July 6, 2011 -- Extreme couponer Katie Christner, a grade school teacher who lives in Franklin, Ky., no longer shops at Rite Aid.
After the national chain implemented restrictions on its coupon policies, Christner could not afford the regular sale prices.
"Once they implemented the policy changes, I stopped going to Rite Aid," said Christner, who co-manages the blog Extreme Southern Couponing and teaches Couponing 101 classes. "Originally, prices were high. If you can stack coupons and get rewards, then that was doable. But now you can't stack the coupons, so there really is no point."
Retailers around the country are pushing back against extreme couponers, who empty out store aisles by piling up on cheap deals. Rite Aid, Target and Publix have modified their coupon policies, restricting the number of store and manufacturers' coupons that shoppers can use per purchase.
But some extreme couponers are either finding ways to game the system or simply taking their purchasing dollars elsewhere, like Wal-Mart.
Currently, Rite Aid only accepts one buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) coupon per each pair of items purchased. It may accept up to four identical coupons for the same number of qualifying items as long as there is sufficient stock to satisfy other customers. If the store is running low, managers have the right to restrict the quantity of sales.
"We have updated our policy so that all of our customers can take advantage of great value rather than small groups excessively taking advantage of them," Rite Aid spokesperson Eric Harkreader said.
Target, which has "seen an increase in coupon redemption," has clarified on its website that "BOGO coupons cannot be combined." Target spokesman Erika Winkels said "Target does accept one Target coupon and one manufacturer coupon on BOGO items."
According to a recent item in the Wall Street Journal blog SmartMoney, "previously, shoppers could combine BOGO offers to get both items in a pair free." While Winkels denies that claim, she said, "Target made some modifications to the policy on June 13, better spelling out for our guests what we accept in terms of the buy-one-get-one coupon."
As a modification to previous guidelines, Publix now accepts from a customer only one manufacturer's coupon and one from either its own or a competing store.
"Truthfully, before we didn't have a policy, we had guidelines, and they were interpreted in different ways so our customers were not having a consistent coupon experience at every store," Publix spokesperson Shannon Pattern said.
In an attempt to discourage extreme couponers who stockpile massive quantities of products, Publix has also given managers the discretion to limit the quantity of goods purchased if stores are running low.
"With extreme couponers, it's a matter of using 50 coupons to purchase 50 items, which creates the problem of clearing out the shelves," Pattern said. "We just need to make sure we limit the quantity so that we have enough products for everyone."
Nathan Engels, who operates the website WeUseCoupons.com, said, "If they tighten [coupon policies] too hard, people who are casual coupon users will be spiteful."
Working Around the Restrictions
Engels and his wife started clipping coupons in 2007 to stay afloat of mounting credit card debt.
"We realized we were overspending and undersaving," Engels said. "[Clipping coupons] leads you into a life of frugality, which helps tremendously."
The Kentucky native, who attributes a 50 percent savings on his weekly grocery store bill to coupons, has found ways to work around the coupon restrictions to cash in on bargains: multiple transactions.
"You may have to go to the store twice a week instead of just once. You may have to bring your husband with you when you shop, if you really want to get 10 products," Engles said. "You can work within the policy but change your strategy a little bit."
Extreme couponer J'aime Kirlew, whose stint on the TLC series Extreme Couponing led to allegations of fraudulent coupon use, agrees.
"Restricting couponers to three or four like items at a store makes me have to shop a little more and shop more frequently and shop at multiple stores," Kirlew said.
Both extreme shoppers agree that stores with looser coupon policies, like Wal-Mart, will win out over those that implement restrictions by attracting more customers.
While other retailers curb their enthusiasm for coupons, Wal-Mart has eliminated per-transaction coupon limits and implemented an "ad match guarantee," in which they match products with lower advertised prices.
Christner, who frequents Wal-Mart and CVS, continues extreme couponing to save on her weekly food purchases. "I have a family of four and I don't get paid much money," she said. "I do it to save 40 to 60 percent on my weekly shopping experiences. That's the biggest bang that you'll get out of couponing."