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Expired-Coupon User Feels a Little Cut Off


The frills are gone.

My raison de coupon has been clipped.

After years of quietly accepting expired coupons, Ralphs has rescinded the policy. I got the bad news the hard way: In the checkout line, while hot, impatient customers behind me gave me the evil eye. Some had only a couple of items. One had a small, fussy--probably teething--child. (There are no other kind of children in Ralphs except fussy.)

"We're no longer taking expired coupons," the cashier said haughtily as she spitefully wadded up a dozen or so coupons and tossed them in her wastebasket.

You might as well have put a bundle of those newfangled $10 bills through a shredder. I was incredulous.

Signs had been posted, she added.

I couldn't believe it. I had been using expired coupons at Ralphs for . . . well, years. Call me frugal. Call me cheap. Call me Ms. Pinch-a-Penny-Till-It-Screams. But I prefer to think of myself as a member of a semi-secret society.

"We never advertised that we accepted expired coupons," said Terry O'Neil, spokesman for Compton-based Ralphs Grocery Co. The chain, he said, started accepting expired coupons eight or 10 years ago as a service for customers who legitimately hadn't noticed their coupons had expired.

Eventually, he said, "it just got out of hand for us." Manufacturers were growing increasingly reluctant to reimburse the store. And so, he said, a couple of months ago, the chain began refusing to accept expired coupons.

I had been initiated into this society by chance. I was grocery shopping with my husband one day, looking through my coupons. Thinking aloud, I said: "Oh, we can't use that coupon. It's expired."

A fellow shopper, God bless her, turned to say, "Oh, they take expired coupons here."


"Are you sure?"

She assured me she'd been doing it.

That day, I bought a few items with expired coupons. They were scanned by the cashier with, as they say at the White House, no comment. I got bolder. Several became a dozen. A dozen soon became every coupon I could get my hands on. My home became a repository for glossy Sunday newspaper inserts. I don't know what my record is, but the tab for a Christmas party I once threw dropped from $203.93 to $134.90. While some people might see a small number at the bottom of their register receipt, I began to see plane fare to Europe.

Couponing became an obsession. I would thumb through magazines in the doctor's waiting room, see a long-expired coupon and have to have it. That's when I knew I had it bad.

As, apparently, do unknown legions of others. I have thumbed through magazines in the doctor's waiting room and found holes in pages where coupons have been, so I suspect we must be legion. And I think I speak for all of us when I say, we're hurting. And so are our wallets.

"We've gotten some negative feedback," O'Neil said. "Most concern came from those consumers who were heavy coupon users, or coupon clubs. For those customers who do forget--say it expired Aug. 31 and it's Sept. 2--there's a little leeway. It's up to the discretion of the cashier."

I called around and learned that the Arcadia-based Vons chain doubles coupons in its Southern California stores. But it does not accept expired coupons, said spokesman Kevin Herglotz. "We have club-card savings," he said, "and couple that with offering our own coupons . . . our customers are very satisfied."

A spokeswoman for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons said the chain doesn't double coupons (and doesn't plan to), but does accept coupons from other stores.

I know what the skeptics say: Coupon savings are offset by higher prices. I didn't care. Looking at my receipt on the way to the car gave me a natural buzz.

I consider myself an enlightened woman. I am an educated professional who makes a good living. My sister, an equally enlightened professional who makes a good living as a financial consultant, once asked me: "Hey, are the savings really worth the time it takes to clip and organize them?"

What a question. Would an agnostic ask a priest: So, why do you believe in God?

Now, all that's left is clipping unexpired coupons. It's just not the same.

Is any store interested in this customer's undying loyalty in exchange for accepting Milk Bone coupons that expired in 1996?


Linda Whitmore, who plans to spend a lot more time at Trader Joe's, can be reached at

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