Cutting and using coupons isn't difficult. It's easy, it saves money and it can even be fun! But some readers want to push the limits of what can be done.
It's always important to use coupons correctly. Use them on the correct sizes and products, use them within the expiration date guidelines and never make photocopies of coupons.
These three readers raise some interesting questions.
Q: "I have a $2 coupon for laundry detergent that says it must be used on a 48-ounce or larger box. I typically get a smaller one because it costs less and I save more. Is it OK to use this coupon for the small size or is it fraud?"
A: Read the terms of the coupon. It will spell out that the coupon must be used on the 48-ounce or larger size and, further, that "any other use constitutes fraud." The answer is right there on the coupon; if you use it to buy the smaller size, you are using it in a fraudulent manner.
I have never understood why some people believe that the terms of a coupon are open to interpretation. The size and product the coupon specifies is the size and product you should use it for, period.
Today's coupons have an updated bar code that contains more detailed information about the product. This helps the register determine whether the shopper actually bought the correct size and variety before applying the discount.
The next reader has a truly wild question about coupon expiration dates.
Q: "The expiration date on most coupons shows only the last two digits of the year. For example, it might read 8/14/11 instead of 8/14/2011. Can I argue that the expiration date is 2111 and not 2011?
"My reasoning is that the coupon will be good in 2111, 2211, and 2311 and beyond. My kids and their kids can use this coupon if saved and passed down. When only the last two digits are shown, what determines that it is 2011?"
A: While coupon dates may be abbreviated, showing just the last two digits of the year, understand that it refers to the current year and not a year centuries from now. In fact, the four-digit year is encoded into the bar code on the coupon. And, the store's register will recognize that a coupon dated 8/14/11 is no good on 8/15/11.
Even if your argument held water, it's unlikely that all of the products available in stores today will be available hundreds of years from now or that the coupon discount would be significant.
One of the first coupons ever issued was for Grape-Nuts cereal in the 1890s. While the coupon did not have an expiration date, it offered a 1-cent savings. Even though Grape-Nuts is still available today, a savings of a penny isn't much to get excited about.
Q: "Following the very bad advice of a friend, I copied printable Internet coupons for a few months. I did not realize the magnitude of the problem, and how bad it really is — honestly, I didn't.
"I also never knew those coupons could be linked to your computer's IP address. Is there any high chance that someone is going to come after me for the few months of coupons I used which are apparently considered fraudulent?"
A: If a coupon distributor sees identical printed coupons submitted for redemption, they can indeed track them back to the IP and hardware address of the computer that originally printed the first coupon. One major coupon site blocks printing privileges permanently and delivers the following message:
"Printing Disabled on this Computer! We have evidence that one or more coupons printed from this computer were presented multiple times for redemption in violation of our terms. By redeeming the same coupon multiple times you are committing fraud, and we are revoking your coupon printing privileges effective immediately. If we identify further evidence of fraudulent activity, we reserve the right to take additional action against the owner or user of this computer, including pursuing legal or criminal actions."
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 .