Diary of a Couponing Newbie: The Morality of Couponing

by Marcy on July 27, 2011 · 11 comments

The following is a guest post written by Devin Ventre for Stretching a Buck Blog, chronicling her journey into the world of couponing. This post is part 5 in the series “Diary of a Couponing Newbie“. Learn more about “Extreme Couponing the Smart Way” in the All About Couponing Series.

**Be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this series.**

So… do all couponers get dirty looks? Are all of you getting chewed out by cash register ladies everywhere? It seems to me, if I want to push my double-wide, extra-long grocery cart with the plastic car on the front of it, which is holding my children who are fighting and trying to get out and get back in over and over again, piled high with 40 packages of the same kind of toilet paper, then shouldn’t I be allowed to do that without getting the stare-down? Isn’t this America?!? (I cringe a little as I write this, because I’m generally the person who will call in a babysitter before I do something like this, but I would be lying if I said it never happened before.)

The dirty looks combined with some articles on couponing morality I’ve seen online lately have been leading me to think more about the moral aspect of couponing. The other day, someone actually asked me if using coupons made me feel like I was stealing. Ummmmm…. No. This was on the heels of a particularly good trip to Bloom in which super double coupons coincided with a sale on paper towels which allowed me to get 18 rolls of paper towels absolutely free. Yes, paper towels cost money. And yes, I left with them after paying zero dollars. No, I did not steal them. Bloom has a coupon policy which I adhered to. The stars all lined up so that I got them free. Yay me. I’ve noticed that coupons policies seem to be locking down these days. Personally, I think this just seems fair. Maybe it wasn’t right to get 18 rolls of paper towels for free, but I’m not headed to confession over it. If it’s not right, the burden is on the guy who makes the coupons and the guy who makes the store sales. I followed their rules. Maybe those two guys should get together for a chat over coffee, now that people are getting thousands of dollars in groceries for $0.10.

I got to thinking about the “extreme couponers” who go into as store with 1,200 coupons for mustard and expect a raincheck for the 1,100 that the store doesn’t have in stock, as though they could actually consume that much mustard in a lifetime. Would you tell your child who is next in line for a cookie, “Go ahead and just empty that cookie plate into your backpack, honey. You’re entitled to it, and this way you’ll have enough cookies for a long time!” What about the other kids in line behind him? As a parent, most of us would recommend that our child just take one and leave some for the rest of the crowd. Harris Teeter (my husband called it “Hairy Nugget” one time, and now my daughter can’t even think of shopping without giggling and saying “Hairy Nugget” fifteen thousand times) has done something like this by instituting a policy of doubling no more than 3 like coupons. You can USE the others, but they won’t be doubled. Hmmm… I kind of respect that.

I recently learned about something called “coupon fraud.” Apparently, there are lots of ways to use coupons in an illegal way. Sheesh… they’re COUPONS, people. Just 6 months ago, I would have thrown them away without giving them a second thought. Now I have to read all this legal mumbo jumbo to make sure I’m behaving in an ethical manner. For example, I have about 12 coupons for coffee (which I got for free from the general store – is that legal? Oh geez, now I have to go find out…), but can only use 3 at a time. Yep – this means I have to go to the store 4 separate times just to use them all. Sigh… I checked the coupon policy and that is officially allowed, so I’m good. For now…

Devin Ventre is a homeschooling mother of two living in northern Virginia who wanted a cleaning lady. She couldn’t afford one, and decided to save some money using coupons. Now she has her house cleaned twice a month. This is her story.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina July 27, 2011 at 5:50 PM

I love the articles you have been writing. They are both funny and all too true. I am off to do a few deals; provided there is anything left on the shelves. I’m a stay at home mom to 4 kiddos and have had to resort to couponing as a way to provide all that my family needs. These extreme couponers often wipe out the shelves and leave the rest of us in their dust.
As for the coupon police, well, it seems that in order to save a buck many throw their morals out the window. I don’t get it, even friends of mine who are by no means broke are couponing. I think that’s great, until I learn that they will do whatever it takes to save a buck. Often times using coupons that are for one product to get another (ie: regular bacon instead of the turkey bacon). One friend admitted that they will often times copy their printed coupons to save a little more. Really? What happened to doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do?

