Is Couponing Ethical? What do you think?

Is couponing Ethical

A reader asked a great question or had a very valid concern that I am sure others have wondered as well.

“I am new at this and haven’t tried, this is my first week to buy 5 papers, but I was questioned by a family member if doesn’t this seem a little dishonest to try to work the coupons like this and to try to get something for nothing. Left me a little discouraged.”

But, the facts are COUPONING IS COMPLETELY ETHICAL AND LEGAL, if you do not take advantage of it ways that are UNETHICAL.

I have posted before what happened from the time you cut the coupon out, used it, and the store was fully reimbursed for it by the manufacturer. The benefit for the store is that not only are you going to the store and shopping there, more importantly you are moving their merchandise, which as my CVS manager explained to me, is more beneficial to them that they give you it to you free and CVS get reimbursed, than it just sitting there.

Now, there are ways in which couponing is unethical and just the same as stealing. This is were I jump on a soapbox. When I teach a coupon class unfortunately I have to spend quite a bit of time on explaining the “right” way to use coupons. When people use coupons the “wrong” way they ruin it for the rest of us.

Below is a old guest post from a reader that applies to this question perfectly…

What to NEVER do with a coupon:

NEVER use coupons for products they are not intended for.  If a coupon says you must buy 2, you must buy 2. Even if the coupon does not beep when they scan it. If you try and slip these through it is coupon fraud, this costs the stores and the manufacturers money. It is stealing.

NEVER use expired coupons. There is the possibility stores will not get reimbursed for them. Stores usually have 3 months to send in their coupons after they expire, but that is not for us to decide. If you are trying to slip these through, that is also stealing.

NEVER EVER copy coupons. Printable coupons have a unique code in the barcode that is linked to your computer’s address. If you copy them the code is all the same they can track it to you, it is coupon fraud to copy ANY coupon.

NEVER Decode the Barcode. I am not even going to start explaining what this is. It taking advantage of the “system” and coupon fraud at best.

NEVER alter coupons. I am going to throw in, or use pdf’s sent to you by friends. MANY pdf coupons in files are fraudulent. They have been altered by people and then spammed around the internet. Honest Friends send theses around, but many times they are not valid. Be VERY cautious, esp. if they are high value.

NEVER intend to return an item you buy with a coupon for full value. This blows my mind. You might as well just steal it from the store and not bother with the coupon in the first place. Also, stores will “tag” you and keep track of anything that you do in their store, with good reason. My CVS will tell me stories about people like this, they know exactly who they are. They have refused to sell them anything with a coupon.

If you want more information on what you can and can not do with coupons, go HERE.

Fortunately, most people don’t do these things. I have to admit that I have mistakenly used an expired coupon and not realized it, only to have the cashier catch it. I am really embarrassed and apologize. We might make a few mistakes, especially when you are first starting, but knowingly taking advantage is completely another story.

The future of couponing and finding great deals depends a lot on the people using coupons. If people are stealing and manipulating coupons, manufactures will stop using them to entice us into buying their products. They are hoping that we like their products and tell our friends. They want us to buy that product in the future even if we do not have a coupon.

Off my soap box now… what do you think? How do you feel about coupons?


  1. kim says

    As a stay at home mom saving money is important for my family. Sometimes I thought about giving up on coupon because some cashiers can make you feel like you are trying to steal something from them but I honestly think that as long as you using it the right way then it is great to save money :)

  2. Houstonmama Charity says

    Couponing done RIGHT benefits everyone. A coupon is really just an advertisement for a product; the manufacturer wants consumers to try it and like it and tell others about it. I can’t tell you how many new products I’ve gotten for free or cheap and really liked them and told friends about them! My family absolutely loves Cascadian Farms granola but I never would’ve tried it without a coupon, and I’ve told lots of friends (and my 100’s of FB friends) how much we like it! Same goes for other products like KidsZone bars and Campbell’s Go soup and Belvita biscuits and more. Word of mouth is powerful! We all benefit from coupons.

  3. Christiana says

    I agree!! I love couponing and I save tons of money and get excited when things are free. BUT I am not that crazy lady who screams at the cashier. I have seen women scream and throw a fit. Nothing is worth that much chaos. If I have an issue I just go to customer service. Most of the time it was just an error ( I have misread the coupon before). It frustrates me when people abuse the coupons because most of us use coupons to help save money for our family and when people abuse the coupons it ruins it for everyone. I fear that coupons will just go away and then most of us will be screwed.

