By Quentin Fottrell
Talking Shop: Remember J’aime Kirlew? She appeared on the first episode of TLC’s 12-part series Extreme Couponing and cut nearly $14,000 off her grocery bill last year by clipping coupons. She stockpiled over 100 cleaning wipes, 450 rolls of toilet paper and 250 paper towels at her Montgomery Village, Md., home.
Last month, Pay Dirt spoke to Kirlew about the show in an interview entitled, “Confessions of an Extreme Couponer.” It turned out to be a portentous headline. Her TV appearance was followed by allegations of fraudulent coupon use online and in magazines and newspapers, a practice where a shopper can use one coupon on another product that matches the barcode, but not the product specified on the coupon.
Bud Miller, the executive director, of the Alexandria, Va.-based Coupon Information Corporation, which represents the manufacturers of coupons issued in the U.S., says it’s not a gray area: “Coupons are a contract and the controlling barcodes are merely a method of processing coupons, so any use of a coupon to produce a product other than stated in the plain language of the coupon is considered fraudulent.”
Manufacturers are now changing their barcode system to prevent coupons being used for other products that work with the same barcode. But Kirlew says she has done nothing wrong and will continue to match coupon codes until the barcode system changes.
Pay Dirt spoke exclusively to Kirlew.
How have you been since the show aired?
Kirlew: My episode still airs and I still have a crazy amount of cruelness online. I have received anonymous emails. The attack was just relentless. The national response has been so incredibly cruel with some people saying, “Please remove J’aime from your show.” People have purchased ads with my name online. Everyone else is profiting off this, and used this story to direct people to their websites and to buy their e-book and DVD. But I’ve had a lot of positive comments and emails.
How has TLC been with the media backlash?
TLC didn’t prepare me whatsoever. I felt like a fish thrown amongst the sharks. The channel was the publicity liaison to hook me up with the various media outlets that want to speak to me. In no way shape or form do I feel like they have helped me in how to respond.
(TLC declined to comment, but told Pay Dirt last month: “Any of the cast’s strategies are unique and their own to comment on.”)
You matched barcodes, as long as they worked, rather than products, right?
Do you believe that was the right thing to do?
Yes, I believe that I have done nothing wrong. I’ve even had managers take my purchase and check me out. They’ve told me, “If the coupon goes through at my register, I’m getting reimbursed for it.” I have never been approached by anyone in authority telling me to do something different.
Will you change your methods now that manufacturers are changing the barcode system?
I do not intend to change my shopping habits unless or until the code changes. If it is in fact a problem, the new GS1 barcode should resolve all of these issues.
And what about the comments from the Coupon Information Corporation?
Regarding those individuals that Mr. Miller is looking for, I don’t fall into that category. I’ve never copied coupons, I’ve never created my own coupons, I’ve never redeemed any other coupon other than what comes in the coupon inserts from the newspapers or legitimate online, printable manufacturer coupons.
How did you get started clipping coupons?
I knew nothing about couponing until my husband took a pay cut. I saw BeCentsAble on Good Morning America. I contacted them and purchased their DVD and got started.
Is this where you learned to match codes as well as products?
The DVD had one step called “Coupon Strategies: Reading Coupons,” which specifies that you must match the first five numbers on the bar code on the product and the bar code on the coupon and that, if these numbers match, your coupon will scan.
(BeCentsAble founder Chrissy Pate told Pay Dirt that their code matching strategy was designed to match products not pictured on the coupon, but ones that were still specified for use by the coupon: Pate says, “We had no idea people were misinterpreting what we were saying. Some coupons put the most expensive Tylenol picture on coupon, but the coupon was designed to be used for other Tylenol bottles too. We changed our DVD and sent out lots of correspondence not to talk about barcodes because this was being misunderstood.”)
What do you want from this interview?
I want to stop being the Scapegoat. I used a Buddig Deli cut for a 12/16 ounce packet for a 2 ounce packet because the numbers matched. The coupons went through at the register and I did not have any problem.
Pay Dirt readers, what do you think?