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Remember back in the day, when stores’ coupon policies were brief, straightforward and not so restrictive? The era of “Extreme Couponing” helped to change that, as many stores started clarifying their policies, closing loopholes and generally making it more difficult to walk into the store with a fistful of coupons and walk out with a cartload of free groceries.

Now, it’s not just extreme couponers who are a concern, but extreme scammers. So there’s been a new wave of coupon policy changes aimed at those who bend and break the rules – affecting everyday couponers in the process.

As reported here earlier this week, Dollar General recently revised its coupon policy, limiting to five the number of identical coupons that can be used in a transaction, and announcing vague restrictions about “not accept(ing) coupons over a certain dollar amount, as well as above a certain threshold as it relates to the total transaction.”

But Dollar General is only one of several stores that have imposed new coupon limits lately. Earlier this week, Mid-Atlantic grocer Giant Food updated its coupon policy for the first time in years. Back in 2010, during the height of the extreme couponing craze, Giant Food imposed a new limit on the number of identical coupons that could be used in a transaction – a generous 16. Even then, as late as last year, Giant Food shoppers were still showing off “Extreme Couponing”-esque special-order hauls like the five dozen cases of Betty Crocker potatoes that one Instagram user purchased, posting a picture of her haul online with the caption “Happy Assorted Mashed Potato Monday – all of this for FREE!”

“Our policy does not specifically say that customers cannot divide purchases into separate transactions,” a Giant Food spokesman told Coupons in the News at the time.

This week, Giant Food’s identical-coupon limit became much, much less generous – it’s now just 4. There’s still no restriction on multiple transactions, but absent a very patient cashier and very accommodating store management, it will be much more difficult to get a huge haul using just four coupons at a time. In addition, print-at-home coupons valued at more than $5 will no longer be accepted, under the assumption that the higher the value, the more likely it is that the coupon is counterfeit.

Other Ahold Delhaize-owned stores like Stop & Shop and Giant Food Stores (the “other” Giant, based in Pennsylvania) still allow up to 16 identical coupons in a transaction – so shoppers there might want to watch their stores’ coupon policies to see if they follow suit.

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Meanwhile, Michigan-based Meijer recently introduced possibly the most restrictive coupon policy update of all, a whopping six years after its policy was last revised. As of two weeks ago, Meijer now limits shoppers to just two identical coupons in a transaction – and it forbids shoppers from breaking their purchases into multiple transactions to get around the rule.

The new policy also states that coupons valued at more than $5 must be redeemed at “a staffed checkout lane” and not at self-checkout. And competitor coupons are no longer accepted.

But it’s that “two identical coupons” restriction that really stands out. Most other retailers who impose limits go with 4 or 5, which seems reasonable – it’s enough to allow you to stock up, without going overboard. But depending on the product you’re buying, using just two identical coupons to buy just two identical products could be barely enough to get you through a week.

Last summer, Procter & Gamble was the first major manufacturer to lower the limit on the use of its coupons from four in a single transaction, to just two (and, in the case of P&G printables, just one). Since then, many other manufacturers have followed suit. But who really reads all the fine print on each and every coupon – and would you want to check out with a cashier who does?

Meijer’s new limit automates the process. Registers will reject more than two identical coupons, which ensures compliance with manufacturers’ coupon limits without slowing down the checkout process. And if it means preventing you from using more than two coupons from a manufacturer who allows you to use four or more – tough noogies.

Meijer’s official explanation is that its new limit is designed to help combat shelf-clearing, and prevent couponers from wiping out a store on the first day of a sale. But some aren’t buying it – commenters posting on Meijer’s Facebook page are predictably upset. “Your 2 like coupon limit is stupid. I can go to Target who lets you use 4, and Kroger who allows 5,” one commenter wrote. “I understand that Meijer is trying to combat fraudulent practices by some unethical customers with this policy. The policy however penalizes your ethical couponing customer base,” another commented.

While they’re in the minority, some other shoppers aren’t so sure the idea is a bad one. “If the new policy allows everyone a fair shot at getting in on a promotion, then I commend Meijer for taking care of its loyal followers instead of serving the needs of the cherry pickers,” one commenter wrote on the site Bargains to Bounty. “Thanks to greed on the part of a few, we all will now pay the price.”

So keep an eye on your favorite store’s coupon policy. If it hasn’t been updated lately – the way things are going, it could be just a matter of time.

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