  4. PLmom8 says

    I am glad you posted this because I have been wanting to comment for the last few weeks, and this seems to be the right place to do it. I have always shopped with coupons, and I like to get great deals. What has been bothering me lately is that you encourage people to get multiple newspapers, and then when CVS offers zyrtec free, like they did last week, and I want to go in and get my one package of it free, they are always out because you and those whose deals you post on here have all gotten 5 free. I went to 3 different CVS stores last week before I found one last pack of zyrtec on a shelf. I think couponing is a good thing, but hoarding a good deal is not fair to those of us who just want to use one or two coupons to get a good deal. I just used zyrtec as the example, but usually when you show the great deals people have gotten, the picture shows 5 or more of each item. Thanks for letting me share this.

    • Tiffany says

      Sure! But I don’t think buying 3 Zyrtec is hoarding. Plus you can always price match it or just buy it at Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreens and all the other stores that it was free at that week. CVS was not the only place. In most cases you can always get a rain check as well. That coupon was only good for a week, so a rain check would not have done any good on that. But 99% of the time a rain check is the solution.
      This is an interesting complaint. What do some other readers think?

      • Patty Noble says

        I can understand what PLmom is saying, it can be frustrating to try & get an item, but it is already gone. But by the same token the point of couponing is to save money? So when an item is on rock bottom price, to get that savings you need to stock up, not to say you need 64 of that item. I get rain checks all the time, in fact I am carrying around 3 right now.

      • Crystin says

        It CAN be frustrating to look for an item and it not to be there, but in no way is buying 5 or even 10 of something unethical or rude. Stores are out of items all of the time, and it isn’t always due to couponing. If someone is buying 35 of something and then not using it or selling it for a profit, that can be considered unethical, but whether or not to stock up on an item at a great price for your family is a matter of personal opinion, not ethics. There is absolutely no way that buying 3 or 5 zyrtecs is hoarding. And there is no way that because a person wants a store not to be out of an item that other people should say “well I guess I better just get one”. There are items that couponers can’t get because other couponers have gotten them or because just a regular customer got them or simply because the store didn’t stock enough. That’s part of grocery shopping and it’s certainly part of couponing. Frustrating? Yes. A matter of ethics? Nope.

        I take great pride in the fact that I value my husband’s hard work and that I take my job as purchaser very seriously and that I do not waste a penny of the money that my husband earns. In some form, to some degree I think that is the case for many couponers. I work extremely hard to stretch our budget and to make the most of each dollar that we have to spend, so that I am doing my part to contribute to our finances, since I do not work. When I did work, I did the same so that I could value both of our paychecks. Stocking up and buying at rock bottom prices so that I don’t have to buy at full price is part of what I do to feed my family with what we have to feed them with. I am able to spend way less than what an average family spends and we eat well on it. I am able to buy healthy foods for my family and I can rest assured that if something awful happens, we would be able to eat from our freezer and cabinets for a good while. There is absolutely nothing unethical or wrong or disrespectful to others about that!

      • says

        I agree Tiffany! I gave up on getting that Zyrtec deal at CVS; I was able to get mines at Family Dollar before the coupon expired and I always get my rain checks when an item is out of stock.

    • Samantha says


      Can you explain to me how grabbing (5) 5cts of Zyrtec is hoarding??? I get 5 papers a week and didn’t have time to go to any CVS stores or Walmart for the overage before the coupon expires and you don’t hear me crying!! I think you need to step your coupon game up or stop complaining LOL

      • Amanda says

        Wow, Samantha, that was pretty rude! It is frustrating when you really need an item and are going to use it, while it may just sit in someone’s home because they like the thrill of the hunt and don’t ever use it. Or are just buying it to turn around and sell for profit.

        We have a family in the area that advertises an ongoing yard sale that is nothing but items they have gotten for free or as money makers that they make a profit off of. They have a Facebook page and list on Craigslist all the time. I’ve flagged them on Craigslist quite a few times, but apparently they have usual customers. It is sooooo irritating. I usually just blame them when the store is out of items first thing! They advertise X product for $1, Walmart price $2.96 etc, whereas they probably paid nothing for it. Ugh!!

