Five reasons to stop “Flying under the radar”

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“Flying under the radar:”

A phrase often used by couponers to describe methods of shopping whereby couponer works to avoid bringing attention to him or herself. The term may also be used to reflect a hope that others will not notice the enormous wad of coupons in your pocket on the way to checkout. (Angela Russell Dictionary of Couponese)

If you are a shy when it comes to couponing (as I sometimes can be), you might find the idea of “flying under the radar” attractive. After all, you don’t want to create a fuss at checkout, do you? Or have people gawk at your coupon binder and grocery cart full of toilet paper and tuna fish? Guess what. I’ve decided flying under the radar is NOT the way to go, and here’s why.

1. You shouldn’t have to act sneaky for something that isn’t. Shoplifting? Sneaky. (Not to mention, illegal.) Using coupons according to a store’s coupon policy? Savvy. I’ll admit, there have been times I thought I’d just get in and use the self scan to do a couple transactions back to back. While technically I wasn’t doing anything wrong, by trying to not draw attention to myself I ended up feeling sneaky. Folks, you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for using coupons!

2. You may miss out on deals. Believe it or not, did you know some cashiers enjoy seeing your good deals? And that some will even share with you how to find coupons and deals within their store? While this doesn’t happen all the time, it does happen. Start talking to hard-core couponers you know and they’ll tell you about the time some nice manager or cashier helped them save some money! I’ve personally had this happen before.

3. You’ll be able to better determine which stores are coupon friendly. I’ve really grown in my confidence at checkout. One of the biggest things that’s helped is just sharing with my cashiers about coupons. For instance, I might start off like this: “I have a bunch of coupons to use today.” They almost always thank me for the heads-up or say “OK.” If they seem friendly or give a rather enthusiastic response then I might continue with, “yeah, you have a great sale going on X right now that pairs with this X coupon…” Now I’m talking about their store and a deal that made me shop there today! On more than one occasion I’ve had a cashier ask about where I’ve gotten a coupon to do a particular deal. If I get to that point, I know I’ve found a coupon-friendly cashier, and probably, store. This is useful for me to know. If I have a store that is glad to see me with my coupons, I’ll be more confident in shopping there. In my mind, this is a serious advantage over flying under the radar! Have those conversations at checkout (where appropriate, of course).

4. Your experience with using coupons at stores is likely to be more positive. Take Laura, a friend and reader. She wrote to tell me about her experience at Rite Aid this week. Laura writes that she went to her “home” Rite Aid, “where everyone knows me because of my crazy coupons.” Lest you think this is a bad thing, I want you to follow what happens next. Laura had been looking for an advertised product for a deal she wanted to do. After not finding it, the manager ends up looking and going into the back until he finds the item for Laura! Her conclusion: “I think it was because the staff knows me that they were willing to go the extra mile to take a look.” Laura has obviously been nice and respectful to store staff and in the end, everyone benefits. (And incidentally, you can read more about her shopping trip.) Does this happen all the time? No. But if you fly under the radar? Good luck finding help like that when you need it.

5. If you’re saving big money, you shouldn’t care what others think. If you see another shopper checking out the odd smattering of items in your grocery cart, should you care? I personally don’t. Especially if I get those items for ridiculously cheap. Remember, you’re working to save money to feed your family. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.

I think you should feel comfortable using your coupons, proud even. You shouldn’t have to hide what you’re doing so long as you’re playing by the rules. Now do you need to disclose exactly how far you’ve taken this “couponing thing” to your friends, other shoppers, and cashiers? How you pour over couponing blogs and forums to find the best deals? How you lovingly collect your coupons from the Sunday inserts each week? How you keep a binder full of hundreds of coupons in the back of your car at all times? Well, my friend, that’s entirely up to you.

What about you? Do you “fly under the radar” or have thoughts about this couponing mentality?

19 thoughts on “Five reasons to stop “Flying under the radar””

  1. I guess it depends on what one means by, “Flying under the radar.”

    I’m not shy about using coupons, and I always display them prominently when I go to check out.
    Sometimes I say to people behind me, “I have a bunch of coupons. If you’re in a hurry you might want to go to another lane.”
    Sometimes I’ll joke with the cashier, “Call in your crazy coupon lady code.”

    I know most of my cashiers, and I enjoy being friendly. Like you, I don’t think I should have to apologize for doing something perfectly legal that saves my family money.

    Where I Do fly under the radar is in the quantities of things I buy. I just do not think buying 40 boxes of cereal at a time is smart shopping. I know tons of people will disagree with me, but I think shelf-clearing is calling the wrong kind of attention to yourself. I even had one of my cashiers tell me about a lady who came in at the busiest time of day and wanted her to ring up 13 separate transactions (this was when a Post CAT was going on).
    Now, I would rather get 10 boxes at a time and keep the good will of my store and my cashiers.

