Extreme Couponing: Ethics and Etiquette
When I decided to give this extreme couponing thing a try, one of the biggest surprises was just how seriously couponers take couponing. What I mean is that they believe in following the rules. And they believe in being good shoppers -- not good in the sense of being good at shopping, I mean good as in thoughtful, conscientious, helpful, welcoming, charitable, supportive and encouraging. The coupon bloggers and forum members I've gotten to know aren't evil hoarders, they don't commit coupon fraud, and they do not clear shelves for fun. Ever.
This was a surprise to me because I entered the world of extreme couponing due to the buzz about TLC's Extreme Couponing special, which aired last December. The blog posts I read made it very clear that couponers were uncomfortable because people who don't coupon would see that TV special and make assumptions about them that were inaccurate and misleading.
When the couponers realized that TLC was turning Extreme Couponing into a series, couponers were concerned again about how they would be viewed by those who don't coupon and this time, I understood their concerns because I've become one of them. And as I previewed the first half hour episode on Saturday, I thought I knew exactly what the response would be -- from couponers and non-couponers alike.
I expected shock and dismay over shelf clearing. I expected shock and judgment about stockpiling. I expected judgment about the types of foods purchased.
Last summer, J'aime uploaded two instructional videos from a couponing trip to Target. In these videos, she appears to be using coupons for products she did not purchase. She later removed her YouTube channel.
I learned about this issue after I watched the preview but shortly before the first two episodes aired. I didn't mention this in my initial post because I was unable to find any information as to whether she was officially charged with coupon fraud and I was not able to view these videos myself.
As a new couponer, I know how easy it is to make a mistake and I know I've learned a lot in three months. Based on the posts I read, the problems she faced were quite some time ago -- when she was still relatively new to couponing. If those accusations were true, I had hoped J'aime had learned a lot over the last year. I am not a judge-y sort of person, or I try not to be.
But on Thursday, the day after that first episode aired, Jill Cataldo made some very serious accusations about J'aime's coupon use during the show -- that she may have committed coupon fraud.
Jill uses screenshots that show J'aime's shopping list with coupon match-ups. There's nothing odd about this type of grocery list, but in this case, the list matched family brands to coupons, rather than matching coupons to specific products J'aime was planning to purchase.
It is important to note that Jill is saying it appears as though J'aime may have engaged in coupon fraud. Jill is not saying that she definitely committed coupon fraud.
I do not know if these accusations are true. I don't have enough information, based on the brief clips from the show and the screenshots provided by Jill. I do know that TLC is looking into these accusations.
Coupon fraud is taken very seriously by ethical couponers -- and that most couponers ARE ethical and do not condone breaking the rules or breaking the law. Most couponers go out of their way to make sure that they clearly explain couponing rules and practices and consistently remind couponers to read their coupons and abide by the information printed on the coupons. Most couponers tell you to contact the store(s) you shop in to find out what the rules are -- and abide by them. Most couponers will tell you that "your mileage may vary" (YMMV) when they describe ways to use coupons that may or may not be prohibited by your particular store.
I'm so thankful that my initial experiences with extreme couponing came through trustworthy, ethical couponers. I am a stickler for knowing the rules and following them and I am very confident that I've been given good information and advice by the coupon blogs and forums I read regularly. Because I believe it is important that new couponers find reliable and honest advice, I work very hard to provide links to those couponers who I believe to be honest and ethical in their coupon practices. This is also why I have not written a lot of posts that specifically tell you how to coupon. Instead, I have provided examples of how I'm using coupons and I've linked dozens of reliable coupon blogs and forums where other newbies like me can learn from those who will not steer them wrong. There are some coupon blogs and forums that I won't link to because what I've read has made me nervous or uncomfortable.
The problem, though, is this: How does a new couponer know if she's getting good, reliable advice? If the allegations about one of the couponers from the TLC Extreme Couponing show are true, then there are a whole lot of people who have received advice that may not only be unethical -- it could be illegal.
I've thought about this a lot over the last week -- How would I, as a new couponer, know that I was getting the best information and advice? What I came up with is -- Read your coupons and do your research! If you see advice or information on one blog, go and verify it on another blog. If you're still in doubt, join forums like A Full Cup and Coupon Mom and ask for advice or information there. Neither of these sites permit any posts that appear to be condoning coupon fraud and they are very quick to remove or edit posts that come close to recommending these types of activity.
But what about ethical issues that aren't related specifically to coupon fraud?
What about shelf clearing? Or stockpiling? Or pulling peelies from products you aren't buying at that time? Or purchasing coupons? Or feeding your family junk food? Or buying small packages instead of larger packages, which means more trash dumped into landfills? Those are all ethical issues that we as individuals need to answer for ourselves.
There are plenty of forums available for discussion of extreme couponing ethics:
And of course, the BlogHer.com Coupon Lovers group is always a good place to ask questions and have discussions about couponing.
Twins Tai and Tarin on Extreme Couponing. Image courtesy TLC.
I'll be watching the next episode of TLC's Extreme Couponing and I'll be live Chattering/Tweeting it tonight. Join me -- it will be fun and there will undoubtedly be many things to discuss. After the show, I'll be posting three more tips for new couponers, as part of the Extreme Coupon Challenge, (and here they are!). Last week, BlogHer members saved a combined total of $553.24. -- join the challenge and share your stories (and savings) with us.
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