The tough economy has led a lot of people who have never used coupons in the past to begin using them now. The media have touched on this trend (just as newspaper cartoonists during the Great Depression loved to depict former bankers selling apples on street corners).
I do feel compassion for people who find themselves in financial difficulty. I have been there at more than one time in my life, and I do not consider poverty, whether long-term or sudden and unexpected, to be a reflection on someone's character or a reason for embarrassment.
I feel less compassion, however, for people who are rude and demanding and unwilling to play by the rules. So, in an effort to reduce future incidents of checkout-line rage, here is a primer about coupons.
1. Coupons are not the same as sales. Sales apply to everyone in the store. Coupons are a form of price discrimination, allowing producers or retailers to charge different prices to different people and thus maximize their profit. People who are not willing to jump through the hoops that the coupons require do not qualify for the discount.
2. If the coupon says "Save $1.00 on two" that doesn't mean you get 50 cents off of one. Buying two is the hoop required by the coupon. Similarly, if it says "Save $1.00 on a 12-ounce package" that doesn't mean you get 50 cents off of the 6-ounce package.
3. If you print off the coupon from the Target website, and it has a Target logo printed on it, do not expect to use it at a different store, unless that store specifically advertises that they accept their competitors' coupons. If the cashier at another store declines to honor the Target coupon, throwing a tantrum and demanding to talk to a manager while several people wait in line behind you will earn you another year in Purgatory (if you are Catholic) or reincarnation as an ant (if you are Buddhist or Hindu).
4. The coupon will not necessarily save you money if it causes you to buy a brand name instead of a store brand substitute (compare the ultimate selling price for the same amount of product). Of course, if you dislike the store brand substitute and would not have bought it anyway, the coupon is probably a good deal (assuming you planned to buy the product anyway).
5. The coupon will not save you money if it causes you to buy a size larger than you can use before it spoils (or more frozen dinners than you have room for in your freezer).
6. Find out when if/when your favorite grocery store holds double coupon days. Don't drive 20 miles out of your way to double a few $1.00 coupons, however, because the extra gas and wear & tear on your car will negate the extra savings.
7. If you find yourself tempted to buy a chest freezer so you can take full advantage of good coupons (or sales), get yourself to an exorcist. You may have been possessed by the ghost of my grandfather.