Couponing 101: Ethical Coupon Use

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A very important aspect of using coupons is making sure you are using them ethically. Manufacturers provide us with the privilege (yes, privilege) of using coupons to save money on their products. When these coupons are not used as they were intended not only do the stores suffer (because they will not be reimbursed for the coupon), but the manufacturer and the consumers suffer as well.The more fraudulent coupon use there is the less coupons we will see. There are a few important items I want to highlight that relate to ethical coupon use:

1. Only use a coupon on the product it was intended for. This not only includes just the product type, but also the size and specific type of product.

*If the coupon says it is good on Huggies diapers, it is not ok to use it on Pampers diapers.
*If the coupon says it is good for a 24oz bottle of ketchup, it is not ok to use it on a 16oz bottle of ketchup.
*If a coupon says it is good on Honey Nut Cheerios, it is not ok to use it on Regular Cheerios.
*If a coupon says it is good on 2 products it is not ok to use it on just one product.

Manufacturers issue coupons for products to attract consumers to those specific products. Just because a coupon will scan for an item, that does not mean it is ok to use it on anything other than what it was intended for.

2. Expired coupons are just that, expired. Just as coupons are issued for specific products, they are also issued for specific ranges of time. When you use a coupon outside of its expiration date, it is considered fraudulent coupon use. Remember, you can always donate your expired coupons to overseas military families!

3. Follow store coupon policies. Yes, I know some of them do not make much sense, but the store has the prerogative to make their policy whatever they want. Keep in mind that items one and two above play a strong roll in stores cracking down on coupon use! I would also like to mention that I am a big advocate of communicating with your store manager. For example, some King Soopers stores have a policy against using more than three of the same coupons in one transaction. I was able to talk to my store manager and get approval to use more than the three coupon limit. Also, I am not talking about “cashier coupon policies” here. If you run in to a cashier that seems to be making up their own policy as they go, that is a much different story. Always go by the store’s printed coupon policy.

4. Know what a fraudulent coupon looks like. A few of you have recently e-mailed me the PDF coupon pictured above. It is fraudulent, so don’t use it. The bottom line is that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. PDF coupons for FREE items are almost always fraudulent. If you ever have a question on a coupon’s legitimacy, feel free to e-mail me.

5. Making copies of internet printable coupons is illegal. This is one of the most frequent newbie couponer mistakes out there. You printed it out in black and white on normal printer paper, so you should be able to make a few copies…right? Nope!

Most printable coupons are available in limited quantities. If a manufacturer only releases 10,000 coupons, but they get 30,000 turned in from stores, guess what…those stores are out that money for those extra 20,000 coupons. If that is not enough to stop you from copying coupons, you might like to know that printable coupons contain unique identifying information that can track that coupon right back to your computer. There have been cases of people getting arrested and prosecuted for making copies of coupons. I don’t say that to scare you, but to make you aware of the potential consequences participating in this illegal practice. It isn’t worth it. Enough said.

As couponers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are participating in honest coupon use. I hope that this post has helped to shed some light on some areas that you may have been confused about. Also, I want to add that I was confused about some of these items when I first started to coupon, so if you’ve made one of these mistakes don’t be too hard on yourself!

*Find a couponing workshop in your area! They are fun, very inexpensive and being taught all over the US! If you are a local reader, check out this page for Colorado couponing classes.


  1. Jenn says

    What about getting coupons on the internet. I am hearing conflicting thoughts on that?!? What about getting inserts from someone? (generally speaking our local coupons suck lol!)

    Changing the zip code on places like coupons (dot ) com?

    Pretty new to this and want to do it right :0)

    • says

      Hi Jenn~ I do not advise purchasing coupons from the internet, but if you have a place to get them for free (family or friends) then go for it! :) has confirmed that it is perfectly acceptable to change your zip code in their system, so that is ok too. Great questions!

  2. Jessie says

    My local Walmart has stopped taking coupons from the newspaper, printed off the internet, coupons from peel pads, even ones off the product even if the cashier pulls them off. They say that they don’t have to use them and the customer service manager was called over and she even said the same thing and the manager and the store manager told me that it is my fault that they could not take them. It was my very first time that I had even used coupons. I was wondering if anyone else has had problems with walmart taking any coupons or if it was just me?

  3. *~*~*Bargain Blessings*~*~* says

    Alycia~ Yep, that is a great tip! :)

    Sarah~ It is not ok to use a $1/2 coupon w/ a BOGO coupon, but it is ok to use a $1/1 MQ with a BOGO (at most stores). For your cereal coupon questoion…you would need to buy 5 boxes of cereal to use a $1.50 off 3 and a $1 off 2. They coupons are intended for when you buy 3 and 2 products respectivly.

  4. Alycia M says

    Thanks for this great information. Very helpful. :O)

    I was going to respond to Matt and Cherilyn that I have had occasions when my coupons didn't print. I emailed the companies that the coupons were for and they have mailed me the coupons. I only received one instead of the normal two but it was better than nothing and made me feel very good about their companies!

  5. Sarah says

    This might just be a general couponing question and not an ethical one, but here goes. Can I combine two different MF coupons for the same items? So, in this Sunday's PG there is a BOGO coupon and a $1/2 coupon for the same deo. They are both MF, but two different coupons/values. I'm not even sure if they would both scan, and I know to read in case either one says it can't be used with another coupon. Another example would be having cereal coupons that are $1/2 and $1.50/3. So, is it a good deal, something that won't work, or something that would be wrong to try?

  6. *~*~*Bargain Blessings*~*~* says

    mykidsatemybrain~ First of all, love the name…makes me smile every time you post a comment. The best way to prevent from having to print that ads is to watch the coupon print out and hit the stop button on you printer after the coupon prints and before the ad prints. Just be careful for the coupons that print after the ads!

    Proud Mommy~ Sadly, it sounds like another case of a cashier/ manager/customer servive making up their own coupon policy, because that is flat out wrong. I suggest talking to your store manager and sending an e-mail to Safeway corporate. It is always a good idea to ask them to show you it in writing when things like this come up. :)

  7. Proud Mommy says

    I just got back from Safeway in Windsor and Customer Service informed me that as of today, you can no longer stack a store coupon w/ a manf. coupon (only 1 coupon per item – doesn't matter what type of coupon). I'm way bummed to hear this since they're not losing any money by it. Can anyone else confirm this?

  8. mykidsatemybrain says

    Thanks for a great reminder! I've been hearing so much in the last 2 weeks re. stores/restaurants having problems with the printables getting copied! Hope they don't decrease eliminate…Also wondering how to set it up so only coupons print from those sites and not the ads to save ink. Do you know?

  9. *~*~*Bargain Blessings*~*~* says

    Samantha~ Yes, that is ok. As long as you are printing them from a computer and not making copies you are fine. :)

  10. Samantha says

    It's ok to print coupons from multiple computers though, right? Say I have three computers for my family in the house, I could print two from each, or whatever the limit is. Or is that abusing the policy?

  11. Matt and Cherilyn Magee says

    I get why you can't copy coupons, but is there a way to reprint a coupon that didn't print the first time (yet it tells me that my limit has been reached)?

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