Coupon Ethics: What About Intentional Misstatements?

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We’ve talked before about the ethics of couponing, but let’s discuss it again. This time, we’ll focus on what I call intentional misstatements. An intentional misstatement is providing information that is not 100% accurate about yourself, your household, or your demographic to get in on a great deal or offer.

Why are we tempted in this area? Many deals, offers and coupons are limited to target markets and sometimes we aren’t in that target market. Target markets could be a specific zip code or geographic area, first time customers, members of an organization or people with specific likes/dislikes. Inevitably, someone cracks the code, figures out a magic set of answers, numbers or preferences to input into the system. When these magic answers or numbers are inputted, you suddenly qualify as part of a target market, when in reality you used information that is not accurate about yourself.

A few examples of what this could include are:

— A manufacturer is running a coupon campaign for a specific geographic location. You live outside that location, but learn that if you enter a different zip code you can get in on it.

— A company is giving coupons in varying amounts based on the answers you provide in a survey. You answer the survey questions so that you get a higher-value coupon, whether your responses really reflect your thoughts or not.

— A warehouse club is giving free samples to its members. You’re not one, but you know of a fake number you can enter to bypass the system.

— First time customers to a photo site get a free gift. You already have an account, but register again using a second email address to get in on it.

When I started on my personal journey to debt freedom and reducing expense, I was faced with these and many other temptations. I had to stop, think about the choices I was facing and establish my own ethical standard. I decided years ago not to tell even a white lie to get a discount or something free. When I started Pocket Your Dollars I decided not to write posts that encourages others to tell a white lie.

I believe that honesty always pays. Yep, I am not the target audience for every deal out there and I’m okay with that. It gives others a chance to get a freebie or a deal and I’ve learned – the next deal always comes. I might just have to wait my turn.

Your turn: What do you think about this? Even if we disagree, and I welcome dissenting opinions, I request that we communicate respectfully within the comments.


  1. AJ says

    This is why I love PYD! You provide your readers with great money saving opportunities and encourage maintaining high ethical standards – bravo!!!

  2. says

    Nicely said Carrie! I once heard it said "stealing from someone else's business (or way that they make $$) is giving others permission to steal from your business!" YIKES!

  3. Kim says

    I second that AJ! I find myself wondering when I read these" temptations examples" that I wonder could the coupons/great deals end someday because of abuse.? I surely hope not and honesty is always the best motto. Thanks for the examples. Honestly some I had never thought of!

  4. Ruth W says

    Good job Carrie!!! There is no deal out there that I want to be held accountable for for lying, stealing and or misstating. I agree that honesty is the best motto for anything. Thanks for running an ethical couponing site!

  5. Amy says

    Such honesty! I couldn't agree more. Of course, it doesn't make any of us guilty if we are TEMPTED to do any of those things because they do seem like such little white lies. Admitedly, I've been very tempted at times, yet, like you, have chosen to act honesty. Saving money isn't about "scamming the system"…it's about spending your money wisely and utilizing the bargains out there available to the consumer. On the opposite end, it IS frustrating to be treated as though I'm "scamming the system" by rude cashiers when I am following their coupon policies, etc., honestly. When people have those experiences, I can see why it would be tempting to cheat a little in response. Keep it honest! :)

  6. Theresa K. says

    I think it is important to see our stores and cashiers, along with the manufacturers, as our neighbors. Would you cheat your neighbor to his face? No? Then don't cheat a neighbor in another state who owns a chain of stores. And don't pressure or expect a cashier to alter things just for you. Also, it's important to remember that even young children hear and understand the things we do all day long, well before we think they can hear or understand. It is the little things that tempt us and often go unnoticed, but its also those little things that cause us loss of sleep or worry…etc.

  7. Shauna says

    I think I am an honest person, but there is one thing I routinely lie about – my birthday! I usually input something that is very close to my birthday, i.e. would still put me in the demographic group I really belong in. Having my real name, address, and birthday out there so much just seems too risky to me. My family thinks it's terrible, I think it's just risk management.

  8. Sarah Beth says

    This is one of the reasons I am loyal to this site. I appreciate the integrity and honesty that you write with and it is clear that this influences your lists and the deals you post about.

    Your very first example intrigued me! "A manufacturer is running a coupon campaign for a specific geographic location. You live outside that location, but learn that if you enter a different zip code you can get in on it."

    Does this mean sites like I have often heard people say they couldn't "find" a coupon that was provided in a list and then someone suggests a different zip code and Viola! it works. Is this any different than someone having their mother buy them a paper from their news-stand because they live in different areas and have learned which coupons will be better??

