The Highs And Lows Of Using Coupons

You have planned out your shopping trip.  Your coupons are all in order.  You have figured out exactly how much you will be saving.  Your cart is filled with your great finds.  Proudly you pile your deals at the checkout so excited to watch those coupons deduct one by one from the total.  Or to receive that $10 catalina spit out of that little machine by the register.  The cashier takes your coupons and begins what you think will be a simple, well thought out transaction.  And then your whole plan turns upside down.  Nothing goes as planned.  Your hands get sweaty and your heart starts to pound.  Sound familiar?

Well, you are not alone.  These are the highs and lows of using coupons.  We plan everything right down to the penny.  Check to make sure we are getting the right product to match the coupon.  We make sure that the coupons are not expired and so on.  Then, the coupon police (that cashier that seems to think that we are taking money out of their pocket) takes our coupons and one by one picks them apart.

This coupon will not double, this coupon is for more then the price of the product, this coupon is not a real coupon it must of been copied, this coupon is a PDF coupon and we don’t take those and the list goes on. Why does this happen and how do we avoid it.

One reason is simply some stores and store managers simply do not know their own corporate coupon policies.  Take for instance recent comments from readers who went to Target trying to buy the 8oz body wash.  They have said they were not allowed to use the $4/2 coupon on two $1.99 products because it was more then the item.  Well, Target’s policy, as are most stores policy, is to adjust the coupon down.  Or, another reader got, this is a trial size product and you can’t us it on a trial size item.  Hello, when was the last time an 8 oz product was trial size. Will they allow that size on an airplane? I think not.

Or how about when you complete the transaction and everything goes as planned and no catalina prints out.  Then you have to go to customer service, spend 5 minutes there (husband and kids in tow) discussing why you should have gotten a $10 catalina only to find that they didn’t even know there was such a deal going on in their own store.  Enough to make you wonder why you are doing this in the first place.  Is it worth it?

For the amount of money you can save, I say yes.  Because every single time is not going to be that way.  Every single time will not require you to hold your breath, hoping and wishing that the coupon police do not show up at the register.  “Sorry lady, you have just committed a coupon violation and you need to come with us while we take a 1/2 hour of your time to tell you why you can’t use that coupon”.

That won’t always happen.  And don’t think it will never happen because it will.  Most likely before the month is over you will be talking to that coupon police explaining your case.  And what do you do?  Well here are ways to help you out.  Ways that I have found extremely helpful.

::Bring coupon policies for your stores (I will be posting policies for you to print out shortly).  This way the cashiers and managers can see that they have no choice but to except your coupon over the amount of the item or any other excuse they give you.

::Know the store’s policy yourself.  If you plan on shopping at that store often to take advantage of their coupons or rewards program, then understand their policies.  Read up on it.  Educate yourself so you know what you can and can not do.  What works and what doesn’t work.

::Prepare to walk away from a deal.  If they give you a hard time that you can’t quickly resolve by pulling out your coupon policy or explaining it, then walk away from it.  Sometimes it’s not worth the hassle.  There are so many deals to be found that having to walk away from one is no worry.  You’ll find another.

The more you use coupons and become completely comfortable with them the easier it gets to explain your case.  It really will.  When you first start out using “coupons on steroids”, as one reader put it, you are not completely sure of yourself.  Did I do this right?  Is this the right product?  Do I need to buy 2 or 3 for this to work?  It sometimes can be a bit confusing.  So to plead your case to the coupon police sometimes can get a little nerve wracking especially if you’re not 100% sure you even did it right in the first place.  Well, that does get easier I promise.  And the more you do it the more you can plead your case and sound like you know what you are talking about.  Since most of the time, they (the coupon police) don’t even really know what’s going on, sounding like you know gets them to accept it.  And I am by no means telling you to try to get away with sometime that is not on the up and up.  I mean real deals that completely follow within the rules of the coupon and of the store’s policy.  I NEVER advocate trying to “one up” a store.  NEVER!
So listen, nothing in life that is worthwhile is free.  Things take time.  Ask yourself this,  if someone came to you and offered you $200 a week (you honestly can save that much money) for a few hours of work, work that you already do some of (and that you have to do anyway) and told you that hours were completely flexible and if you didn’t feel like doing it one week here or there that would be fine.  Would you take the job?  Only you can answer that question.  My answer is absolutely.  I’ll spend a few hours a week sorting through coupons, writing lists and going through the occasional sweaty hand, heart pounding, your deal just feel apart episode.  Sign me up!!  I’ll take 200 bucks a week!!

