New Legislation Gives Coupons “Equivalent Cash Value”

By Paul Michael on 1 April 2011 (Updated 5 April 2011) 49 comments
Photo: SDC2027

[Note: This was Wise Bread's April Fool's Gag for 2011. Please don't take it seriously, but by all means read it to see what all the fuss was about.]

An old law, established over 80 years ago, has been overturned due to a violation of section 15 of the FTC Act. And it’s making those coupons you clip every week a whole lot more valuable. It also means that coupons will most likely be disappearing from the weekly circulars very soon, or risk bankrupting the issuing companies. So if you’ve got them, hold onto them!

As you may be aware, coupons have always had a cash value. Usually, it’s something small, like 0.01 cents. The reason for that stems from legislation passed back in the 1930s, which was established to protect small grocery stores from what was deemed “unfair competition.”

Here’s a more complete explanation:

Back then trading stamps, what most people refer to as "green" stamps, were offered by stores to draw in customers. Each time you spent a certain amount, you would receive a stamp which could be used to buy goods at a stamp store or be traded in for cash. These cash claims varied widely, often with a bait-and-switch: the value would be very high to get people to start shopping at a store, then later dropped. People would be unwilling to switch because they already had some stamps collected.

Several states enacted laws requiring a common cash value to be printed on these stamps to stop these scams. Many of these laws are still on the books, and they cover all coupons. Since they're state laws, national coupons have to include the value disclaimer so they're legal wherever they're used, but local coupons might not if they're printed in a state that doesn't have a common value law.

No Advertising Should Be “Misleading in a Material Respect”

In this case, thousands of US Citizens from multiple states filed a petition stating that coupons were misleading. If something is $2 less, that coupon should have a cash equivalent value of $2, and not 1/100 of a dollar.

Section 15 of the FTC Act explicitly states that “deceptive acts or practices” are prohibited, and coupons that are not offering the equivalent cash value are deemed to be deceptive, and therefore, illegal.

To avoid immediate prosecution, companies that have issued coupons now have no choice but to honor the value of the cash on the front of the coupon with an equivalent cash offer. And that means you can cash in big time by collecting those coupons currently in circulation, and mailing them off to the issuer.


Customers in a local Safeway wait to swap coupons for cash and produce

You could make hundreds of dollars just from the local free papers and circulars that you get in your mail box. The address is listed on the back of each coupon, so group them together by manufacturer to save on postage. Your check will arrive within 6-8 weeks.

Grocery stores are also playing a part in this. By taking your coupons to the customer service desk, you can cash them in for a 10% service fee.

But hurry, this run on coupons will make them become very scarce very quickly. Right, where are my scissors.

Additional photo credit: Pengrin
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Guest's picture
WillyNilly

April fools!

Guest's picture
Joy

look it says gullible on the ceiling :)

Guest's picture
Guest

April fools right?

Guest's picture
Guest

Is this an April Fool's joke???

Guest's picture
Guest

This must be an April Fool's joke.

Guest's picture
Steven

Great April Fools article! :)

Guest's picture
Tammy C

Boy, do I hope this is an April Fool's joke!!!

Guest's picture
Gerry

April Fools!

(nice try !)

Guest's picture
Guest

So I can cut out every coupon in the circular, mail them in to the address on the front, with my address and they will give me cash?

Can I mail in multiples of the same coupons? Do they have to be unexpired?

Guest's picture
Bob L

Just because it is not legal does not mean it is not theft.

Anyone with decent moral values would refuse to "Cash In" their coupons.

Bob L

Guest's picture
Bob L

I guess I better not comment before I have my first cup of coffee and look at a calender.

Guest's picture
Guest

I believed it . . . for about 3 hours.

Guest's picture
Bob L

The scary thing is, with some of the strange things that come out of Washington, this IS believable.

Bob L

Guest's picture
Gerry

nice try! AF!

Guest's picture
Jim

It is April 1st, right?

Guest's picture
Liz

And happy April Fools Day to you, too.

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Chris

Almost had me.