  9. Julia says

    Thanks! I agree even though it can be tempting! Being truthful always wins in the end :) It was a bit of a bummer when a lot of my coupons said "do not double or triple". Oh well–saved me a trip to the grocery store.

  10. Korene says

    Just curious how you feel about the multiple transactions at Rainbow in order to double more coupons. If Rainbow didn't want to limit the amount of doubled coupons, then they wouldn't have a limit on them. (Similar situation when store coupons at Cub and Rainbow say Limit 2). It seems like it's right on the line as well as what is right vs. wrong. I'm not trying to accuse, just curious on how come that falls on the ok side of the line.

  11. Anita says

    Not sure if you already do this already but I would like to see comments that are obvious misstatements deleted. For example recently someone posted about using the poptarts coupon even though the ad clearly stated 12ct and the coupon stated 8ct. I did see where you corrected your list but personally I think those posts should be deleted.

    As to Sarah Beth: Interesting question… I usually just ask people for their leftover coupons or if I know they don't use coupons for the entire insert. I think I am on of the few people that doesn't buy multiple papers for the inserts.

    So taking your question one step further….. DOes that mean coupon trains are part of that senario? I actually prefer to trade coupons with people from other states. AND if you look at the coupons they all say nontransferrable, but if you belong to vocalpoint or other sites they give you extra coupons to specifically share even though the coupon says nontransferrable?

    • Anita says

      Forgot to add that one time I contacted a company to tell them how much I liked their product and had been telling alot of friends about the product. they emailed me back asking for my address so they could send me some coupons. When I got the letter they sent extra coupons to share with friends and the coupons all said nontransferrable.

      SO what does nontransferrable mean when it applies to coupons?

  12. theresa K. says

    Good point! And my Rainbow doubles all coupons (even dnd). It's their choice. And I'm talking the manager. So do I insist he doesn't do it? Of course not. The limit of 2 items per purchase does not say 2 per household. If it did, then it would be cheating.

    I think we can get carried away with the otherwise very important topic of ethics in couponing. I mean, pride in our virtuous actions is as big a sin as lying.

  13. Jennifer M. says

    I was thinking the same thing Korene! I have only done 2 transactions on the same trip one time (Itunes cards with 5 items w/coupons to be doubled in each transaction) because I just feel weird about it. I have started to go to Rainbow on my way to work and get non-perishables that can sit in my car all day and do another trip on my way home so I am not going to drop a transaction in my car and coming back in the store right away.

    What about printing coupons from more than one computer???

    I guess I will justify my "extra dips" for the coupons and deals by remembering that 95% of my friends and family NEVER take advantage of any coupons or deals, so I know that my savvy shopping and couponing will not bankrupt the stores or manufacturers as long as there are still the consumers out there who don't even try to save when they go shopping!

  14. Donna Fuller says

    I agree 100% that we shouldn't lie or break rules to get deals or use coupons. If a coupon says there is a limit, I assume that other family members paying separately is fine, or going back another day during the time the coupon is good should be okay, otherwise it would say "per household".

  15. sheepy says

    I would never lie to save money. In fact, at the movie theater where I work we regularly laugh at those who lie about their ages to get a discount. If I ask your kid what year they were born, they shouldn't have to count on their fingers to figure it out, and shame on you for teaching them it is okay to save $3.

  16. says

    Korene – You know what I did related to the multiple transactions? I asked the management at my local Rainbow how they felt about it and was willing to yield to whatever they said. Same thing with coupons that say "do not double." When I first started couponing I flat out asked at the register about it and have since asked both the Assistant Manager and Store Manager where I shop about those things. I believe those people are in an authority position in the store and their word goes. I was told that they didn't mind multiple transactions (since each one requires the $25 threshold) or doubling do not double coupons. Also, I have emailed a VP at Roundy's corporate, with whom I have a relationship, and made sure the Exec-level is aware that the $25 threshold is counted based on shelf price not sale price. I believe in full disclosure and a willingness to yield to authority. That's my take on it.

    • steve says

      I was told at the Eden Prairie Rainbow by a manager that if it says limit two milk you can only buy two milk on this day. If there is a limit of five doubled coupons you can only do five at our store on that day. He said this is a company policy.

      (I no longer go to this Rainbow.)

    • Erin L says

      I still don't agree with going by the "shelf price." I always do the sale price because I just can't bring myself to go by the "shelf price" when that is not what their policy states. I just don't feel right about it.

      Did the VP say it was okay to go by shelf price or did you just reveal to him that that is what the computers do?