2 cathi carpenter July 27, 2011 at 8:53 PM

I loved this piece… I have been couponing pretty actively for almost 2 yrs. And I STILL feel sheepish as I load my cart up. I hate that I have let other people make me feel, um, “funny” about what I do. I don’t do what those women on tv do and NO I don’t feel guilty for getting something for nothing LEGITIMATELY. I mean, if I can figure this out…heck anyone can do it…and they are not…so who is the stupid one? Me for doing it…or the fools who pay $100 for 2 bags of groceries? hmmmmmm….go figure. I don’t begrudge legalities in place by retailers, however, I am very, very put out by the fact that these rules in place by the people with 1,200 coupons for mustard. It’s those people that spoil it for the mass. And that DOES tick me off. I liked your line about having all the stars align for the free paper towels. Go get em girl and God bless!

3 Lisa July 27, 2011 at 11:06 PM

I reallllllllllly love this article, however, why am I not able to share it to my facebook page?????? I can share it to my personal wall, but not my page. Any help?

4 beth July 28, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Thrift is admirable, but Gluttony and Greed are sins. Buying 19 rolls of bargain paper towels is immoral and selfish because you hogged all the good deals for yourself instead of taking your fair share and leaving enough for everyone else.

5 beth July 28, 2011 at 8:02 AM

“If it’s not right, the burden is on the guy who makes the coupons and the guy who makes the store sales.”–No, my dear. You are an adult with free will. If you do something immoral, you accept responsibility, not blame someone else who didn’t stop you. What a cop-out.

6 Devin July 28, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Lisa – I just copy the URL and paste it into my status. That’s the only way I know how to do it! Beth – I did nothing immoral. I followed the rules, and left plenty of paper towels on the shelf for everyone else. The main point of the article (I thought, anyway) was that clearing the shelves in a manner that leaves none for anyone else and taking more than you could possibly use (like buying 100 mustards) is something that should be avoided. Tina and Cathi – I’m so glad you are enjoying the articles. Keep the comments coming! :)

7 Jennifer July 28, 2011 at 11:04 AM

Let me educate you on what you refer to as Gluttony. The definition of gluttony is: “Gluttony, derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, intoxicants or wealth items to the point of waste.”

Note the definition says “to the point of waste.” 19 rolls of paper towels is not wasteful. I am sure those paper towels will be used quite quickly in a household w/ 2 children. Don’t take part of the definition and use it how you wish to try to make a point. (I rhetorically ask…Are you a democrat?)

Now let’s look at the term greed. The definition is: “a strong desire for more: an overwhelming desire to have more of something such as money than is actually needed.”

Again, I say….how do you know how long it takes that family to go through a roll of paper towels? Who are you to determine what the timeline is? How do you know how much they need? I buy 12 at a time at costco. Does that mean that everyone who shops in bulk is greedy? I THINK NOT!

8 Kim July 28, 2011 at 11:47 AM

I thought my children were the only ones constantly in and out of the shopping cart cars. I also have issues steering. Luckily, I have not taken out any store displays… yet!

I really enjoy your articles!

9 Hillary July 28, 2011 at 5:56 PM


This is my first read over of your article, and I am going to go read the others! I am new to couponing, but I love it so far! Free paper towels leave more money for things like milk for my kiddo (which is hardly ever on a good sale).

It’s not immoral to use coupons legally like you did. Especially when you’re not clearing a shelf off, and you will actually use the products in a reasonable amount of time (the super extreme couponers who buy everything off the shelves and leave the rest of us hanging are the immoral ones…as are those who (ILLEGALLY!) copy coupons!)

Thanks for sharing!

10 Tracy July 28, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Like Hillary, this too is my first read of your articles…and YES, I’m going back to read them all. I LOVED it! First, I cannot BELIEVE that someone actually asked you if you feel like you’re stealing when using coupons!!!!!! The NERVE!!!! You should have handed her a coupon for a CLUE! Second, I don’t care how much you do or do not pay out of pocket for these items. YOU didn’t design and print the coupons!! Coupons are designed for a purpose…a purpose you clearly pursued, within ethical and reasonable limits. While I personally would NEVER go so far as to purchase “1200” of ANYTHING, coupons or not, I actually don’t believe ethics should play a part. If Jan & Joan Shopper get to the store before I do….well, there ARE other stores I could go to. And dear, if your household is anything like mine, I’m betting those 18 rolls of paper towels were gone within 6 weeks. That’s not gluttonous by ANY stretch of the imagination! THANK YOU for this humorous, insightful, thought-provoking article; I’m looking forward to reading them all!

11 Joan August 11, 2011 at 7:11 AM

Devin – I am really enjoying reading all your coupon articles. You offer some very thought provoking insight and well as amusing anecdotes. And maybe you will inspire me to coupon more! Keep up the great job!

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