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Best practices for couponing

For decades, shoppers have clipped coupons to save a little on their grocery bill.

With technology advances, coupons have changed a great deal. Internet-printable coupons have soared in recent years and mobile coupons are a growing trend. With more options available, the opportunity for fraud has also increased.

Just last week, a Phoenix woman was sentenced to two years in prison for leading a nearly $30 million dollar fake coupon operation in what Phoenix Police have described as a one-of a kind massive counterfeit operation. To avoid being victims of fraud or inadvertently commit coupon fraud, here are a few best practices for coupon lovers.

1. Where can you find coupons?

The Sunday paper is still the most common place to find your coupons. Coupon sites are also very popular. Some legitimate sites are coupons.com, redplum.com and smartsource.com. Some retailers also offer mobile coupons. Check out their websites to see if any can be loaded to your loyalty cards.

2. Read the fine print and expiration dates

Coupons will have specifics on what items qualify for the purchase, how many items can be bought in one transaction using coupons and if there are restrictions on doubling, etc. Expired coupons are rarely accepted.

3. Know the stores’ coupon policies

Stores post their policies online and are usually posted in store as well. There may be specific limits on like coupons that can be used. Some have additional restrictions on BOGO (Buy One Get One) coupons and others have specific doubling policies. Read the policy before you shop to avoid making a mistake.

4. Stacking

Some stores put out their own store coupons. CVS Pharmacy, Safeway and Target are just some that do. Generally, a store coupon can be stacked with a manufacturer’s coupon. That means you can use both coupons to buy one item. It helps stack on the savings.

5. Doubling

Some stores double the value of coupons up to $0.50. That means a $0.25 coupon will be worth $0.50, a $0.35 will be worth $0.70, etc. Some stores like Fry’s take all coupons less than $1 at $1. Check store policies as they may change without notice.

6. Coupons cannot be photocopied, bought or sold

Those practices violate manufacturer’s policies and can be considered fraud. Learn more about coupon fraud at the Coupon Information Corporation.

7. Returns

When returning an item bought with coupons, it’s likely the store will only refund the final price paid for the product after coupons. Retailers are expected to refund the manufacturer for the coupon they redeemed, once you make a return, and so you will not get cash value for a redeemed coupon.

8. Overages

Sometimes a coupon may be worth more than the price of the item. The difference is called overage. Some stores allow the overage be applied to the rest of your shopping cart total. However, at a lot of other stores, the price of the coupon is adjusted down to only take off the amount of the item and no overage is given. Check the store’s coupon policy as they may change without notice.

9. Be considerate

It can be rewarding when you can get an item for cheap or even free using coupons. However, clearing shelves by buying 20 of the same items at a time can be disrespectful for shoppers that come after you.

10. Set a good example

Good and considerate use of coupons can lead to a rewarding shopping experience. Bending the rules of couponing can cause discomfort for shoppers, retailers and lead to stricter coupon use. Oftentimes, the incorrect use of coupons can also constitute fraud and lead to legal action.

For more ways to save: Price Matching 101, Tweet Deals and Using Loyalty Cards.