  17. says

    Anita – We haven't deleted comments that encourage misstatements to-date for a variety of reasons (mainly lack of manpower to follow-up with the reader that left it explaining why we don't allow it, since 98% of the time a comment is removed, the author notices and contacts me). We are seriously thinking about how to implement this considering the 1,000+ comments Pocket Your Dollars gets every week. A key, I would think, is making sure we are up front about the expectations and then consistent in carrying those out.

  18. terri says

    Carrie; Tell me if this is correct or not… On a manuf. coupon, underneath the upc where the #'s are…i was told that the first # (in our case the #5) represents the region. Right or wrong? Thanks in advance

    • JC says

      Wrong –

      first number 5 = coupon will double or triple in an electronic register system

      first number 9 = coupon will not double or triple in system

      nothing to do with a region.

      As I stated in another post – From a legal standpoint, it is my understanding that the “descriptive words” on any coupon reflect the “true intent of the manufacturer” on how a coupon should be properly used.

      NOT the bar code

      Bar codes are just a tool to help registers in deducting the correct amount – the last two digits tell you how much the coupon will deduct and even with this, there are discrepancies (i.e. a barcode cannot be coded for $1 off 10 items – think yogurt cups, so it may be coded as $1 off 4 or more, but the wording on the coupon still states $1 off 10)

  19. shawnee says

    It's my understanding that 'nontransferable' means that the coupon can not be used for anything other than the item stated–this keeps stores from just taking coupons for anything at all and then sending them in for the refund. (years ago, this was a more common practice). It does not mean sharing or trading with others.

    Also, Carrie, i know you usually shop at MG Rainbow, but this week they doubled my DND coupons, but not my friends. i think there is still a discrepency about the actual policy. Is this a store based policy? I'm just confused by the inconsistency.

    thank you so much for your integrity and all your hard work. I am a huge fan!

  20. Shelly says

    Anita, I felt absolutely horrible when I read your comment since I'm the one that made the infamous pop-tart comment. I would like a chance to explain and ask anyone with manufacturer knowledge to PLEASE help me understand coupons better. I want you to know I very much want to be ethical with coupons and have been uncomfortable with many things people have mentioned – multiple transactions, using multiple computers to print coupons with limits, entering different zip codes, even using coupons with Target logos at different locations. I'm thankful Carrie took the time to talk about some of these things.

    As far as the misstatements. My understanding is that manufacturers program those barcodes to go with the specific items. And, through honest mistakes over the years, I know if you accidentally pick up a different product, wrong size, etc. the cash register will say the product isn't there – and that is as it should be. But I think (and this is where I would like some knowledgeable help) that sometimes manufacturers program those bar codes to be more broad than the coupon implies. And with the pop-tart coupon, I knew that the manuf. may allow the bigger (more expensive size). I would NOT have tried to get a cashier to put it through if it showed as invalid or anything like that! Here are 2 examples from the just the past couple of weeks and please tell me if I'm being unethical and I will change my ways. Per Pocket your Dollars, I clipped a Sara Lee whole wheat "soft and smooth" coupon to go with a sale price at Rainbow. When I got to Rainbow, they did in fact have Sara Lee Whole Wheat bread on sale, but it didn't include the "soft and smooth" variety. I went ahead and picked up the on-sale Sara Lee bread and handed over the coupon hoping it included my variety. If it wouldn't have, that would have been perfectly fine with me. But it went through with no problem, hence my understanding that the manuf. allowed the different variety of that bread.

    My 2nd example is from Target just this week. I got the Kashi free sample and great coupons in the mail. I matched them with the Kashi sale at Target. As I was selecting my items I realized the coupon said "Heart To Heart" variety. I had picked up 2 of those, but my other ones (same price, size, included in sale) were not the specific "heart to heart" variety. I took a chance that the coupon would include the others, and sure enough, they went right through. Again, I wouldn't have asked the cashier to over-ride them or anything like that.

    So, please, please someone help me understand. I didn't sleep very well last night after reading the comment asking why my comment wasn't deleted. I very much want all of us to follow good coupon ethics to make Carrie and this site look good!!! Thanks – sorry for the length!

    • JC says

      Just a quick response Shelly –

      From a legal standpoint, it is my understanding that the "descriptive words" on any coupon reflect the "true intent of the manufacturer" on how a coupon should be properly used.

      NOT the bar code

  21. Steph says

    What a GREAT example! If you…the QUEEN of saving…can get our of debt and coach others to do the same without weaseling your way through it…so shall we. Love you! Thank you for all you do!

  22. Sarah says

    It's a good idea to be cautious, but you should know that with just your name and address, it's fairly easy to look up your birthday (along with a slew of other information). For example, is one place– I did not find myself here. There are resources requiring a paid subscription that are more consistently accurate, though. And if that's not creepy enough, try (For the record, I use these resources for my job in development, and am not a creepy stalker).

