend about 5 hours a week between reading matchups, organizing my coupons, watching for sales and printable deals. I also save a lot. Just the other day I saved $97 on my grocery bill, more than half of my total. Also, don’t ever expect results like on the TLC show Extreme Couponing. It just won’t happen unless you are willing to bend rules or buy a lot of coupons. But you can save money, you can live better, it’s just up to you!

Now that you are armed with this information you are ready to tackle the world of couponing! Go out and save some money!


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    • Colleen Fowler profile imageAUTHOR

      Colleen Fowler 

      6 years ago from Mildenhall, England

      Hi Marcy, I hadn't heard of fraudulent coupons until about two years ago when a friend of mine called to tell me the store told her the coupon we had printed was fake! I learned really quickly after that thanks to Google.

      Yes, the military can use all manufacturer coupons for six months after the expiration date - we are stationed overseas right now and we rely on nice people in the states to mail us coupons because we cannot get them any other way here. It is a big help, especially for the large families.


    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      I had never heard of fraudulent coupons until reading this hub! I guess in this age of fake-everything, it should not be a surprise, though!

      This is a great hub for learning how to effectively coupon and find bargains. I love the idea of leaving them in the store (I've done that!) and sending them to the military - I had no idea they could be used beyond their dates by our service members!

      Voted up and useful!


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