Are you new to couponing?  Check out the beginners section for all the ins and outs of using coupons.

Photo credit
The links in the post above may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.
  • Sue

    I hate that moment when you know the deal is going south and going to cause trouble. Like the cashier pulls out their reading glasses and lays all your coupons out on the register and starts reading them one by one! Even when you know all the deals are “clean” you feel like – oh boy, here we go…

  • Anonymous

    SOOOOOOO TRUE! I love it!!

  • Dawn

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I had this experience just Tuesday and now I just don’t want to go back there. Target was another one that did this to me about 6 months ago. I ended up leaving my whole cart with $140 worth of stuff in it because the manager was so rude. I hope she had fun putting all of that back on the shelves. 🙂

  • marcia

    Thanks, lovely post. I really do feel that pounding and sweating, as if I’m being graded on my efforts. Some days work, some days not so much. On balance, it’s well worth the work. But, oh, it can get ugly there…

  • Scott

    Two other suggestions:

    Profile your cashier. Young guys and college girls generally don’t like to confront you. But when you do find a nice cashier – try to shop when they are on, it really makes a difference. I had one cashier pleading to the floor manager – this guy is always right with his coupons he shouldn’t have to pay.

    Try another shift. If I have trouble in the morning, I may go back and try the same deal later that night when the night shift is on. Luckily I live within 5 minutes of most stores.

    My target has been increasingly giving me a hard time though. The general manager was even waiting for me at the checkout to deny a coupon because what I bought didn’t match the picture on the coupon (even though it was “for any”) – jeesch! I said fine and walked away, but I am ALWAYS pleasant even if they are not to me – because you gotta go back and shop there again sometime. I even learn their names. At our Target, the floor manager gets paged everytime the register beeps on a coupon so they can check it out – do others have this?

    I suspect my picture is up in the manager’s office with their Target logo superimposed on my face – lol.

    • D

      You are sooo right about profiling your cashier! I have people I like to go to and try to shop when they are working. (not that I stalk them… 😉 There is one cashier in my Target who LOVES it when I save money with coupons, so it makes it a much more pleasant experience, and way more fun to get those deals! 🙂

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this post. I am really starting to get into this whole new world of couponing and on more then one occasion, I have doubted myself at the register and backed down.

    The other day in Walgreens, I tired to use my coupon for free Excedrin. The young cashier told me “it doesn’t work.” Well, I explained that it is free up to a 5.99 value -see-read right here. She rang the coupon again, the register made a beep and she said “ok.” I paid and walked out the door. When I got home and examined my receipt, it didn’t come off. I was SO frustrated. Lesson learned – check my receipt before leaving the store. The only positive was that the Excedrin was on sale for 2.50 instead of 5.79 – so it wasn’t a total disaster.

    Love your site and appreciate your guidance and advice.

  • I tried unsuccessly to purchase some Purex liquid detergent expecting to get the $4.00 off of next shopping order, to no avail, 3 different cashiers no catalina at all, then came home and found out someone bought 800 bottles somewhere in the midwest..Who does that? how could they do that??? All I wanted was to get some Purex, I even had some .50 cent off coupons from the company, I could even use one at all..Who hoards 800 bottles of deergent??do they contribute to a food pantry?? do they help the poor? It has really turned me off to anykind of shopping expecting a catalina at all, I had to cancel my purchases and I was so upsett I forgot to get anything but a much needed purchase of tuna & bread…hmmm….

  • Kara

    Thank you so much for this post. I had a horrible experience at Target this week and was laughing when you talked about your face getting red and hands getting sweaty. That’s exactly what happened to me! Thanks for all you encouragment. I’ll try again next week!

