Couponing Ethics: Blogger advocates coupon misuse for deeper discounts

This is the second in a series of articles exploring couponing ethics.
You may also enjoy the previous article in this series: Couponing Ethics: Reader made countless photocopies of coupons.

I’ve always been in awe of the amount of money we can save using coupons correctly and to their fullest advantage. But for some people, the goal of cutting one’s grocery bill in half is apparently not enough.

Coupon misuse has many forms, but the most common form is misredemption. Misredemption occurs when a coupon for one product is used on another. Earlier this month, I was speaking with Catalina Marketing’s CEO Jamie Egasti regarding this and other issues facing the industry. He stated “Over the past year, misredemption has skyrocketed,” surmising that misredemption is being driven by two factors. One is the continued sluggish state of the economy. But the second is the “Extreme Couponing effect.” Shoppers that have seen improper coupon usage glorified on the TLC show feel justified in misusing coupons too, disregarding the terms printed on the coupon in the name of saving even more money.

While most long-time coupon enthusiasts realize that there is a rampant amount of coupon fraud depicted on the Extreme Couponing show, some new coupon users view the show and assume that it is a how-to guide to unlock crazy amounts of savings. After all, it’s on TV and those shoppers were allowed to do it, so it must be okay… right?

Some couponers think so. Take a look at this blog post: “How I Paid Just $36.00 for $800 Worth of Downey [sic], Tide, Dawn, and Other P&g Products”. The author writes [excerpted]:

I’ve been making my best attempt to emulate the show’s couponers for some time, but I’ve never even come close to the 95%-100% savings that most of the show‘s couponers have enjoyed.

So how do TLC’s extreme couponers do it? Jamie Kirlew, was filmed using coupon family codes… Jamie decoded the UPC’s on various products and used higher valued coupons for cheaper products with the same barcode. An example was seen when she purchased .99 cent Pillsbury dinner rolls using .50 cent Pillsbury French Bread coupons that doubled to a dollar, making the much cheaper dinner rolls free…. this is how extreme couponer Jamie was able to get her groceries for near nothing.

This brings me to my savings… I noticed that shoppers at my local Winn Dixie grocery store had buggy loads of expensive Bounty paper towels, Charmin toilet paper, Oil of Olay soap, Cascade dishwashing supplies, and so on… After a little probing, I discovered that the store was knowingly and willingly allowing customers to use any Proctor and Gamble (P&G) coupon on any item so long as the barcodes from the coupon corresponded with the product being purchased…

Amazing, I could take a $10.00 coupon for one expensive product that I’d never buy and use it for some $4.99 Downey and still have almost $5.00 in overage.

I loaded up with newspapers with the P&G Brandsaver inserts the very next Sunday and traced down every P&G 3700 coupon I could find… I walked away with $184.00 worth of P&G products ranging from Bounty to Scope and paid only .37 cents. In the following two weeks, I’ve made seven more trips to Winn Dixie:

*23 items worth over $120.00 for $5.26.
*28 items worth $128.53 for $1.44.
*24 items worth $116.60 for .30 cents.
*26 items worth $146.85 for .18 cents.
*37 items worth $149.47 for $9.24.
*17 items worth $83.26 for $1.76.
* 5 items worth $44.00 for $6.61

If you read the full post on this author’s blog, you will see that she’s proudly posted some receipts from her coupon shopping trips, while continuing to stress that her store “told her this was okay.” It’s bad enough that her sense of ethics didn’t kick in, but to write a detailed how-to post and put it on the web in order to teach others to emulate her improper coupon usage and game the system? It’s both stunning and incredibly irresponsible.

Most manufacturer coupons, including Proctor & Gamble’s, state “Valid only on the product and size indicated. Any other use constitutes fraud.” Any other use. I don’t care what this shopper might have been told she could or couldn’t do at her store — using Align coupons on Bounty is fraud.

I was also saddened to read the 200+ comments under the article. While the vast majority of people commenting are calling the author out on her fraudulent coupon usage, others seem to be in awe of her unlocking the “secrets” to Extreme Couponing:

“How do I find out if this will work in my area?- just call various stores, perhaps?”

“You definitely got my attention Jo. I am going give this another read to make sure I get all the details. Thanks for sharing and God Bless.”

“Nice-now my interest in coupons just went up a few mega notches..”