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AprilFoolBuster

hahhahaha like we gonna buy this on April 1st... It is APRIL FOOL day ppl :) ahahahahah good one ....

Guest's picture
Guest

While I'm sure everyone at Wise Bread finds this *hilarious* - I'm sure there's folks out there right now both scared to death that a huge part of their financial life is about to get even worse and, most sadly, those who are stuffing envelopes as we speak. What if they drop those coupons in the mail and lose that money they could have saved? Not funny, not cute and not okay.

Guest's picture
Guest

Exactly! If this is April Fools, they're also screwing with these coupon companies who are going to get the coupons in the mail. I'm sure there are people already sending coupons off. I did find a complaint filed about coupon practices with the FTC.

If this is an April Fool's joke, at least give some indication, don't link to legitimate sources, etc.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the person who said, "not funny." Is a personal finance blog really the place to do April Fool's jokes? No, it is not. If you are going to do it, disclaim it as such at the end of the article.

Guest's picture
Guest

"...Is a personal finance blog really the place to do April Fool's jokes? No, it is not. If you are going to do it, disclaim it as such at the end of the article." Agreed! Wise Bread just wasted my time, and that's not a good thing for a finance blog to do because time is money!

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree. There should have been a disclaimer at the end. This isn't a personal blog. I trust what I read here. Unlike a typical April Fool's joke, this wasn't SO over-the-top as to be obvious. There should have been a disclaimer at the end at the time this was posted (yes, I realize there is one now, but that didn't help those who read it early). AND to all of those commenting that "gee, you gullible people should have read the comment section," acquaint yourself with RSS feeds and understand there IS NO COMMENT SECTION if you are reading in an RSS reader. And again, many of us are looking at this site after coming to rely on it as good information. We're not reading with the thought that we need to be wary of misinformation, and we shouldn't have to be.

Guest's picture
Jake

I was reading this article and thinking... NO! No more Sunday coupons!!! Oh, the horror! Then I realized today was April 1st. Good one. LOL

...and for you irate people, chill out. If people are actually clipping their coupons to send back because of this article, they deserve to loose their coupons.

Paul Michael's picture

Folks, I do one of these every year. It's a bit of fun. It's such a ridiculous idea, the only reason I link to legitimate sources is to actually make you think, for a second, that it could be true. But by the amount of people screaming "April Fools" it's not exactly fooling that many people. If you are genuinely offended, I'm sorry. But when was having a little fun a waste of time? It's once a year, and so many sites across the web are doing it. Are they all wasting our time? Or are they all trying to take us back to a time when we could laugh at such things, rather than instantly being offended?

Guest's picture
liz

That's nice and all, but there are going to be people showing up at the stores, demanding money for their coupons because of this article. It is going to make some poor clerk's job that much harder, and really, you've got it hard enough when you are making something-and-a-quarter an hour.

I'm all for a good laugh, but not when people who have no idea what is going on are the butt of the joke.

Guest's picture
Guest

The only reason I commented was because my 70-year-old mother forwarded your newsletter to me this morning after calling me crying. The internet is a big place full of people not as hip as you are and who don't watch what you do "every year." I wasn't "instantly offended." I'm a professional writer who does a lot of comedy. I'm writing my own parody for my own site today.

The trick to these things is to make it so over the top that EVERYONE gets the joke, not just the most vulnerable among us. (Try SniqueAway for a lesson.) My mother thinking she wasn't going to be able to pay for groceries wasn't a fun little waste of time. It wasn't just on the site, it was presented in the daily newsletter. Yeah - people are literally starving out there. HILARIOUS.

Guest's picture
canyak

I totally agree with you. Some people need to lighten up. That could even be their serious financial advise. Stress and taking everything way to seriously can lead to health problems and expensive medical bills. Laugh a little. It will save you money.

Guest's picture
Not Dumb

OK, so people read this article, grab their coupons and blindly go to the store demanding cash. Don't any of these people look into things before causing a scene? Maybe they could, hmm, call ahead and ask? Or see if any news sites posted the story. Or, i don't know, read all the comments on this site saying APRIL FOOLS. I am so sick of the dumbed-down nature of this country. Give people some credit.