  • Stosha

    I have had incidents with the coupon police before but none were as bad as my Target trip yesterday. The cashier forgot to scan ANY of my coupons. So I went to customer service, where this cranky old lady was giving me trouble saying that Target doesn’t accept printed coupons. “Umm… Yes, yes you do, Target e-mails them to me every week, I use them all the time… some are even Manufacturers coupons- all have expiration dates, and barcodes that will scan. ” Her as cocky as can be “Well I have to get a manager I am not going to put my job on the line for YOUR coupons,” of course the manager was cheery and told her they are legit. The cust. service cashier had trouble scanning one, and I swear she looked so pleased that she thought she proved my coupon was fake, and the manager demonstrated the proper way to scan that particular one (which was to cover one of the 2 sets of barcodes). Let down for the cashier, win for me! Oddly enough, instead of putting the coupon credit towards my card that I paid with, they gave me cash. It was really rewarding to get cash back for my coupons and see the disappointed look on the cranky ladies face lol.

  • Great post! I’ve only had one run-in with the coupon police in my one year of couponing – I nearly did walk away from a cart full of groceries over it – but it eventually righted itself and I got my deals (although I won’t shop at THAT Kroger again)! Now that I’ve been doing it for a year, I sure am ready to deal with coupon nazis if necessary. I feel really lucky that the CVS stores and Meijer I frequent are VERY coupon friendly. I NEVER get questioned. They just take my coupons, scan them and tell me to have a good day.

  • Mac

    What if you have the corporate coupon policy available and the manager still refuses? I’ve had this happen a few times, some at Acme, and some at CVS. At CVS, it got so bad that it went up to the district manager level and he sided with the store manager, even though their decision completely violates CVS’ corporate coupon policy.

    Needless to say, I haven’t been back to CVS or Acme in weeks. But I’m wondering if I should bother attempting to take the matter further up the corporate ladder or consider a lawsuit as what they are doing is clearly discrimination.

    • Scott

      @Mac, yes call CVS corporate. I had to do this a couple weeks ago because they wouldn’t accept my Manu coupon because it had the target logo on it (it was Manu not a tatgetQ). The district manager called me I went into the store and they gave me cash for the coupons.

    • D

      I had to email CVS corp a while back about them not honoring a sale until midnight on a Sat…it was righted a few weeks later by the district manager and the store manager called me personally at home to tell me I could come in and get my stuff at the sale price. (although now he usually gives me the evil eye when I go in there… 🙁 Oh well! Do the right thing next time, buddy and I won’t have to contact your boss! LOL!

  • Rebecca

    My heart starts pounding every week at shoprite. They are becoming increasingly difficult with coupons. The cashiers spread them all out and inspect each one and ask if I bought EVERY product as they scan them. I feel terrible for the people behind me. But, in the end they all work (usually). I have told them a few times, can’t you just scan it? if it’s right it will work! soooo frustrating. But I always have my CVS. never any problems, and always friendly.
    Thanks for posting this!! just what we all need to hear!

    • denise

      we must be shopping at the same shoprite! lol

  • dot

    Thank you, everything you said is so true. And I agree target is getting harder. I have been couponing for 6 months and I am starting to get comfortable with it. But the other day at Target they sold out of alot I wanted to get, to get my deals so I had to improvise than the cashier gave me a hard time on every coupon, he actually pulled everything out of the bag and compared it with every coupon. So it is nice to be reminded it is worth it!

  • This totally happened to me yesterday at ShopRite! It think the front end Managers know me by name!

  • Michelle

    Great post. I am rather new to couponing. I had this happen to me at Walmart and I just purchased the items anyway. Then again at Walgreen’s where I was stronger in my fight. The clerks told me they do not accept internet coupons and I had to ask “since when”. Finally the manger came out and explained to clerk it was ok. Then another time at this same Walgreens I was told “we don’t accept internet coupons” and the assistant manager came out and said the same thing. I had coupons from the SS and I used them for the purchase. When I called Walgreens corporate, they said they do accept and it’s not by a store thing. Took my info and a manger called. We had a long conversation about the incidents. He apologized and urged me to shop there again. It looks like that store had been burnt by some fraudulent coupons. One for Alli up to 99.99. Go figure.

