Extreme couponing: Frugal dilemmas

Today's story about extreme couponers and the controversy over shady tactics some may use to reap huge savings raises some good ethical questions about how far consumers should go to lower their grocery bills.

It's appropriate to maximize both your ability to collect and to organize manufacturers' coupons with store sales, but only in accordance with stores' policies.

At most chains you can redeem one store coupon and one manufacturer's coupon per item, but some supermarkets will double or even triple coupons up to a certain value. There are always caveats, though --- according to Giant's coupon policy, only the first four identical coupons (up to a 99 cent value) for a product will be doubled.

There are also some unique options at some warehouse stores. Under BJ's coupon policy, you can use one manufacturer's coupon per item in a multi-pack --- for example, one for each tube in a three-pack of toothpaste. This only works on items that could be sold individually, however.

Some stores will even honor competitors' coupons, so it pays to track the base prices of products you buy often at stores in your area. But the bottom line: stay within the rules of the game, or the rules will be changed.

Here's where stores can help us: staff should be trained to know store policies and to apply them consistently. You shouldn't need to keep a printout of the store's coupon policy with you, but because not every person manning a register will know whether they accept Internet coupons, it's better to be prepared.

In my opinion, being considerate should also be part of the equation. Couponing consumers should employ these techniques when they will cause the least amount of disruption ---not during peak shopping hours when customers waiting to check out are backed up into the aisles.

It also makes me wonder whether it's worth it to 'clear the shelf' of a product, when that means it leaves nothing for fellow couponers to enjoy. But it definitely makes sense to take advantage of a deal on a non-perishable item, even if you can't use it yourself, if you could donate it to a charity, such as a shelter or food bank.

What couponing practices do you think cross the line?


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