How To Read Coupons: A Basic Breakdown
One of the first things to learn in order to make the most of your coupon savings is how to read coupons. (Another important thing to learn is the Coupon Lingo!) The more knowledge you have the more power you have toward obtaining your desired level of coupon savings. If you are knowledgeable, use your coupons with integrity, and display confidence then you project that onto others. Store employees you deal with are going to respond better than if you are unsure of yourself and unable to answer their questions. Your peers are going to respond better when you brag about that fabulous savings trip while using the coupons properly. The saying “Knowledge is Power” definitely applies.
Before we discuss how to read coupons, we felt it was important to answer a few key questions we get:
“If I want to get more than one offer, can’t I just make a copy of the coupon?”
It is NOT ok to make copies of coupons. Whether they are coupons from newspaper inserts, flyers, internet printables, booklets or any other source, the copy machines, screen shots and scanners are off limits. We get that question a lot! We do not address this in our explanation of how to read coupons, but if you look in the consumer fine print it, most coupons will tell you that you may not reproduce. Think of coupons being like money/currency. In most cases, there is an identification code on each coupon (yes, even printables) that is unique to the coupon. What if you think they’re identical? Still not ok. In most cases, stores and manufacturers have budgeted based on the number of marketing tools (coupons) that they have made available. Occasionally you will run into a printable coupon that will allow you to adjust the number of prints.
Do not increase the number of prints. Doing so will produce identical coupons no different than copying. You will want to leave that at one print for each print session to get unique coupon identification codes. If it allows you to go to the coupons and print again then you can get a second copy.
“Where can I get coupons?”
I do suppose before you learn how to read coupons, you must have coupons to read! If you pay attention, you can find coupons in many places. Typically, you’ll find coupon inserts in your Sunday paper in the form of Smart Source (SS) RedPlum (RP) and/or Proctor & Gamble (PG) booklets. Many couponers purchase multiple discounted papers on Sundays to get multiples of those inserts. You may be able to find a discounted subscription of your paper online. Some find that their local dollar stores may sell them for much cheaper. You can also find many that are printable. If you’re looking at the coupon matchups for a particular store, it will tell you where to find each coupon or there will be a link provided for printables but you can browse the most common printable sites here or search the coupon database to see if there are coupons for a particular item or brand you are looking for. Keep your eye out in stores for displays with coupons, coupon booklets, and in the aisles near products.
Important: Never buy/sell/trade printable coupons! Printable coupons are easily copied and are a big source of coupon fraud. You may be unaware you received copies. You are also not in control of what others do with the coupons you printed. You don’t know if someone makes copies of those you printed from your IP address (and yes, there is a record).
“But the coupon scanned at the register, so it was ok to use it, right?”
Wrong. It’s not ok to use a coupon for other than it’s stated purpose or in any way that is contradictory to the terms on the coupon. The wording on the coupon is the “offer”. The barcode is not the intent of the coupon. It is simply a tool to help speed up the process and in many cases it does help to identify incorrect products. Stores and manufacturers release coupons to promote specific products but the barcodes are not always perfect. There is always a chance that a coupon will scan for an item that the wording does not cover. Because it scans does not mean that the coupon was used correctly. Let’s say the glitch in the barcode went the other way. If a coupon does not scan when you use it on a legitimate product you would be upset, right? You would want the cashier to read the coupon and accept it. It should not depend on who the glitch favors. The store employees don’t necessarily know about coupons or they don’t read every word of every customers coupon. Because an employee lets you use it does not mean it is the correct coupon either. It’s up to us, the couponers, to be the first layer to safeguard against misuse. Read and follow the restrictions on the coupon.
“Can I use another coupon with a BOGO Coupon?”
No. A coupon attaches to all items mentioned on the coupon. If a coupon if an amount off two items or even a Buy one x get a y free, the coupon is tied to both items. If the bogo coupon is a manufacturer coupon, you many not use a second manufacturer coupon on any of the items mentioned on the first coupon. It is not a legitimate argument that the coupon only attaches to the free item or the one you have to buy. A BOGO coupon requires you to get both items to satisfy that coupon, period.
“What does it mean when a coupons states DO NOT DOUBLE?