  23. Cheri says

    Thanks for the great post, Carrie. I have learned so much and appreciate the integrity and honesty from everyone here.

    I do not use the Target logo coupons or RR at other stores. I do not lie about my zipcode. I do fudge my birthday a little, as a previous poster does. To me, it's being protected on the Internet. I do not want all of my private information out there together.

    I guess I hadn't thought about it being a big deal. Thanks for making me think about that; maybe I should forego things that require a birthday.

    I must have missed the coupon thing with the poptarts. I recently used a Cottonelle toilet paper coupon that said "with aloe." I bought the plain version and used the coupon. Is that the same? It scanned and worked fine. The price was the same for both aloe and regular. If it hadn't have worked, I would have been fine with it. I don't think that's being unethical. I would not have asked that it be overidden if the register had beeped. The same thing with Campbell's soups. If it only says "cooking soups," the tomato and chicken noodle will work, even though the picture is of cream of whatever. If the register takes it, I don't think it's being unethical.

    I routinely do two transactions to use 10 coupons at Rainbow. If the store isn't busy, I ask the cashier if it is okay; otherwise, I do go to my car and go back in for the 2nd transaction. I asked at my store about the shelf versus sale price and was told sale price, so that's what I go by.

  24. theresa K. says

    My heart is aching from watching couponers judge each other. How is that any different from lying. Carrie's post asks us to consider what's ethical, not call out each other or prove to each other how blameless we might be. I'll just unsubscribe and hope for one of those thread where we try to help and not tear down each other

  25. Laura says

    You know, I didn't even consider that as lying until you said something, Shauna. I use a different name when signing up for newsletters, just like I use a different e-mail address, and I never give out my birthday. As far as I'm concerned, my birth year should be sufficient. I don't want every company to have my actualy birth date. If they are breaking down demographics more than that, I'm not giving my consent.

  26. says

    Carrie- Thank you so much for this post. As a coupon blogger it is tough to know when and how the coupon should be used. For instance we have ecoupons and manufacturer coupons. i investigated and asked safeway if they would take both. and he said yes. they the same thing happens at fred meyer they say no. It is really hard sometimes to keep up on all of it, so I have probably done things wrong.

    I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I posted this on my blog and linked it back to you? So many times I see other blogs that say to use zip such and such. While i personally didn't get convicted about it even knowing that it is for a target audience (yikes should i have been). But now reading this and seeing it puts this more into perspective. And the $.50 i might of save isn't that big of a deal.

    i also very much agree with communicating with your store manager!

  27. Susan says

    There are so many wonderful comments posted here, that my post will be short. But suffice it to say that I am so appreciative of the words of yours, Carrie, for all of us to have integrity. No savings, no matter the amount, is worth compromising that virtue. Everyday we are faced with decisions and it is up to us to maintain that high standard. In regards to shopping and couponing, I believe that we may in effect hinder or even stop our own opportunity to save (with integrity and honesty) if we don't adhere to those high and correct standards. Stores can change their policies any old time that they please and it is up to us, as the consumers, to understand it and to abide by it. Thanks for all of the tremendous work, Carrie, I, too, am a huge fan! Keep up the great work.

  28. Chrissy says

    I just want to thank you for your ethical couponing. Your site is by far my favorite site for that very reason. Thanks for all you do…

  29. Rosanna says

    Speaking of ethics, I believe it is unethical to stack coupons. This is only my opinion, but I believe that manufactorers and other distributers do not intend for consumers to use more than one coupon per product. Yes, you save a little more money and get products for next to nothing, but you are getting over on the companies that offer these discounts. I feel the same about double printing a coupon. Just because a coupon site lets you print more than one coupon doesnt mean you should. There are centain limits to how many coupons are distributed and you are doing someone a diservice by taking more than what is offered. I realize that Carrie does not feel the same way because she is all about stacking coupons and printing on different computers to get the maxium amount of coupons, but I think it's dishonest.

    • Julie W says


      I can see and respect your opinion about this. But I have also noticed that store promotions match coupons in the inserts a lot of times, and I believe "stacking" this is purposeful marketing on the part of the product company and specific store to bring people into the store. If it wasn't, there would be exclusions to use one or the other and not both. And I think if stacking is NOT what they welcome, then at some point exclusions will be added. Until then, I I think stacking is perfectly acceptable and welcome. And to clarify, I am a very ethical couponer that only gets what my family needs, not one who buys just because I can get it free.