“Excellent work. I always wondered how the couponers were able to save so much. I am an avid coupon user and the most I ever saved was $90 but still spent $100.00. I guess I do not know all of the tricks yet. Thanks for sharing.”

The problem, of course, is that someone has to pay for all of this. If Procter & Gamble does redeem all of these coupons for this Winn-Dixie store, they are the ones eating the cost of this rampant misredemption. Do you think P&G will be thrilled to see numerous Align and Crest Whitestrip coupons sent in for redemption, without having sold any Align or Crest Whitestrips during these Winn-Dixie sales? Not likely. P&G can audit the store, requiring that this Winn-Dixie show proof that they actually stocked and sold the items that they accepted coupons for. And, if the store cannot show corresponding quantities of Align and Crest Whitestrips sold during the timeframe that those coupons were accepted, guess what happens? P&G does not have to redeem the coupons, and Winn-Dixie will eat the cost of all of these shoppers buying Charmin with Olay coupons.

There’s a lot wrong with this story, but to me, the worst factor is that the blog author has posted a how-to guide encouraging others to violate the terms on the coupons. She is clear to state that she didn’t actually contact P&G herself to see if they truly had an arrangement with the store to accept any P&G coupon on any P&G item. Had she, she would have discovered that — no surprise — no such arrangement exists. Several people have posted this blog article to P&G’s Facebook page (another posting here)and P&G responded “For clarification, at Procter & Gamble, we do not have special coupon redemption policies for different retailers. Coupons are redeemable only by a consumer purchasing the brand and size indicated on the coupon.”

Many people commenting on the author’s blog post have likened what she did to shoplifting, and I agree. If you wouldn’t shoplift from a store, you shouldn’t commit coupon fraud either, as again — someone will pay the price, even if it isn’t you personally. We are all hurt when shoppers commit coupon fraud. Stores are forced to absorb losses, reacting with higher prices. Manufacturers respond with more restrictions on coupons.

At one of the coupon workshops I taught this weekend, a student raised his hand during the Q&A and asked “Can you tell me if the expiration date is actually coded into the bar code of the coupon?” I replied that with the advent of the new GS-1 barcode, yes, it is. He snapped his finger and said “Well, that stinks.”

I said “Why? Were you thinking you could just cut it off and redeem the coupon past the date?” He replied, “Yes.”

I said “Why would you want to do something like that?” I went on to state that it’s important to coupon ethically, and that many stores have a stipulation in their coupon policies not to accept any coupons with the dates cut off. And, even if the store did accept, the manufacturer also doesn’t have to reimburse the store if that coupon comes through the clearinghouse far after its acceptance period. “Someone is paying the price for this form of fraud — are you okay with that?”

He had no response.

Unfortunately, questions like his have become more prevalent in this “post-Extreme-Couponing” world. In speaking to people at my Super-Couponing workshops, it’s clear that many people are being drawn to couponing based on the staged, often fraudulent trips they’ve seen on TV. When I explain that those kinds of trips aren’t easily achievable, and that on many episodes, the stores have accepted coupons for products the people did not buy, as well as lifted coupon policies and doubled coupons “just for the show,” some of them still seem determined to do whatever it takes to get over-the-top savings. After all, those people did it — why shouldn’t they?

My previous ethics article discussed photocopying coupons, which is another common form of coupon fraud. Under that post, one reader commented, “…didn’t think it was right, but never thought there would be repercussions…”

And that seems to be the mindset for some of these shoppers: “It’s not right, but chances are, nothing will happen to me, so why shouldn’t I try to get the best deal possible?”

This is the second in a series of articles exploring couponing ethics.
You may also enjoy the previous article in this series: Couponing Ethics: Reader made countless photocopies of coupons.


  1. christina23 says

    I really don’t know what else to say. Actually yes I do know what to say…Thank you Jill for posting this and calling it what it is, not only fraud but shoplifting. It is absolutely no different than stealing.

    Thanks for all you do Jill!!

  2. kwilson says

    Thanks for yet another well written, informative piece. No wonder the industry wants your opinion, you actually have a moral compass! I save 50-60% on a regular basis and am thrilled. That’s quite “extreme” enough for me. Thanks for showing us the way.