Some coupons specify this at the top, but generally it’s not going to mean anything to you. If you’re using this coupon at a store that doubles coupons then they will most likely double it. The manufacturer is telling the retailer that they will not reimburse for that doubled part. The doubling part that some stores do is usually not reimbursed by the manufacturer anyway. The store would normally get back the face value of the coupon so their choice to double or not double does not affect the manufacturers amount to pay. (There may be an occasion that the manufacturer has worked out a special promotion and will reimburse the full doubled amount, but it’s not usually the case.) Also, most stores that have a doubling policy will have registers that auto double the coupons that qualify. (50¢ or less, or up to $1 etc). They are probably not doing a manual entry for the doubled value.
How to Read Coupons
The main focus in learning how to read coupons is knowing what each part represents. There are some basic parts to a coupon to be aware of:
TYPE OF COUPON: At the top of most coupons you will usually see it display “Manufacturer Coupon” or “Store Coupon” (sometimes store coupons will say the name of the store followed by the word coupon) Knowing what type of coupon you have is the first step in learning how to read coupons. In many cases, you can use two coupons on just one item as long as one is a store coupon and one a manufacturer coupon. (called “stacking”)
- Manufacturer Coupon – Manufacturer coupons are discounts issued from the manufacturer. Stores that give you the discount in exchange for the coupon will then be reimbursed by the manufacturer provided the coupon guidelines have been followed. As a general rule, you may use manufacturer coupons at any store that accepts coupons. There are some exceptions. If the coupon has another store logo on it and says redeemable ONLY at xyz store, then it should only be used at the designated store. Note that some manufacturer coupons will have paid advertisements promotions on them but are still able to be used at other stores. If it has a logo but simply says “available at” or “redeemable at xyz” (without the word “only”) then consider it more like an advertisement or suggestion. It’s still able to be used at any store unless that stores coupon policy specifically forbids it. (CVS will not take a coupon with another store logo per the CVS coupon policy)
- Store Coupons – Generally, a store coupon can be used only at the designated store. There are exceptions to this where a store may take it’s competitors coupons. Not all stores do this so check with the stores you shop in if you hope to use the store coupon in a store other than the one designated on the coupon.
EXPIRATION DATE: This lets you know how much time the manufacturer or store is giving you to use your coupon. A coupon may be used until 11:59 pm on the day it expires. In other words, it can be used on or before that date. Most stores require manufacturer coupons to have a barcode and an expiration date in order to be valid. Occasionally you will find a coupon with no expiration date, but it will usually state “no expiration date” in the designated expiration date area. Do not cut the expiration date off the coupon!
COUPON VALUE: The value of the coupon tells you how much your coupon is worth. That’s the amount of the reduction you will received at the register. The exception is where a store has a special promotion/incentive involving increasing that value. Some stores will double all manufacturer coupon values of $0.50 or lower. Others will hold special dates where they may double or triple certain coupon values.
PRODUCT PICTURE: When teaching people how to read coupons, I really tell people to just forget about the picture. The picture on the coupon can be very useful to help figure out what an unfamiliar product looks like, but don’t count on the picture to tell you which products are covered by the coupon. The wording is the most important and most reliable source for that. The picture is generally going to show you what they want you to buy, such as a more expensive product in their brand. The wording is going to let you know exactly which items the coupon may be used for. A more specific item coupon may show the specific item but in many cases there would be too many options to show. In the case above, you do not need to buy the Cascade Platinum that is pictured. The picture can be considered a tool but is not what you want to base your purchase on.
PRODUCT PURCHASE REQUIREMENT WORDING: This is one of the key sections in learning how to read coupons! This lets you know exactly how many of what product(s) must be purchased in order to receive the coupon discount. Some coupons are very liberal with their terms stating something like “one Cascade product” so that coupon could be used on any type item of that brand (with the exception of any exclusions that we’ll talk about next). Some coupon terms are a little more specific and limit it’s use to certain items within that brand. This wording is what we really need to pay attention to as opposed to the picture. To purchase anything other that what is covered in the wording would be misusing the coupon. (yes, even if it scans). It’s important to note again that the coupon attaches to all items mentioned on the coupon. If a coupon if an amount off two items or even a Buy one x get a y free, the coupon is tied to both items. You many not use a second manufacturer coupon on any of the items mentioned on the first coupon. It is not a legitimate argument that the coupon only attaches to the free item or the one you have to buy. A BOGO coupon requires you to get both items to satisfy that coupon, period.
