Couponing unethically, is it worth the bad karma?

After the introduction of that “great” show TLC Extreme Couponing, and I use that term VERY, VERY loosely, there have been so many reports of unethical couponing happening all across the country. It really blows my mind how much people take the sensationalized aspects of television, and think that they can instantly do those things or that in fact they are even real life scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong, I love couponing, and I love everything frugal shopping has done for my family’s quality of life. You really at some point though have to ask yourself a question, are you couponing ethically? What do I mean about couponing ethically? Well if your gut is screaming at you that you are doing something wrong, then you probably are!

I am not one to get into the debate about how much of one type of product one household needs. When “Extreme Couponing” came out, there was a furor across the Internet asking why would one person need so much stuff. Names like “hoarder” among others were tossed around at the show’s participants. My two cents, is it’s nobody’s business how much someone else buys or if they need it or not. I just think that a few basics should be covered. If you are going to buy that much, don’t clear the shelves or make sure to special order from the store.  Other than that the quantity you purchase is really a personal decision. You never know what that person intends with the product and frankly it’s none of your beeswax :). Let them do their thing, and you do yours. As long as you shop ethically don’t have to worry about anyone else!

The shelf clearing seemed to be the first ripple effect of the “Extreme Couponing” copy cats. The next one,  have to say that I am truly shocked about. I had read some articles about people stealing newspapers for the coupon inserts. There was even a recent article of a woman arrested after asking the store’s permission to take unsold papers. I read these articles and thought how sad, but never thought it would affect me.

I don’t normally buy papers locally because only one store carries the Indianapolis Star, which is the only “local” paper worth buying. Plus the store that carries it is on the other side of town. Well this week was a good coupon week, so I went to grab some papers. I checked the regular newspaper rack. I saw the New York Times, USA Today, and a local free paper, but no papers that had coupons in it. I was bummed. I thought they had sold out since I was there in the afternoon. Just as a last ditch effort, I asked the lady at customer service if they happened to have papers anywhere else. To my surprise, she told me they had to keep the papers behind the counter because some lady had been STEALING the coupon inserts. She even had the audacity to say she didn’t understand why it was stealing because people didn’t want them anyway!

Ok, woh, stop the presses! It’s not stealing???? These were papers that were not EVEN SOLD YET and still in the store! What blows my mind is that people don’t seem to understand that all this trickles down hill. If newspapers don’t get paid for their coupons, they will stop putting them in there at all. Where does that leave us?

I was lucky that I stopped to ask the customer service desk if they had more papers, but what about other people that just assumed, like I almost had, that they were sold out. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong getting inserts for free if you do it ethically. Ask your neighbors if they use their coupons, check recycling centers, coordinate a coupon exchange. There are some many ways to score free coupons without the black mark on your karmic slate!

So to end my rant I compiled Crunchy’s list of unethical couponing practices:

Using coupons for the wrong product: If it says a 6 oz jar, but it will scan for the 4 oz. that isn’t just unethical it’s coupon fraud. Trust me you don’t wanna go there.

Stealing Newspapers: I don’t care if it’s out of your neighbor’s driveway, abandoned houses, or the grocery store. This is definitely a karma no-no.

Copying printable internet coupons: These coupons are meant to be printed to the limit, and then that’s it. If you need more you can always go to great coupon forums to trade for more. This again is coupon fraud, and I don’t know about you I don’t want Mr. Policeman on my doorstep.

Teaching others any of the above as a way to coupon:  You may feel like you are doing nothing wrong, but eventually things like this roll down hill. That means less coupons and/or less stores that accept coupons. So if you are saving your family substantial amounts of money by couponing why would you jeopardize that, and on top of that why would you teach others to defraud the system too. Shame on you!

I don’t get on a soapbox very often, but this one is something I am passionate about. I love couponing, and I love how much it saves my family, but if just a few bad apples continue to lie, cheat, and steal to save a dollar they are going to ruin the entire system for all of us. So what do you think about this? Do you think it’s fair for a few to blatantly disregard the rules? Curious minds want to know.



About Ashley Sears

Ashley Sears is the author of Crunchy Frugalista and ,Allergy Friendly Kitchen. She is a sarcastic wonder that loves celebrating insanity, creativity, and family, because life's too short to put up with the BS. You can reach her at [email protected]


  1. Wendy Pence says:

    I have definitely saved some money with coupons, and I never have to stock up more than 10 of any item to have enough til the next sale comes around. It is sickening to hear about people resorting to criminal activity to save money when they could do it ethically and feel so much better about themselves. I really hope that the manufacturers don’t stop making coupons as this will unintentionally punish those of us who use coupons correctly. :0)

    • Crunchy Frugalista says:

      I think that things will calm down and when the “fad” of saving dies off those that find it as a lifestyle choice will be around still so manufacturer’s will still make coupons, crossing fingers :)

  2. I have been using my coupons for part of the items for filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. I do buy several of an item, but I purchase extra coupons on Ebay.f It’s sad when people feel they have to steal coupons from newspapers.

Speak Your Mind