  • Sharon

    So funny…but so sad. I have been couponing for a while now and STILL get the sweaty palms. Why do some stores make us feel criminal??? Just when you think you have an easy transaction all goes “loopy” Just the other day at Walgreens , one razor, get a free Olay body wash coupon and the .49 candy bar..2 coupons 2 RR (expiring that day) BIG OPPS 4- coupons 3- items….REGISTER BEEEEPS…UGH. So here Missy Clerk..ring up this other candy bar, scan my $6.00 rr..okay no beeps NOW void that candy bar(don’t want it, just know how to get the register not to beep)….by this time the store manager arrived and said I CAN’T DO THAT…to which I say- What show you how to get your register not to beep or void a candy bar I don’t want? Is this crimminal??? Walgreens does not have a coupon policy (that I am aware of) that says you can only use the number of coupons for the products you have THE REGISTER JUST BEEPS!!! Got my transaction done, but while driving home told myself that I should have gone to the cosmetic counter to the clerk I TRAINED about Walgreens and coupons!!! So much for an easy transaction!!

  • Rachel

    I laughed so hard at the “Coupon Police” … and agree totally with the suggestion of knowing your cashiers. I have a 1 1/2 yr old – so I dont have the luxury of multiple trips in one week, but I do know (learned the HARD way) which cashiers help me through the process and which fight me over every coupon. One cashier gets so excited over how much I save each time!

  • Susan

    The article timing is perfect — Thank you! I had a bad week at ShopRite too. The coupon police examining the fine print on every coupon and rejecting any that didn’t have both a physical and a website address on them (when I complained, the manager did an override and accepted them “just this once” and gave me a lecture on how I should examine my web coupons for address information before trying to use them). I explained that I only use legit coupons from legit websites, and don’t appreciate being made to feel like a criminal for doing so.

    The I didn’t get the expected $10 catalina. In the line for customer service (with an increasingly restless 3 1/2 yr old), I finally figured out that there was microscopic type telling me that I had to get the frozen veggies with sauce, rather than the nearly identical plain ones which I had purchased (the final item to fill out the catalina). Win a few, lose a few I guess, but I wouldn’t have purchased nearly as many lunchbox treats at one time without the promise of major catalina.

    All in all, I’m getting really annoyed with ShopRite. I’ve been a loyal customer in appreciation of my store’s great kosher section, but weeks like this make me question my loyalty!

  • anonymous

    ShopRite must have had a lot a trouble with fraudulent coupons. Sounds like most stores are examining coupons very, very closely and not taking certain (e.g. Internet SS) coupons at all. It’s good that they are trying to stop fraud, which really end up costing everyone a lot of money, but in that process they are also alienating loyal customers who are not only unable to use some coupons but also made to feel like criminals for the ones they do use. I feel very frustrated about this because ShopRite is the store with the absolutely best sales and deals in the area where I live, so I will continue to go there for my groceries – at least for now. Thank you for a great post!

  • shirley

    Wow!! I think you hit the nail right on the head. Scanning through the comments, I have had some of the same issues, especially with Shop Rite. I live in Delaware and our Shop Rites are owned by the Kenny family. They had been one of the most pleasant stores to shop in, and have alot of great deals. My nightmare was on the evening of snowstorm #3. Cashier was eyeballing every cpn., then calls over the manager. I waited 15 min. (no lie) for the manager to come back. In the meantime, I’m calm as I had everything in order. When the manager came back and rejected over several of my cpns., saying they couldn’t tell if they had been copied. As the checkout line is backing up more, every item that had a rejected coupon, I asked her to please take off my order. They lost about $40. I didn’t lose anything, as I was only purchasing stockpile items. Long story short, I reluctantly went back on Sat. Once again I was prepared and ready to make some sense of the matter. However, I was pleasantly surprised that only one coupon was questioned (free gal. of milk w/$100 pur), and it was fine. I’m very close to stop making any purchases at Walgreen’s. I have a problem almost every time I go in there. And to top it off, I’m being dealt with rudely. I’ve worked retail on and off for over 35 yrs., and would’ve been fired for some of the stunts I’ve had pulled on me. What these stores need is CONSISTENCY and a class in CUSTOMER SERVICE!! I think that would save everyone alot of headaches.

