Coupon Ethics: How to save money without breaking the rules and ruining your reputation

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Coupon Ethics
Unfortunately there are some people out there that are out to get a deal and save a buck at any cost. However it is my philosophy that there are plenty of great deals and opportunities to get free or cheap items after coupons without breaking the rules put forth by the grocery stores and manufactures.

However ethics, unlike actual laws are subject to each persons personal comfort level and what feels right to them.

Use coupons according to the written terms on the coupon.

Each coupon has it’s own terms written on the coupons and as couponers we should abide by these terms when we redeem our coupons at the store. Taking note of products that the coupon is valid for, size restrictions, expiration dates, and other fine print on exclusions, limits and other items set forth by the company issuing the coupons.

It does not matter if the coupon scans at the register for a different product, a different size or a different quantity than what is listed on the coupon. It is still wrong.

Follow the store polices and use coupons within those guidelines.

Now I will freely admit that sometimes understanding what the coupon policy is for some grocery stores is near impossible. Some retailers don’t clearly post their coupon acceptance policies online or in stores so it is guessing game or up the the interpretation of the cashier and/or store managers (any store owners reading this? Great why don’t you put your grocery coupon acceptance policy on your website somewhere. Please, pretty please, with a cherry on top). Not knowing the rules of the game (the store policy) is like playing Chutes and Ladders with a 4 year old, they end up making the rules as they go along.

That all being said, some stores are great about posting their coupon policy online or in stores and when you, as a shopper, are presented with the policy it is your responsibility to play by the rules. If your stores policy is to not accept expired coupons, then don’t try to pass off expired coupons. If your stores policy is to not double coupons that say “do not double” on them, don’t try to slip them in your stack of coupons.

Leave coupons found in-stores for other shoppers behind you.

The grocery store is a wealth of coupons just ripe for the picking and there really are no laws against taking coupons and saving them to use for later. You are not going to go to jail. It is fine to take a few Blinkies (the coupons in the little pull out boxes on the shelves), Tearpads (pads of coupons), Peelies (coupons stuck on the package via a peel off sticker), Hangtags (coupons hanging around the neck of a coupon) and Booklets (special displays of booklets that contain coupons) and put them away in your coupon binder or box and save them for later when the item goes on sale or at another store. However taking them all in one fell swoop is just rude. And the taking of peelies is a whole other hot bed of arguments. After speaking to many company reps for some major brands it is really not frowned upon to take a peelie off a package and use it later or somewhere else. What is frowned upon is when someone damages a package when removing a peelie coupon and does not buy the product they damaged thus making the company and store take a loss on the package. This is one area where you have to make your own decision about what is right or wrong.

For me personally…I take a few coupons (no more than 10 at a time depending on how many are in the store) and if the next time I go back to the store there are still more coupons, I may take a few more. However I live in a small town little to no other serious couponers so if I don’t take a coupon from the store, 9.5 out of 10 times those coupons will sit in the store and expire. If you feel weird about taking coupons but you want to, why not pull aside a store manager and ask him or her if it is OK. I have been told by my store managers that it is fine as long as I leave some for others and not damage the product packaging. And you know sometimes I have tried to peel off a super sticky Peelie off a 12-pack of Coke and the darn box ripped. So I just chalked it up and bought the Coke (at least I had a coupon right) and called it a day. The worse thing a store manager is going to tell you is no. And no is not the end of the world.

Use printable coupons correctly.

There are literally thousands of legitimate online printable coupons provided by grocery brands, retail stores and restaurants. Most of the grocery printable coupons come from websites such as,, or use printable coupon software from eCentives, Smartsource or Coupons Inc (Bricks). Which require you, the consumer, to download a software program to your computer that tracks the coupons you print and imposes a limit of how many coupons you are allowed to print from your computer (the limit is usually two of each coupon per computer, it is perfectly find to print extra sets of coupons from another computer if you have one).

Scanning coupons and printing them or making copies of coupons is never allowed per the fine print on these coupons. Additionally some coupons come out in PDF formats or other formats that allow you to print unlimited numbers of a coupons. Legitimate coupons in these types of formats are out there but you should always do some double checking to make sure these coupons are not copies or fakes (yes, there are some really unscrupulous folks out there that spend their days making fake coupons!) Needless to say, altering a coupon is not allowed either.

