Q: "I am a cashier in a grocery store and am writing to you about the dark side of coupon use. You don't have a concept of the abuse we go through daily at the hands of our coupon-clipping customers. I am amazed at the number of people who feel it's acceptable to make copies of Internet coupons and try to pass them off as legitimate. Clipping off an expired expiration date, then screaming at the cashier because she won't take it is also unacceptable. Tying up a checkout lane so you can buy 75 jars of spaghetti sauce with coupons is rude to other shoppers. Calling our corporate office because the cashier would not accept 30 of the same bread coupons, when each coupon states, 'One per customer.' Your phone call just put a single mother out of work, even though she was correct in not allowing you to use those coupons.
"Jill, don't you think you have a responsibility to teach people not to abuse couponing? Saving money becomes like a drug to some people. They will do anything for it."
A: I've always strived to be one of the most ethical coupon teachers working today. I encourage honest, courteous and respectful use of coupons. Coupon shoppers can get fantastic deals at the supermarket without resorting to unethical behavior. In the years I've been blogging about coupon deals at jillcataldo.com, there has never been a single week without one hot coupon deal or another. The deals just keep coming, week after week.
And I'm really not a "crazy coupon clipper." You won't see me clearing shelves or tying up a checkout lane with a cartful of identical items. I buy what I need for my family and I buy a little more to support my local food pantry. I'm proud to use coupons correctly, and I implore all of my students to do the same.
It's never right to make a photocopy of any coupon. It is never correct to cut the expiration date off a coupon, hoping to use it after it's expired. When the store tries to redeem photocopies or expired coupons, they're unable to. Dishonest coupon shoppers are stealing. The misuse of coupons is a form of shoplifting; these shoppers take groceries for which the store will never be reimbursed. I do not condone this behavior and I address the issue regularly.
Couponing can be an addiction. Some shoppers feel it necessary to chase around town to multiple stores, getting every possible deal they can. Others obsess over store flyers leaked online weeks in advance, ordering 50 or more identical coupons from a clipping service after they spot a hot deal. Then, the day the deal hits, they're at the store when it opens, buying, as you said, 75 jars of spaghetti sauce, because they have that many coupons and feel compelled to use every single one of them.
These shoppers take things to the extreme, especially when they clear shelves and are rude to other shoppers in the process. Stores can and should reserve the right to limit quantities to shoppers, and part of a cashier's job, of course, is to ensure that the coupons a shopper presents are valid. But a shopper who's aggressive to a cashier and makes false reports to a corporate office is out of line, especially if someone loses a job over the issue.
Next week, we'll continue discussing this topic, and I'll share some warning signs that a shopper may be a little too obsessed with coupons.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.