    I did get 40 boxes of Quaker back during the oatmeal madness, but I made a point of going late at night, and I asked the store manager if she wanted to ring me up somewhere special.

    So, like I said, it depends on what under the radar means, but I’ll be super interested in hearing what others have to say.

  2. Hi Meg, I wouldn’t classify your Quaker transaction as flying under the radar since you contacted the store manager and asked where to ring up. I consider that being courteous and working with the store! I did the same thing during the Quaker sale. I actually also called the store ahead of time and they placed a special order for me. 😉

  3. I agree. I’m not an “under the radar” shopper, mostly because it’s much more important for me to have a good relationship with the stores in which I shop. I don’t mind being known as a coupon lady, and I’m happy to share deals/spare coupons with friendly cashiers. In return, I have less hassle checking out- and that’s a wonderful feeling!

  4. I agree, Angela. As long as you are respectful to the place you are using coupons, there shouldn’t be any reason for flying under the radar. I love my “home” RiteAid. The cashiers also love seeing my coupons and question how I know what to buy for the week. I’ve referred all of them to your site. *smile* I can’t say that about Walgreen’s. At first, I thought it was more the customers than the cashiers UNTIL I witnessed it myself. The only one I have been able to find in my local area, who doesn’t treat me like a criminal for using coupons, is 10 miles away. I only stop by when I’m in that area anyway. I think it’s ridiculous. Of course, maybe they are that way because there have been others with mega quantities of laundry soap and toothbrushes. I only buy with what I have coupons for and right now, it’s 1 set of inserts/week.

  5. I was actually wondering about this when I went to Walgreens yesterday. The first cashier looked at me funny when I bought the toothpaste and the Aspirin with the coupon to make it free. So I went home to go back later for the stuff to buy WITH the RR. Then when I came back the lady wasn’t quite rude, but she wasn’t nice either. At albertsons however, they were quite friendly and pleasant to me. and I know a lot of people don’t care for Safeway, but when I went there this week, the cashier actually said “great coupon shopping!” THAT made me feel good. I’m still new at this, and even though it IS legal, I feel like I’m stealing just because I am getting things for SO CHEAP!

  6. Sometimes, if I start to feel bad (you know like I’m getting TOO good of a deal), I might say, “Yup! This is why I shop at your store – you guys have the best deals!” Sometimes that breaks the ice, or at the very least, lets the cashier understand there’s no need to hide what I’m doing. 😉

    A word on Walgreens and RIte Aid (and this may well be a separate post sometime soon) – many time their OWN ADS give great scenarios! The ads will often tell you to look for “Coupons in Sunday paper for additional Savings!” or “Use your Sunday coupons on these offers!” When you find these sort of ads, save them and carry them with you just in case your cashier wonders how you were aware of their good deals!

  7. My method that seems to work well is to make sure to look the cashier in the eye and be friendly. I ask them how they’re doing and make some chit chat. I always thank them for scanning all my coupons and for being patient with me. I’ve worked retail and it’s nice to be treated like a human being when you’re ringing someone up. I’m a very shy person by nature, but I force myself to be friendly and open because I feel that if I’m not willing to look at the cashier or talk to them, it gives the impression that I’m trying to hide something. I agree with you that confidence with your coupons gives a much better impression. When I first started, I wasn’t as confident and a beeping coupon would really freak me out. Now I don’t even bat an eye at a beep and I think they’re more willing to push it through or trust the customer when I can confidently say, “yes, I bought X number of those items”.

  8. Flying under the radar can mean so many things. To me it is just using a few coupons of each great deal, so as not to draw attention to self. You can imagine the surprise (and honor) to find from a checker of my local Fred Meyers that all the workers there know me as “The Coupon Lady.” So much for flying under the radar! I guess my plastic shoe box (or should I say coupon box), along with the great savings give me away.

  9. This post has interesting timing for me. A few days ago I had multiple transactions to do at Safeway and though I ran each one separately (that is, left the store, stowed my items in my car and returned with new coupons and a new checker), I knew it was my last transaction when I started getting rude looks and I was told I could NOT another doubler coupon since it was limited to “one time a week”. I found out since that it is NOT true… but whatever.

    I returned yesterday to this same (“home store”) Safeway and when my catalinas didn’t print I went to Customer Service who ended up printing them for me, but not until disrupting a checker and taking MANY minutes to correct her till… AT THE EXPRESS LANE with a LONG LINE of people waiting. I would never have tried this if I knew that was what was going to happen.

