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Can shoppers go coupon-crazy? - Jill Cataldo

Last week, we discussed the behavior of a small percentage of coupon users who become so deal hungry that they chase down every deal in sight. (Not that there's anything wrong with that ... I love the thrill of getting products free with coupons!) But when coupon shoppers take things a little too far, pushing ethical and legal limits, it affects other people, from the cashier who tires of explaining why expired or photocopied coupons cannot be used, to the shopper who simply wanted to purchase one bottle of shampoo and found the shelf bare because another shopper bought all 20 bottles.

How much is too much? Can couponing be an obsession?

My answer? Absolutely! The rush of walking out of the supermarket knowing you've saved $40, $50 or more with coupons is an experience many shoppers cannot wait to repeat. And, when a shopping trip involves deals in which many items are free, it can send coupon shoppers, new and seasoned alike, into a frenzy. How many coupons do I have for that? Should I order additional coupons before this hot sale ends? There are 15 bottles of salad dressing in stock today! Do I need all 15, since they'll be free with my coupons?

Do you find yourself mentally asking these questions? Don't get me wrong, I love my coupons and bargains, too! But here are a few warning signs that it might be time to clip your coupon obsession, before it gets out of control:

* You're out of control if... You feel compelled to chase every single coupon deal each week.

Many coupon shoppers feel as if an awakening of sorts takes place once their eyes are opened to coupon shopping. Once they learn that using this coupon on that product during this week's sale makes the item free, they quickly decide they must get every single item that's free with a coupon, every single week. In areas with competing supermarkets and drugstores, shoppers can find themselves traveling from store to store, thinking, "I must get all these deals!"

While there's nothing wrong with chasing sales, consider the time, energy and fuel you spend. Free items aren't so free when you must drive long distances, make frequent trips or give up significant amounts of time with family to acquire them. It's fine to skip sales here and there, if you have a stockpile of identical products at home. I don't chase deals because my time is important to me. I usually shop at one supermarket and one drugstore each week. I'm OK with letting other stores' deals go, in exchange for having more free time.

* You're out of control if... You clear shelves.

If your store has only two bottles of mustard left and you want to buy both, are you a shelf-clearer? No. But if there are 18 mustard bottles and you buy all 18, it's likely that other shoppers (and your store) would consider this to be shelf-clearing. If you regularly buy large quantities of the same product during great sales, consider placing a special order for the number of items you'd like with the service counter at your store. These orders typically take just a day or two to arrive at most stores. When your order comes in, pick it up, buy it with your coupons -- and leave the store's shelf stocked for other shoppers.

* You're out of control if... You resort to unethical behavior to achieve savings.

If you misuse coupons in any way, such as cutting the expiration dates off or trying to use a coupon for one product on an unrelated item, you've definitely crossed the line.

Learn more about couponing at Jill's web site, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.