EXCLUSIONS: This is a very important part in knowing how to read coupons! This is where the manufacturer lets you know what is specifically excluded using their coupon. This could be size restrictions, type, or anything else the manufacturer has decided they do not want their coupon discount used for. In this case the coupon specifically excludes trial and travel sized packages. It could have very easily excluded a particular type of item (ie: excludes Platinum) or a particular package quantity (ie: excludes 2-packs). Not all coupons have exclusions so please read your coupons to make sure you are following the wording.
USAGE LIMITS – This is another thing has the potential to be abused in the couponing world. I believe it’s due in part to many either not knowing how to read coupons or simply not reading them at all. In the fine print on the coupon (sometimes very tiny print) there may be usage limits for the consumer. (you) Most will have at least one statement starting with “Limit one coupon per” followed by some terms. Many times you will find a combination of these per terms. These can get a little confusing sometimes with the variations. Here are some of the common terms you will see and a clarification of what they mean.
Limit one coupon PER TERMS:
PER PURCHASE: Each item you buy is considered a purchase. This is stating that you can use one coupon on each qualifying item that you are purchasing. You cannot use the coupon multiple times or multiple coupons on one item but this statement alone does not restrict you to how many you can use in your transaction. The statement one per purchase is standard on many coupons and is the most widely used. If you buy two Cascade items that meet the criteria of the coupon shown above, then you would need two separate physical manufacturer coupons (one on each item you are purchasing).
PER TRANSACTION: A transaction is everything you pay for on one receipt. If you check out and then realize you forgot milk and go back through the checkout, that is another transaction. If your coupon states limit 4 identical coupons or 4 like coupons per transaction you can only use four of those exact coupons in one checkout/transaction. Now if your store does not restrict you there is no reason you cannot do another transaction/shopping trip and use four more coupons or go to another store to use four more coupons. Additional transactions in a row in order to use more coupons, however, are not always welcomed by the stores.
PER VISIT: This one is pretty self explanatory and means you can only use one of said coupon for every visit to that store. You cannot separate your items into separate transactions.
PER CUSTOMER OR PER PERSON: Each paying person is a customer, so each person/customer may only use the stated limit for a coupon with this wording.
PER HOUSEHOLD: This means that they do not want your husband, wife, son, daughter, baby, dog, and cat each doing their own transaction in order to use more coupons.
PER PURCHASE PER CUSTOMER, PER PURCHASE PER PERSON, PER PURCHASE PER HOUSEHOLD, OR PER PURCHASE PER TRANSACTION: When two of the above per terms are combined all meanings should be applied. So if a coupons states Limit one per purchase per customer this is combining the terms one per purchase and one per customer. This means you may only use one of those coupons per item you are getting (so you can’t get the discount for multiple items with that one coupon) AND each customer can only use one coupon. This wraps up to only getting that discount on the coupon once. The easiest way to think about this combined wording is that you must satisfy BOTH parts as if they were separately stated.
- One per purchase per customer = One per purchase AND one per customer
- One per purchase per transaction = One per purchase AND one per transaction
The coupon in the picture has a limit of one coupon per purchase of products and quantities stated and a limit of 4 like coupons per household per day, so you would only be able to use four coupons per day no matter how many family members you have with you. Just go back another day if you want more.
REMITTANCE INSTRUCTIONS – As a couponer, this information will not generally be of interest to you. These are the instructions for the store that is taking your coupon so they can submit for their money back for the value of the coupon.
BAR CODE – As stated above, the barcode does not govern what is an acceptable use of the coupon (the wording does), but it is a tool to help speed up the redemption process by allowing a scan into the computer. Most flow through the system smoothly. The coding on the bar code is not always fool proof. It may be coded incorrectly or it may be a code that covers a larger grouping of items than what the wording allows. For example, a coupon may be for a specific Cover Girl mascara or line of products but the barcode may be more of a generic code and might scan for all Cover Girl makeup products. Because it scans does not mean it is the proper use of the coupon. In addition, a coupon may beep at the register even if the correct item is purchase. In many cases, if it doesn’t scan but it is used correctly the cashier may enter it in. (This may vary by store and/or chain)
We hope you have gained a little bit of confidence in how to read your coupons. If there are other questions you have or some items may still be unclear here, feel free to leave those in the comments. Let us know you if you found this helpful and if there are other things you need cleared up!