        • Tiffany says

          We have to remember that there is a difference between an ethical issue and something that’s personal opinion. If somebody is really selling products that they bought with coupons and that is an ethical issue because in some states it can be illegal without a resale license. However just because somebody doesn’t like the number of items that another person purchases That doesn’t mean that there is anything illegal or ethically wrong with it.

          You can always ask your local TV stations to do a story on people who resale to bring attention to it so that maybe they will not be able to do it anymore.

          • Diana says

            Technically it is in a gray area legally since all the coupons say “not for items that are for resale” or something like that. So it’s using a coupon not for their intended and stated purpose and could be viewed as fraud.

        • Lisa says

          It’s easy to be rude over the internet where you don’t have to show your face or give your name.

          I am heads up and check coupon previews, if something is a stock up price I pre-order @ CVS or WM. You don’t even have to go in, just call! CVS can be tough because often you need to get multiples to complete a deal, e.g.- Get $10 ECB WYB $30 P&G deals, which require multiple coupons, hence needing multiple papers.

          I love Tiffany and the money she saves me. She doesn’t post anything other sites don’t or anything unethical; if you don’t like it don’t come to the site, easy peasy! Couponing can be frustrating, but a little planning ahead and smart thinking can avoid many frustrations.

      • Samantha Mouer says

        So what I said was rude but the way this person is talking to Tiffany wasn’t rude?? All Tiffany does is post deals to help us get the very best deal out there and here this lady is bashing the way Tiffany helps all of us!!

        Most deals that save you the most $$ require multiple coupons to do the deal so of course Tiffany is going to promote buying multiple papers!! In no way what so ever is Tiffany promoting hoarding anything at all she isn’t one of those blogs that promotes using a coupon clipping service so you can order HUNDREDS of tbe zyrtec coupons and clear shelves all over town. Instead its buy 5 papers to possibly get 5 (5)ct zyrtecs for free…. but Tiffanys the bad guy here and now I am because I didnt tip toe around how some people repay her for her hard work!

  5. Tammy from Ca says

    You know I never ever thought of buying something with a coupon then taking it back for full price.I read that and said WHAT……I must not have thief in my blood.I only buy 4 papers a week. Theres lots of times I don’t even use a 1/4 of them.They have helped me save alittle. Sometimes only 10.00 that week but it is something. The Walgreens and CVS and Rite aid scare me.So I just use them at Target and Wal Mart.If I lived in Texas I would be at one of your work shops screamimg HELP. LOL

    • kim says

      You are so funny Tammy :) If you don’t mind me asking, may i ask you why Walgreen and Rite aid scare you :)

    • Brandy says

      Tammy, I’m with you! I have lots of stock from freebies and one might say that I do hoard, sometimes its necessary when you’re using the overage from a coupon but I’ve NEVER considered bringing the stuff back for full price. Plus I’m super dooper about giving to people I know need stuff or who just simply ask. When I shop with these “money maker” coupons, I bless at least 5 other families with the items I buy and am even considerate if I see another customer looking at the same item I am, I’ll ask “are you going to get any of those” and will refrain from clearing the shelves unless I know its a stock night. As someone else mentioned, there are times the shelves are empty and it is not necessarily because of a couponer, its simply a part of shopping.

  6. Gena says

    I agree with most of the post on here, but I will say when there is a great sale on I will stock up big time. But, I’m not a hoarder because I do give a lot of my stock pile to my family and friends. Especially my mom she is on a fixed income and a lot of the time she was doing with out before I started couponing. I have never resold anything to me that’s not right. My mom tells her friend up in Sherman TX that she shop’s at Gena’s Market, and most of them say they’ve never heard of that place. She said right because I shop at my daughter’s house.

  7. christiana says

    So i guess You can say I am a hoarder. My hubby works on commission so When his checks are big i stock up big time. That way I don’t have to worry about it When his checks are small. I live in Colorado and there is this amazing food bank down the street who takes Care of people that just need the help here and there so once a month i clean out My stockpile and donate. If i have those amazing coupons for products that i dont need like baby products then i buy and donate. I grew up where food was not always available and i have to say in colorado we are about a week behind in sales so I look here to plan muly next shopping trip. I do get frustrated When the products are always out but it is what it is I guess. Everything in My pantry is stuff we use. Couponing has allowed me to cut our $800 a month groceries to $200-$400 month. Thank You Tiffany for all that You do!!!!