      Julie W

  30. Erin Lynn says

    It was nice to read this. I have done things that appear to be outside of the ethics of couponing unintentionally. This post has helped and taught me to read my coupons closer. Thanks!

  31. Maryellen says

    I found a couple deals that made me uneasy. One that bothered me for a long time (it was a long promotion) was the coupon for a free diabetes monitor at Walgreens and receive $5.00 register reward. Everyone was running out to get the five dollars. Most do not have diabetes or even want the monitor. Donating it to charity is okay, but maybe a little of a stretch from what I found. The expense is in the strips that you need to buy to go with the monitor, so most places that actually need that can already get the monitors for free. Also, I have diabetes and twice found them out of stock. Made me think of the other people that really needed them. Also, Walgreens was not to happy about that promo either. The Walgreens I went to actually ASKED me if I had diabetes, because they were locked up and behind the pharmacy counter. Extremely rude and unprofessional I agree. But I think they got tired of handing out $5.00 for nothing. Not a big deal, but it bugged me too that they would always run out of the Walgreens Diabetic magazine because people would get them just for some coupons in there like toothpaste. In a way the demographic they are trying to reach is people with diabetes.

    The other one is signing up on some websites saying you are a teacher because you have children or grandchildren. I don't think that is exactly what they mean. That certainly is the truth but not what they mean.

    • Julie W says

      I agree 100%. An employee at Walgreens told me once they had a woman with like 170 coupons for diabetic meters who was mad they wouldn't sell her them! Geez!

      I think they should require a prescription for the strips to get the meter- that would ensure it's going to diabetics. (of course I recognize this eliminates the option of donating meters, which I realize is helpful to those that need it) Just an idea.

      Julie W

  32. amanda says

    Seriously people, let's not lose sleep over a few coupons you may or may not have tried to get by with. I know that we are all saying that we are completely ethical with our couponing, but if we are all being honest. I am sure there are times when a coupon has gone through that was for the wrong product or whatever… The stores are getting the money for the coupons and these giant corporations are not losing sleep over the use of their coupons. Have you noticed with internet coupons that companies will pull the coupon if it is being overrused. I am not saying we should use whatever coupon we want and slip a few in to try to save a few bucks. I am just saying that we all need to relax a little bit, not judge others, nor should we have a holier (sp?) than thou attitude about your personal use. It's a coupon for crying out loud!

  33. Mary says

    My local Pick'nSave recently requires you to use sale prices not shelf price for the $25.00 total prior to doubling coupons. Is this incorrect?? Should I contact someone on this?

  34. Jackie says

    This isn't really an "ethical" rule…but I also think if somebody is going to be a couponer, they should be well-prepared in the store. I'm all about couponing and saving money. But as an example: yesterday I was shopping and I was in line behind a major couponer. Not a problem…at first. She was very disorganized with all of her coupons, she had multiple expired coupons, or coupons that required 2 items and she only had one. She literally left the line to go get her items. I thought that was somewhat rude, but I totally understand she wanted to get full use out of her coupon. And I also felt horrible for the cashier to have to deal with that and the stress of having more people in line waiting for all of this. Normally, I would have gone to another line, but at this store, there were no other lanes available. The lady behind me and I had at least a 10 minute wait until we could get through to our purchases. I think it is a common courtesy to be prepared with all of your coupons. Go through them as you are shopping and one last check to make sure everything looks right before you get in line. You will save time for yourself, the cashier, adn the others in line! Thanks!

    • Cody says

      Jackie, I completely agree. In fact, if I use lots of coupons in one transaction, I will place coupons on top of their corresponding items. This way cashiers have an easier time determining if the coupons are being used correctly (legally!).

  35. J.P. says

    I don't think there is any problem with stacking coupons. The stores would get reimbursed by the manufacter for the manufacter coupons. The store coupon is just another way of the store putting the product on sale, except you get to choose what day the markdown happens.

  36. Shelly says

    Thank you, JC; I appreciate your comments. Wouldn't it be nice if someone in the coupon part of a manufacturer would take the time to give Carrie something to post; something that would address some of these issues so that we can understand the manufacturer's intent a little better. For now, I will now match things as the coupon states.

  37. Barbara says

    Carrie, Thank you for addressing the ethics of couponing. Recently have started to use coupons heavily and have been running into these ethical issues. I spoke with a cashier about multiple transactions at a Roundy's/Copps store and was told 3 transactions. A work associate told me 7 transactions. Yesterday on the double double day (10 coupons doubled instead of 5), I saw that another customer's DND coupon doubled when scanned. So, I believe that I will speak with the manager of each of the stores where I shop and get the policy for that store. Thanks to all for the educational comments.


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