  3. kellie0530 says

    The sad thing is that when this fraud is discovered,(P&G will be auditing Winn Dixie next quarter)its likely that the store manager (and any other employees)will likely lose their jobs, and then their families will be the ones who suffer. Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. We all have the freedom to make our own choices, but that also means we have the responsibility to accept consequences for our choices. Sadly, those consequences can extend to people that have nothing to do with the choices we make. In this case those consequences usually lead to higher prices for everyone in that store, the same way theft and inventory shrink do. I wonder if this blogger ever thought about the consequences of her decision?

  4. BunGirl says

    I have had trips where I get up into the 60-70% off range, by using my coupons the way they are intended to be used. Anyone who can’t be happy with those kind of savings, and would knowingly commit fraud to get more, might as well just go ahead and shoplift the items directly. At least then it would be obvious to everyone that what they are doing is theft. Thanks, yet again, for reminding us all that coupon fraud is still fraud.

  5. wireman1979 says

    During Jewel’s recent “Twice The Value” event I had a cashier refuse to take my Activia coupon. The reason was that I had accidentally cut off the expiration date. Since I had cut it out of my allYou magazine, I came home and taped it all back together and cut it out again but this time I was sure to include the expiration date and I used it the next day. Whenever I use coupons the cashiers always check to see that there are expiration dates and that the coupons are not expired. I fully expect them to do this. [And it is part of Jewel’s official coupon policy.] The cashiers also check to see that I actually did purchase the item for which I have the coupon. I also expect them to do this! Even though I have couponed for my entire life, thanks to Jill and the things I have learned here, I have been able to raise my standard of living while still subsisting below the poverty line. Times are very hard in the world now [and especially my industry] but I have done this all legally and above board. Sadly, like all things in life, there are some who will always try to take a shortcut or find a loophole and ruin it for everyone. If only they would think it through a few more steps and understand that they are hurting everyone.

  6. kkris812 says

    I’m probably naive but I’ve had the registers beep at every store I’ve use coupons at so that the cashier has to verify I bought the right item so I’m confused how you can use a wrong coupon. I read all the fine print before I get to the register because I’m afraid that I’m going to get the wrong item. I guess I’m just not smart enough to figure out how to cheat the system or it just wouldn’t occur to me to do so.

  7. fabbyk31 says

    For my Thanksgiving dinner I used a LOT of coupons. I saved close to $143 dollars and paid about $42. I felt bad because I was using all of my register rewards that I had collected the week or so prior and I had about $90 worth of RR. That was my most savings shopping trip ever. I did buy the Estrovan boxes like crazy to get those RR. I am set for at least a year with Estrovan now.

    But what the lady Jo is doing is not good for couponers.

  8. chickiepiemike says

    I have never knowingly used a coupon in a fraudulent manner. I did accidently present a .25 coupon at Jewel last week for Kleenex. The cashier pointed out to me that it was expired, but took it anyway. That was her discretion and I appreciated it.

    Was I raised in a different country? I think there is a perception that they’re “getting over” or “sticking it to the man.” Really? When I get home and look in the mirror, I have to be able to look myself in the eye. That extra .50 cents or a dollar is not worth screwing up my karma or having to answer to the big guy later on. And it just feels better to do it within the structure of the game. Would you cheat in Monopoly?

    These thoughts may be a little disjointed, but I think you get what I’m talking about.

  9. soapboxtray says

    Very sad. I really am sad for people who are so out to get as much as they can for themselves. Or the game of it or whatever the reason. These are enlightening articles Jill thank you. I have never seen Extreme Couponing. First I don’t have TV service… Second, after seeing your clips and posts on it, I wouldn’t go anywhere near TLC online. Very disappointed in their choice on exploiting that. I have had so many people ask me while in line and handing over my coupons if I was an Extreme Couponer.

  10. cmjohanson says

    The economy is tough and everyone is getting hit – consumer and retailer alike. I believe it is people using coupons fraudulently, encouraged and accelerated by the TLC show that has ruined it for the rest of us. The store sales are not as good, coupon values are lower, expiration dates are shorter, and using the same, ethical couponing techniques I started using 3 1/2 years ago (thanks to Jill) I cannot save as much. I still save on average 50%, and that is incredible!! However, there were some shopping trips when I could save up to 80% with a really good sale matched with really good coupons… ethically! So, thank you to all the rotten apples that spoiled the whole bunch. Perhaps they don’t know better, so a big thank you to Jill for teaching correctly from the beginning and keeping us all informed!

