If you are new to couponing, you may not have noticed that many stores lately have changed their coupon policy. The reason, more than anything, is because some (not all, not even many in my opinion) couponers do not follow some basic coupon ethics/politeness. So let's go over some of the basic things when it comes to coupons.
1. Don't Steal! This covers all sorts of things, but specifically don't steal coupons! We all want coupons and I know it can be expensive to buy lots of coupons, but there are lots of ways to get coupons for free without stealing. Ask your friends and neighbors for their coupons. Check with your local recycling center to see if they will give you the coupons that are going to be recycled. Don't take your neighbor's paper, don't take coupons out of newspapers at stores unless you buy the paper OR if the coupons have been discarded and you have been given permission to take the extras, don't go through dumpsters and/or trashcans for coupons (the last one is hotly debated in coupon worlds. I say don't for a number of safety and legal reasons. In certain states, it is illegal to take things out of dumpsters. California, for example, has laws against removing things from recycle bins, which is where coupons should be).
2. Don't Clear the Shelves! This one has caused many complaints and frustrations and even a few changes to coupon policy (like Rite Aid, who changed their policy this week so you can only use 4 like coupons at a time). I know when you see a good deal, you want to get as many as possible. For example, a few weeks ago I saw that Albertsons had Dave's water for free. I bought 40, which seems ridiculous. I also checked before I bought that many there there were still plenty for other people (there was easily 60 or more left on the shelf). Unless there is only one or two on the shelf, DON'T TAKE THEM ALL! Leave some for the next person. Whether that person is a couponer or not, they will be grateful.
3. Don't Copy Coupons! It's illegal and yes, people have been prosecuted for it. This is a big issue with Internet coupons. Many (not all, for example, this isn't true of the wonderful Real California coupon) have special codes that only allow you to print up to 2 from any 1 computer. Don't copy. If you want more, find a way to get them that isn't illegal (like using multiple computers).
4. Use The Coupon for the Item(s) stated Only! This has become a massive issue since one of the people on Extreme Couponing was shown cheating the system by using coupons for things other than was in the transaction. This is illegal too. Read the coupon carefully and use it right. If you run into problems at the stores, if you use your coupon right it will significantly cut down on headaches (no, it won't cut them down completely. I have run into more than one cashier who has been unhappy to take my coupons, even when I use them right). Here's a fact you may not know, but if the coupons don't match the items sold, then the stores don't get the money back from the manufacturer. You are, in effect, stealing from the stores when you use a coupon for something other than the stated items.
5. Follow the Store's Coupon Policy. If you do this, you will have a lot less headaches as well. Plus, you won't be branded a "bad couponer" at your store (yes, they have them. I've even heard of certain couponers being denied use of a store because of their behavior!). If you aren't sure about a policy, check online or ask your store manager. I put up a copy of the Stater Bros policy with my posts and I highly encourage you to read it and print it out. Sometimes the cashiers don't know the policy (this is a big issue at Stater Bros, since they didn't have a written policy until February) so having a copy can keep both you protected and following the rules.
6. Do Unto Others as You'd Have them Do Unto You. This covers just about everything else. Would you like it if someone else did this to you? When you answer that question, you answer whether or not you should be doing something. Follow it and you will unlikely to go wrong.