  • Mickie

    So, I had a new experience today at Shoprite. I went to get some post cereals since the catalina deal starts today. There are a couple of cashier’s that I know well and they know me so usually I have no problems. When I went today “my” cashiers weren’t there so I went to another one even though my gut was telling me that something was going to go wrong. I did 2 transactions of 4 Post cereals and 4 oikos yogurt. I had coupons for all so my out of pocket was $0.00 for both transaction. As soon as the transactions finished, the cashier quickly ripped the catalina from the machine and put it in the garbage! I said, “I need my coupons that you just threw in the garbage!” She said, “But you didn’t pay anything!” I said, “that is none of your business, I just need my coupons!” Luckily I was right next to the manager station, so he came over to check what is going on. I told him and he got the catalinas out of the garbage and told her to give them to me. So I asked for the store manager and the general manager by name. They weren’t there. I am going back next week to report her.
    I know she saw the $3.00 off OYNO and I have no doubt that if I didn’t say anything, she would have taken it out of the garbage. Ha, never a dull moment in the couponing world 🙂

  • Barbara

    Monday I had a bad day at Target 🙁 I had all my coupon items the cashier rang them up, I handed her my coupons and she made this terrible sounds with her mouth, the guy behind me started laughing 🙂 that made her mad. Then she said are you sure you bought all of the items that you have coupons for. I ask her if she would like to take all of my items out of my recycled bags (I always use cloth bags), she made that sound again and said no just forget it 🙂 I just started couponing about 6 weeks ago. But my pantry and freezer is well stocked now:) My husband thought I was crazy at first but now he likes it. I got him looking for coupon without even asking 🙂 I’m hooked and I think my husband is getting there 🙂
    Thanks 🙂

  • Lara

    Just prior to reading this post, I made a trip to Pathmark (my first time there) to do the Ellios pizza deal. They were all out so I went to customer service to get a rain check and to ask them how they handle the $5 back on $20 purchase. The woman asked me how many I wanted to buy and I told her 6 – she said that my total would only be $12 and I wouldn’t be eligible for the $5 back. I told her that I believed I would receive it – she basically laughed at me. Then she asked me to get a box so she could ring it up and check. So, she rings it up and says, “See, I told you it wouldn’t work.” No sooner did she get the words out then the catalina machine started beeping and printing out. The look on her face was PRICELESS! To her credit, she admitted that she was wrong and was very generous (and trusting) and gave me the catalina that printed out up front along with the rain check .

    • Cindy

      @Lara, Lara, I love it!!!!

  • coupon king

    I feel all your pain! EVERY TIME I go grocery shopping, I anticipate something will go wrong with the coupon police. I make my trips “ready for battle”. Shoprite now holds up the line to inspect my coupons, too. And I feel terrible for the people behind. I always allow people in front of me if it’s just a few items because of this. But, usually, it’s late and only 1 lane is open. The customers DO get annoyed.

    When the transaction doesn’t go the way it should, sometimes I let them cancel the items, and sometimes I just let it go knowing that when I go to customer service and do the return, I’ll make out on the deal. They rarely deduct the coupon from the return, especially on a different day.

    At Target Saturday, I taught the manager the policy of reducing the amount of a coupon to match the price. He disputed me. I told him I’d be contacting corporate and asked for his name and a pen. He ran in the back. 5 minutes later, he told me he just read the policy 3 times, and he’s to reduce the coupon. I said, “I told YOU that!”. And I asked him to educate the cashiers and customer service so that I don’t have to make a scene again.

    It’s a nuisance, but it’s well worth it. The money I save is amazing!