    I apologized many times and at the end the checker handed me back my receipt and just said flatly, “It’s been fun”. Now I don’t envy her (OR the poor souls standing in the “express” line), but I’ll travel many miles the other direction to the next closest Safeway for quite awhile.

    It may not have been my FAULT, but it was easy to see what a big problem it was for everyone else and I think I’m done there for the time being. Now I pray nothing happens similarly to me at the one 15 miles away!

  10. Oh no! I am so very sorry safeway was so bad to you. The one I go to is here in puyallup off Canyon. The women checkers seem friendlier than the male checkers, and I had gone at 7:30 am so maybe the day was still fresh for her.

    I seem to have this same problem at my walgreens! There is only one guy in there who is nice enough to explain the coupons and how I can and Cant use them. The ladies seem kind of stuck up

  11. I will “fly under the radar”….I drive to several Walgreens to roll my RR’s, (there are 3 Wags in my small town). They are not too far apart and I just want to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. I shouldn’t have to do that because I know I’m not doing anything wrong. But I’m not good at defending myself…but I’m getting better!

  12. Great Post Angela! Another reason why I do not fly under the radar is because I meet so many people through using coupons that I would of never otherwise met or talked to. Example: Cute little old lady stops me in the store to tell me how impressed she was with my coupon binder. I ended up telling her what I save and all that, she left with a big smile on her face. Now I am not sure if she will use coupons or not, but you could just tell she was happy that I talked to her! That is just one example of many.

    As far as Safeway goes: Angela seriously call corporate on that experience. I was completely humiliated at the store with a cashier YELLING at me. I called..then I went back (a few weeks later) with a little bit of fear of what the next transaction would be she was the ONLY cashier talk about attitude change! I think I could of asked her to clean my house and she would of done it.

  13. Had to laugh at the “ladies seem stuck up” comment! Actually, later in the day that I had been told “one doubler per week” I sent my husband in with coupons and cash and asked him to make the last transaction I had wanted to do. Unbeknownst to me, he purposely sought out (correctly) the particular checker who had been so rude to me… he ran the deal correctly and the girl gave him all the kudos and comments about what a savvy shopper he was. Ugh.

  14. One thing I did the other day and the cashiers loved it, was that as I put my items on the counter, I organized the coupons so thy were in the same order as they were beeing scanned.

  15. I don’t fly under the radar; I’m proud of all the planning I do to get the deals I get, and I love sharing the details with anyone who wants to know.
    On the other hand, I don’t go out of my way to call attention to myself. I won’t do a transaction with 40 BOGO items and 20 BOGO coupons that will cause the cashier to tremble with fear. I’m just not brave enough to do something like that. If I want all those items, I’ll do different transactions on different days.

  16. I do not attempt to fly under the radar in the strictest sense of the phrase myself. For the most part, I find cashiers to be very pleasant about coupons IF you are organized by the time you get to the register, do not act defensively, or in any way come across as if you are expecting a negative experience.

    My binder is a 4″ thick bright pink Case It (no way to hide that baby)! I do not live in an area where there is a lot of couponing, not sure why that is, so you would think I would stick out like a sore thumb. But, no I don’t think I do. ( or maybe I am just confident in my shopping and don’t notice???)

    Great post! Excellent points

  17. great post! i found you yesterday when looking for exactly how to use WAG RR’s. i love your blog and will definitely be subscribing.

    you might get a kick out of my blog post about my most recent WAG shopping trip. if i hadn’t had my coupons out on top of my purse in my shopping cart, i would have never had such an amusing and informative conversation with a total stranger who is also a fellow coupon shopper.

  18. This is an interesting post to me in that I have had two very starkly different reactions to my recently acquired couponing addiction. It isn’t the cashiers I’ve gotten attitude off though, it’s my family! I quit my job to stay at home with my kids and have consequently had to make some major budget adjustments. My upper-middle-class mother and sister have both reacted to my couponing as something embarassing and distasteful whereas my friends (most of whom struggle from paycheck to paycheck just like we do) think it’s genius and are curious how to do it.
    There seems to be two separate causes for people feeling shy about their couponing. On one hand, there is the potential inconvenience for others that has been discussed in the previous comments. I think this is a valid concern and I definitely go out of my way to minimize this. However, I think we couponers (that’s right, I own it) are often made to feel embarassed about the fact that we need to save money. On one of these couponing blogs (I read a few too many) I read an article about frugality being a healthy return to valuing what one has as an alternative to excess and waste. Spending a few minutes thinking about the value of what we’re doing (staying home with my kids in my case) compared to the need for the approval of others really puts this in perspective for me. Thanks for starting this conversation!

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