Guest's picture
Guest

The Wall Street Journal did pick up this story in one of their aggregates. Linking to legitimate news sources makes it look real, you shouldn't have linked to real things, then people would have thought, hey wait a second. (Italians harvesting spaghetti, Google toilet internet, etc...)

Guest's picture
jdmitch

I have to admit, my first reaction was "What the... no way..." then I checked the date of the post. Brilliant, just brilliant...

Guest's picture
Guest

I find your apology above insincere at best. When you apologize generally you should show contrition and an understanding of why you offended someone instead of implying that they just can't let their hair down and go back to a time when things were more laid back and funny. I'm sorry, but Wise Bread as a blog and it's writers in particular hold themselves up as trustworthy sources of financial information. Much in the same way that news agencies do. A newspaper would have never run an article like this without an April Fool's disclaimer at the bottom for fear that it would loose credibility with it's readers, which you've done, at least in my case.

You seem to think that everyone would get this as a joke, without taking into account how fast gossip, miscommunication and hearsay happen in real life, let alone on the Internet. It's usually the poor, illiterate, elderly and others in desperate financial straits who get scammed. And they fork over money for far less wild claims than yours in a desperate bid for hope. As a finance writer you should be aware of this and have taken into account.

Guest's picture
Guest

Completely irresponsible!

Guest's picture

People, money doesn't have to be stale and boring and rigid. People have fun with money, and people have fun with April Fools. Don't get mad when someone combines the two.

Guest's picture
Cathie

Lighten up, people. Yeah, we are also struggling and I do NEED coupons to make it, but seriously.....anyone reading this would (or should) have been prompted to check the comments, or at least do further research before trying to cash in.
Great joke! You almost had me!

Guest's picture
Annette

are people seriously complaining? If Google and Hulu can come up with their own why not WiseBread?

i giggled the whole way through btw. Thanks for the laugh!

I've been looking forward to everyone's April Fool's jokes today. Hulu is my favorite so far

Guest's picture
Guest

O my goodnes-Hilarious! I was just getting ready to dig through my recycle bin!

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Olivia

You've managed to fly under the radar. Scopes doesn't have this one listed yet.

Guest's picture
Beth

Thanks for the laugh, needed a break from getting ready for the yard sale. I do have Swag bucks TV in the background playing. Have a great weekend everyone

Guest's picture
TNAckers

First thought- NOOOO my coupons!!!! XD
second Thought- Hey.. isn't today.... oh yeah..
Nice job. and

HAPPY APRIL FOOLS!!

Guest's picture
Guest

OMG - Soooo funny! And the rest of you... wah, wah, wah...what a bunch of complainers! It was a little April Fool's Day joke...and he got you! Try laughing instead of being a whiner..

Guest's picture
Guest

Those who stuff envelopes with coupons or show up at their stores demanding cash and citing this article will learn a valuable lesson about the difference between fact and "something I read on the internet." Well played!

Guest's picture
Evangeline

This was my first visit to this blog.......and probably my last.

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annette

Where do I cash in my coupons? Austin tx

Guest's picture
Guest

Everyone getting upset at this article is being unreasonable (ironically... some might even call them foolish).

Lighten up people. Thanks Wisebread for injecting some humor into the site and observing April Fool's day.

Guest's picture
Guest

Dude - that almost got me.

I only read the first couple paragraphs and was just about to start researching and writing my own post. Then I thought - wait...what day was this post written on.

Nice!

Guest's picture
Guest

I read this on the 5th, wondering where in the world you were getting your info from.
Then I realized, "I just wasted my time." I would love to know how much people make to waste other's time and cost them money.

Guest's picture
Guest

" My mother thinking she wasn't going to be able to pay for groceries wasn't a fun little waste of time. It wasn't just on the site, it was presented in the daily newsletter. Yeah - people are literally starving out there. HILARIOUS."

Wow, you let your mother starve then have the nerve to come and blame a writers innocent piece of fun on WB for this? I do feel sorry for your mother at this point, but not because she mistook this for a real news article.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've just been had by a four year old April fools joke!