  8. Darla says

    I get irritated when people complain about hoarding. If soup is on sale at a good price and I buy twenty cans without a coupon, I am considered a thrifty shopper stocking up for my family. If soup is on sale at a good price and I buy twenty cans with coupons, I am a hoarder because I should have shared what’s on the shelf with someone else who might want the good deal?

  9. says

    I just really got into couponing about a year ago and so far I haven’t went as far as buying more than one Sunday paper or grabbing a arm full from the free paper stands but I know a lot of people that do and I don’t think it’s unethical at all. As long as you follow the rules and don’t try to get over, why not coupon? Coupons are created to be used and benefits both the consumer and the store/manufacturer. It’s weird though how some of the cashiers give you all kinds of crazy looks when you pull out coupons…I still don’t get that and I admit having to deal with that can be very discouraging.

    • Anonymous says

      Mika, don’t get discouraged. When you get a cashier that gives you funny looks kill her or him with kindness & always have your coupon policy with you. Remember the end result is to save money for your family.

      • Brandy says

        I agree with anonymous, I’ve one over some of the crankiest cashiers, especially at Walmart. In my experience, most don’t really know what the store’s policy is and once they realize that you’re not trying to get over and are saving that much money, they usually ask me how I do it. I’ll give them a quick “to do” and leave them with my circulars (that I used for price matching) and any unused coupons I may have so they can get themselves a good deal after clocking out. They’re usually very appreciative for the quick 101 lesson and coupons.

  10. says

    I think it is wrong when people try to price match items at walmart when the sale is not valid until sunday. I had this happen to me and I lost my patience when the lady was not prepared and was flipping thru the newspaper that she never intended to purchase. She only had 5 items but it the the just the principle. After I pointed out that those sales were for Sunday. The customer was annoyed and just paid full price. The cashier was very nice and told me she did not have the right to refuse the customer. I do coupon but I am prepared when I check out. Needless to say, my teenager was shocked that I even said anything.

  11. sduit says

    TO me the products I use alot of them are not on coupons .. and why do I want to buy things I dont use I would love to find coupons that work for what we buy. I would love to use more coupons I do at Fabric stores.

  12. April says

    It becomes extremely annoying to see people proudly boasting that they wiped the shelves clean of said coupon items and there are none left for others. Bragging about being greedy and proud of it is shameful. Sales come and go in cycles so why buy everything in sight? One lady on a local coupon board has been constantly posting pictures of buying loads and loads of huggies, suave, bounty, mucinex, almay. She wipes the shelves clean, knows when Target restocks and buys everything again and again. She uses multiple coupons doing multiple transactions. She doesn’t care about the Target coupon policy of four like coupons per person or family per day. She boasts that they don’t enforce their policy so why should I abide by it. I find this kind of attitude sickening. I’ve been using coupons for a long, long time and have seen the effects of people taking advantage of a broken system. Just look at all of the changes that have happened over the last few years. There is a difference in buying what your family will use in a certain amount of time versus hoarding. I mean pay it forward and allow others to be able to save money on products they use also. You don’t have to be so greedy! This is not directed to the owner of this blog, but it is directed to the greedy people.

  13. Carla W says

    You need to include fraudulent price matches in this, too. Because of so many people making up price matches at our local Walmart, they are now requiring the ads or at very least showing the ad on your phone. Not that I mind, but it makes checking out take longer. Then people behind you think it’s because of coupons or that you are trying to scam the system. What makes it worse is that many of the scammers were also couponers, so the store automatically suspects you when you show up with your coupon binder or box. A cashier almost lost her job because a lady was picking her out and then giving her fake price matches for everything in her cart. They went back and watched the video feed and saw that the lady was indeed giving her the prices (this was long before they cut it out completely)! But from what I heard from the cashiers and management, coorporate came down on them because their price matches weren’t in line with other stores in our area (both $ wise and number wise) and then the cashiers got chewed on too. Not only can it cost someone their job but it is stealing in my opinion. An honest mistake is one thing (like not realizing you got a larger size than what you should have when you didn’t write down the size by mistake) but to set out and purposefully get the larger size or tell the wrong price is totally wrong. Now, I’ll get off my soap box. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.