  11. Dealznstealz says

    Please do not forgot to put the blame and responsibility on TLC, Sharp Entertainment, KROGER, and all in the INDUSTRY that allowed the show to be aired to DRIVE SALES and PROFITS – and allowed the show had no oversight – -and taught openly COUPON FRAUD!! The only REALITY to the show was KROGER was the BIGGEST STAR!! COUPON distribution has gone down – – and PRICES UP!! Now Kroger employees had to sign a contract since the show stating if Kroger’s new limits of 5 LIKE coupons and 2 LIKE Internet coupons is not adhered to they will be fired. Now couponers are being discriminated and given looks when using coupons. Just take a look at Krogers Facebook page. Now Kroger has optimized their prices and profits – – the sales and savings have dropped since the show aired.

  12. CollegeCouponer says

    So I commented on the post… with the following:

    “I say this article’s title should be changed to “How I Cheated the System and Saved Using a Method I Should Be Imprisoned For!” This is just plain wrong. On a scale of 1 to 10, your ethics bomb into the negatives.”


  13. spaghetti0625 says

    I actually wrote a blog, linking readers to this article, because this makes me so mad! I had a few ideas and I posted them into my blog. I know none of my solutions will work, but those who are committing fraud on purpose should be punished. Do people have NO ethics or morals anymore? Why does everyone feel ENTITLED to scam the manufacturers? Do you know how many times I hear ‘Good for them….these companies make billions off of us, so why can’t I use a coupon for another product on a more expensive and appealing product?” Stunned doesn’t BEGIN my reaction. But if you skew it a different way, and show more of the crime being committed, they say ‘Oh, well THAT I wouldn’t do’ It’s the same thing, I just substitute coupons for something else. It just floors me that people feel entitled to scam someone else. Unbelievable! I’m putting a link to the page if anyone wants to read it:

  14. deelynn says

    When I was shopping at my local Winn-dixie on Saturday I spoke to the manager about this. She said this is not coupon misuse because P&G and winn-dixie have a deal to offer any pg product on mondays betwee 8 and 9 am i think for any coupon. Yes shocking but not misuse. Just figured I would let you all know. There are a couple of coupons by pg that you can not use. Sorry I can’t not remember exactly which two it is.

  15. DiamondCass says

    It is really a shame, because we see Jill post articles like this ALL the time… It used to make me super angry, because I have DEFINITELY noticed a difference in my personal savings – the stores’ sales policies and coupon policies have changed since the TLC show aired. I don’t have to guess what caused it. However sometimes I feel like I’m starting to get complacent. Because, Oh, look, yet another person is breaking the ‘coupon rules’, and nothing is being done to them. So what’s the difference if we read about it? We get angry over something we have no control over. Which is even more frustrating. I wish the stores, manufacturers, or local police/attorneys would do something about this fraud. Until then, it just gets old hearing the same story over and over.

    I can’t wait until we read a story on here that says, “so and so BUSTED for using coupons fraudulently”… and we can actually see results from Jill’s hard work and postings. I’m thinking it will have to involve an arrest, because I only remember 2 times when the fraudulent coupons led to consequences (one, a lady did get arrested I believe – this was either right before or right when the show began; and the other is that mom who went in and had to pay the $400 back to the store where her son used the FREE coupons…) I want consequences that all fraudulent coupon users will FEAR and stop these terrible ethics!! :)

  16. SaraW946 says

    What do you guys think that really happened? The blogger in question has posted several comments and a couple of additional new blog entries with comments insisting that certain WD stores in LA and MS indeed allowed this practice with P&G’s blessing for a limited time only. She also suggested people call those stores to double-check, and she herself notified P&G to ask if this indeed happened. To date P&G did not respond to her, or indeed other people’s complaints about what happened.

    Does anyone have a theory based on what the information that we have on this?

    The links:

    Disclaimer: although I have a theory myself, which I will share once I hear everybody else’s, I absolutely do not engage in coupon code matching and have never done so in my life. I will also continue not doing it. However, I want to hear theories about what you believe happened, from the time the blogger went to the store to when she wrote her last blog entry.

    I am interested only in reading well-written, well-argued posts about what you believe happened.