You can be sure that any printable coupon that is found here at Hotcouponworld is legit, but if you ever have any doubts, don’t use the coupon and instead you can ask us to check the coupon out. Always be wary of any printable coupons that are sent to you or are uploaded to a blog, message board, Facebook, or group that are in a Word document. In the almost 8 years I have been couponing I have NEVER seen a company issue a legitimate coupon in a Word document.

You can some really great information on spotting fake and fraudulent coupons in our It’s Got To Be Real forum.

Why do coupon ethics matter?

So by now you may be wondering, why does it even matter if I use coupons ethically? It matters because your reputation is online. Going into a store and getting away with a photocopy of a printable coupon, or slipping in an expired coupon can be a rush that you pulled one on over on “the man”. And you may even get away with it a few times, but I can place a hard money bet that eventually the store is going to catch on to you and your shady coupon practices. And when you get caught the repercussions can be the “evil eye” from the cashier or management and a longer time checking out because they are going to read the fine print on each and every coupon you attempt to use to actually being banned from the grocery store.

Remember most businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone (unless it is because of race, age, gender, handicap) and if you have been passing off bad coupons the stores have the right to ban you from their stores. Extreme coupon fraud and misredemption of coupons have even landed a small handful of folks in jail or facing fines. Is it really worth your reputation so save a few bucks? Another reason to care is because when stores are hit hard with unethical coupon use they end up changing their store policies and make the deals just a little harder to get.

Some stores have stopped accepting printable coupons or have put limits on them so that you cannot use a coupon that is valued for more than 50% off the price. While other stores have issued limits about how many coupons you can use, if you can scan and insert your own coupons in the self check out machines, and some stores practically take a magnifying glass to all coupons that come through the line. So in the end the unethical practises of a few can hurt the whole group of coupon users making it harder and harder to use coupons the right way.

Here are my own personal ethics for couponing.

  • Just because it scans does not make it right.
  • Follow the policy of the store as best as you can when you know it and when in doubt ask the store manager (not the cashier).
  • Take a few coupons, but leave some for others and if you damage a product package when removing a coupon, buy it.
  • Don’t make copies of coupons and when in doubt don’t print it out.
  • Know that my actions not only effect me but my fellow couponing sisters and brothers.


  1. Great article! I personally try to never take all of a coupon because I know in my head I will never use them all so I’d rather leave some for someone else.

    I also will go so far as to tell the cashier if they are over doubling or giving me more than the price of the item on a free item because I don’t want them to get in trouble. I was once a cashier in a store so I know how hard it can be to not just hurry up and get it done so you can get on to the next customer. I think this gives me the comfort level to go back to the store when they have screwed up on my coupon redemption and ask them to fix it because I know I’ve been honest with them and I want them to be honest with me.

  2. Heidi…fabulous article! I wish all couponers followed those rules. I will say like Tara said, by going and pointing out errors on Bo sides, my favorite store doesn’t even challenge me anymore when I come in and say…X coupons weren’t taken off, because I have also gone in on several occasions and said, I need to give you guys back Y dollars bc too many coupons were taken off. I haven’t been a cashier, but I have been a teller and there is oohing worse than your drawer being off. And I wouldn’t want to be the cause of any drawers being off…make sense?

  3. Thank you for sharing this article. I was speaking to a cashier at my local Safeway and he mentioned a couple extreme couponers (they sounded like they went beyond the hardcore), that admitted they went to the King Soopers took ALL the coupons in the tear pads and then brought them to Safeway to shop. I think that it totally rude for everyone else. The only time I’d clear off a tear pad is if there was only a couple coupons left, otherwise just what I need or know I’ll use.

    I didn’t realize ethics were such a big problem, but now I see that they are. I’m just naturally honest I guess, I double check my coupons as I shop to make sure I’m only using what I’ve actually gotten, and that none of them expired and escaped my notice.

    • Hi Mrs. Crafty thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving a comment. Unfortunately ethics is a big topic, especially right now. I have been having some pretty interesting with the cashiers where I shop too.

  4. I totally agree with the ideas expressed in this blog. When I was a university student, i used to work in the local service station. I remember one gentleman particularly well. He has a coupon for a free car wash and when I explained that it had expired over 3 months ago I’ve never seen anybody get so angry. He went well over the top. The funny thing is what we were always giving out these vouchers, had he just acted normally I would have got one out and given it to him, but he didn’t, so I didn’t!


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