Coupon fairies – have you ever encountered one?
More versatile than the Easter bunny and more consistent than Santa, the coupon fairy is the everyday hero you've probably never heard of. If you've ever received a voucher from a stranger in the checkout queue, or found one tucked on a supermarket shelf beside the corresponding item, you've encountered a coupon fairy. Or maybe you're one yourself? If that's the case, we're about to lift the lid on your secret.
While dipping into the MSE Forum's Old Style MoneySaving and Food Shopping & Groceries boards, I came across a post by Forumite balabooberlies. I'd heard about couponing and about wombling (picking up discarded coins, vouchers and pre-loved objects), but this was the first time I'd read about passing coupons onto strangers.
A year or two ago I was at the self checkout when I noticed a lady looking at my items. She offered me a 25p coupon for milk, as she doesn't drink it. I was really pleased and grateful. Then I read about a 'Coupon fairy' on these boards. She finds discarded coupons and tucks them by the product for others to use. It started my mission. And I have been successful.
All the while the security guard was keeping a very close eye on me, even following me. I wasn't perturbed, wasn't doing anything wrong. Eventually he cottoned on and realised I was not only helping myself but trying to share my finds.
Here is 'the turn up for the books'. For the last two days he has given me coupons he has picked up during the day!
He must have missed me and my shenanigans over the last six months. Anyway, I blew him a kiss as I was leaving. It would have been rude not to...
Looking back through the thread, I found other examples of balabooberlies' kindness. It turns out the Forumite often finds discarded vouchers in supermarkets. Co-op is their usual haunt, and they usually spy them on the floor or by the self-checkout tills. Often they're money-off coupons like '£1.50 off a £15 spend' or '£8 off an £80 spend'. Other times they're specific to a particular product, eg, £1 off branded cat food.
The other day I once again found a discarded money-off voucher. £3 off a £30 spend. I knew I wouldn't be able to use it as my small freezer is full and apart from fresh produce I have sufficient. So I began my search for a recipient.
I found a young mother with a full trolley. In the end she was really pleased, after she realised that I was trying to give her something, not ask for something.
'It's a way of connecting'
I got in touch with balabooberlies to find out more.
"Most people are very surprised and pleased," they told me. "It's another way of connecting and even though most of the coupons are of low value it's that random act of kindness that is appreciated. In a way I feel that all of a sudden, in a place that can be so 'on your own', you suddenly become seen."
But some people can be suspicious of random acts of kindness, it seems.
"The first young lady that I tried to give a £3 off a £30 spend thought I was asking her for money," balabooberlies explained. "I sometimes have to gently convince the person that I am not asking for anything but actually trying to give something away. I walk around staring into people's baskets! If that doesn't work I tuck it by the product crossing my fingers that a member of staff won't find it and remove it."
Balabooberlies got the idea from a coupon fairy on the MSE Forum.
After a little digging, I discovered the OG, the Forumite who began it all. Their username is ouraggie, and they began the below thread in the Forum back in 2019:
Hi, everyone. I just thought I would share a little thing I did which seems to have sort of developed organically and now I'm hooked!
It all began when I went to Robert Dyas to buy a hoover, armed with a voucher for £5 off £30 spend. I ended up not buying one, so donated my voucher to a very pleased lady who was en route to the till with loads of stuff.
A couple of weeks later, I was in Lidl with two vouchers in my purse. Only used one so donated the other to a grateful young couple with a trolley full of nappies.
The next day I got a voucher for a half-price car wash at Tesco, but I am a self-washer. This went to a gent in the car wash queue, who offered me a Mars Bar in return!
Since then, I have snipped out any coupons I spot and when I am going past that shop next, I nip in and give it away to someone. Recently, two people have had 4p a litre off their petrol (I picked two people with big cars!), various McDonalds patrons have enjoyed £1.99 deals, an old chap had £2 off his food shop and three people have had free takeaway coffee from Costa.
When I go food shopping I hide any money-off coupons I've got behind the front pack of that product so whoever picks it up to buy (but not the shelf-stacker) will see the coupon.
OH thinks I'm crackers and has now nicknamed me the voucher fairy! Also I did have to smile when my friend turned up for our lunch bearing two big strips of Farmfoods vouchers for me!
Gives me a nice warm glow to save people a bit of cash here and there.
The thread resonated with a lot of people. One mentioned that they pass on their car park ticket to other drivers if there's still time left on it when they leave. Another detailed giving out their stash of trolley tokens to elderly people and harassed-looking mums at the supermarket. Lots of commenters agreed they’d start doing the same thing. And just like that, a new generation of coupon fairies was born.
'I try to pick someone with several children in tow, or an elderly person'
I managed to speak to ouraggie via Forum private message to find out more. "I have not had a bad experience yet," they said. "Some people look a tad bemused, though. I do try to pick people that will probably appreciate it, such as someone with several children in tow, or a very elderly person (they can’t always easily get to a big, cheaper supermarket)".
And where do they get their vouchers from? "Out of various magazines or on leaflets in the actual shop (Robert Dyas often puts £5-off vouchers in theirs). Sometimes they are given to me at the till. My local Co-op often gives these as you pay, eg, 25p off soup, or £2 off when you spend £20. I just go back round the store and offer it to someone who looks likely to spend that much, as I never do."
I was curious to know how prevalent this habit is. Does every town have a coupon fairy? And in particular, how often do people find the fruits of their labour, the hidden vouchers in supermarkets?
Back in January 2020, a user who goes by the name of wort recalled being the recipient of the coupon fairy’s bounty:
I benefitted in this way in Dec. I was food shopping and decided to look at the Xmas magazines, I hadn't bought one for years and nearly collapsed at the £5. Price, I had put it back when my sister noticed a coupon on the shelf, which meant the magazine was £1.99. So thank you to whomever left the coupon.
The more I scoured the Forum, the more instances I found. The thread Do you give coupons and till spits you can't use to others? describes a few new approaches: passing on all-day bus tickets at the end of a journey, for example, and splitting a BOGOF doughnut purchase with a parent with kids.
I even posted my own question: Ever benefitted from a 'coupon fairy' who leaves coupons tucked by products in supermarkets? Still more ideas came through, such as pinning Boots vouchers to the office noticeboard so that colleagues can take advantage of them.
'Some people are really suspicious but most are grateful'
In order to paint a full picture, though, I should share some of the negatives too. Forumite Frugalista posted, “Sadly, some people are really suspicious - though most are grateful.” Chris25 posted, “Twice recently, I've been told off in Sainsbury's for leaving vouchers under items on the shelves - I can't see the problem, if I'm not using them, why can't somebody else?” And DUKE said, “I've passed on bus tickets with difficulty, some people tend to back away from me”.
But these stories seem to be in the minority. Let me leave you with a heart warming post from coupon fairy ouraggie:
“Little update. Biggest coup yet - found a "20% off books" voucher on the floor outside W H Smith's at 5pm on Christmas Eve. Nipped in the shop and gave it to a fella who looked as if he was about to buy several hardbacks.
He saw me a few mins later at the car park machine, told me I had saved him £12 and insisted on paying my car park ticket (meaning he then only benefitted by £10.80, but we both got to experience that warm glow from saving somebody some money!).
Was in Tesco today and saw loads of gorgeous Tesco Finest gateaux in the reduced fridge for £1.24. Saw a lady pick up an unreduced one in the bakery area for nearly a fiver and told her I had just seen loads of the same in the reduced fridge. I gave her directions and off she went to nab one!”