A friend of mine told me she learned a new way to use coupons called ‘Balanced Couponing.’ She said she spends much less time planning coupon trips and is taking home more free stuff than ever. Can you teach us about Balanced Couponing? I would like to save a lot of money without spending much time on this, too.”
Unfortunately, despite its harmless-sounding name, “Balanced Couponing” is simply another term for coupon fraud.
The term seems to be spreading in popularity because those engaging in this practice state they’ve found a nice balance between couponing heavily and couponing less frequently. Again, while the name sounds relatively innocuous, the actual practice involves committing coupon fraud.
“Balanced Couponing” refers to the practice of using a coupon on an item other than that which the coupon specifies. Over the past few months, advocates of this method of “light” coupon fraud have been circulating on social media.
For example, a popular brand of laundry detergent also sells dishwashing detergent under the same brand name. The laundry detergent retails for about $8.99, while the dishwashing liquid with the same brand name retails for around 99 cents per bottle. Right now, this brand has a coupon available for $5.00 off three laundry products, and another coupon available for 25 cents off dish detergent.
Advocates of “Balanced Couponing” encourage using the $5.00-off-3 coupon on three 99-cent bottles of dish detergent to get them free. They argue the brand names are the same, so they don’t believe this practice is quite as bad as traditional coupon fraud – it’s “balanced” fraud!
This kind of coupon misuse is known as “misredemption” – using a coupon for one product on the other. The fact these two products share a brand name is not justification for using a laundry detergent coupon on a bottle of dishwashing liquid. (In fact, the laundry detergent coupon specifically excludes using the coupon on dish detergent!)
Another technique Balanced Couponing encourages is buying a smaller size than is required by the coupon. For example, a coupon for $1.50 off toilet paper may require the shopper to buy a 12-roll pack. However, the shopper may argue they can use it on a four-roll pack priced at $1.99 simply because the brand is the same.
Yet another “Balanced Couponing” practice is using coupons for full-sized items on trial-sized items, even though the coupons exclude usage on trial or travel sized items. Keep in mind that most coupons are designed to beep at the register if the coupon does not match the correct item being purchased. While there are exceptions to this, the majority of coupons will scan with a no-match code when the shopper hasn’t purchased the right product to let the cashier know that he or she should not accept the coupon.
Of course, these couponers have a method for working through this inconvenience as well. They advocate using social engineering to manipulate the cashier into accepting any coupons that don’t scan automatically. Deceptively saying something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I clipped the wrong coupon. Can you just take it this time?” may encourage a cashier to accept the coupon anyway.
While researching this column, I browsed several online groups devoted to “Balanced Couponing” and each group was openly advocating committing fraud in the name of getting as many free and inexpensive products as possible. One group even posted they coupon with “integrity, respect and honor.” Don’t be fooled by these groups or the entire practice of Balanced Couponing. Both the name and these practices sugarcoat coupon fraud.
Almost every time I hear that there is a “new way to use coupons,” the new “method” being touted involves some form of fraud. Coupons already are easy to use. If you follow the terms of the coupon and buy what is specified, you’re using them correctly and as they were intended to be used. When coupons are misused, it affects us all, as brands often respond by lowering coupon values or offering fewer coupon promotions.
Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three.