Like any good couponer, I believe in following the rules printed on the coupon. If it says you must purchase a certain product weight, then purchase that weight. If it says, “Excluding trial or travel sizes,” then by golly, I avoid purchasing trial or travel sizes. After all, the last thing I want to do is commit coupon fraud.

Recently, I was in my local Walmart using my “Nexxus $5.00” coupons. I strolled the main shampoo and conditioner aisle right over to the Nexxus Salon products where I found two smaller-sized bottles of a body building foam and a hair spray, each marked for $2.47. The first thing I did was read the actual product, and it did not say it was a trial or travel size. Then, I read the tag on the shelf. Again, it did not mention trial or travel size at all. I figured I was in the clear.

I brought my products up to the register with my coupons and other products to purchase them. The friendly cashier read the coupons and rang me up, no questions asked. However, she forgot to ring up one on my coupons, so I had to go to customer service. Here is where the trouble began. I encountered the Customer Service Manager, who asked to see my products as she grabbed the coupons from the register. Believing I did nothing wrong, I gladly showed her. She was less than thrilled and blatantly made a scene accusing me of committing coupon fraud because the Nexxus products were “trial or travel sizes.” I asked her how she distinguished them as such, since I purposefully didn’t get them from the trial and travel section. She said, “Because they are below $5.00, and anything below $5.00 is a trial or travel-size product.” Long story short, she forcibly returned my Nexxus products on the premise that using my coupons for them constituted coupon fraud.

Upset, I was on a mission to discover what exactly makes a product trial or travel size. Unfortunately, it turns out there is no definitive way to tell. It varies by manufacturer, and they often don’t make it clear, so you are forced to make the best judgement call you can. Here are the guidelines I follow: a trial-size item is a one-time use product such as those that come in a bottle or an envelope that rips open. A travel-size item is typically the size of product you would buy to carry on an airplane.

Had the Nexxus products been with the other trial/travel sized products, I would never have found them to begin with. Had the tag on their shelf said it was a trial or travel-size product, I would never have put them in my cart. Had the products themselves been labeled as such, this mess could have been avoided. It’s important to be aware that trial or travel-size items are are not necessarily marketed as such, and when in doubt, it’s always best to ask.

This is a guest post by Katie from Grand Rapids, Michigan