I wish someone would write a "Rules for Couponing" list that definitively says what is right and wrong to do.
I have a friend who thinks it's OK to take the peelie coupons from cereal boxes at the store and keep them for later. I once saw a shopper buy every roll of paper towels during a sale because, with a doubled coupon, they were only 20 cents each and she had 40 coupons.
I get frustrated because I see people do lots of things that seem wrong. I think an official list would clear up a lot of misinformation. — Sara F.
The Coupon Information Corp. is the coupon industry's watchdog group. In addition to providing up-to-date information on counterfeit coupons that are circulating, the CIC also keeps a list of guidelines for coupon shoppers called "Considerate Couponing." Here are some of my favorite tips.
— On stores that decline to accept coupons: While most stores accept manufacturer coupons, the CIC notes that they are under no legal obligation to do so. I often receive email from readers who are upset that a local store will not accept coupons. Remember that the store takes the loss if it accepts counterfeit coupons or photocopies of coupons.
— On photocopying coupons: I've discussed the dangers of photocopying coupons many times in this column because it's one of the most common forms of coupon fraud. The CIC states, "Strictly prohibited. Do not photocopy coupons. This is counterfeiting and is a criminal offense. The penalties, criminal or civil, can be severe." The same penalties hold true for scanning coupons and printing out the scans.
— On shelf clearing: No shopper wants to go to a store with empty shelves. I'll never forget the time I went to my supermarket to pick up some salad dressing. It was on sale for $1, and with my $1 coupons from the newspaper, I planned to get four bottles free.
When I saw that there were no bottles left, I asked an employee if there were any more in stock. The employee replied that about 30 minutes earlier, a woman came in with more than 400 coupons and took every bottle. The CIC notes that stores are limiting the number of like coupons one shopper can use in a single shopping trip due to shelf clearing.
— On coupons distributed in the store: Picking up in-store coupons is a great way to extend your shopping power and collect coupons in anticipation of the next sale. Manufacturers use them to encourage shoppers to try a new product. It almost goes without saying that you should not take every coupon that you see.
"Take what is appropriate for your personal needs, leaving the rest for other shoppers to enjoy," the CIC advises. "Taking an entire tear pad is inconsiderate to other couponers. Do not take a peelie off a product unless you intend to purchase that product."
— On coupon courtesy: Be nice to the cashiers and staff at your store! This is such a simple tip, but it's worth repeating. Coupon usage should never be an us vs. them scenario. It's important to remember that coupon transactions can take time. If a cashier makes a mistake at the register or forgets to scan a coupon, the CIC advises, politely point out the error.
— On setting an example: The majority of couponers are smart shoppers who enjoy great deals, adding, "Unfortunately, the inappropriate actions of a few extreme couponers inaccurately portray couponers in a bad light," the CIC notes. "Try to raise the bar by following the rules, and being a courteous shopper."
You can read the entire "Considerate Couponing" list on the Coupon Information Corp.'s website at couponinformationcenter.com.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, http://www.jillcataldo.com . Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .