Anatomy of a Coupon: How to Read Coupons
I don’t know about you, but the biggest hurdle I had when I first started using coupons was the uncertainty that came with it. Am I using it right? What if the cashier rejects it?
One of the best ways to defend against this uncertainty is knowing how to read your coupons. Understanding how your coupons work will empower you with knowledge and confidence so that you can be a better couponer!
So let’s talk about the different components of coupons:
Where is it? All coupons have an expiration date located somewhere in the fine print, which is usually along the bottom or on the back of the coupon. Even if it doesn’t expire, it will actually say, “No expiration date” so you can be sure.
What time is it good til? The expiration date usually won’t have a time printed on it, but generally you can use the coupon until 11:59pm local time (or when the store closes) on the day of the expiration date.
What if the coupon is expired? While most stores will refuse an expired coupon, it never hurts to ask at checkout if they can honor it. Pairing the request with a really nice attitude helps! The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and you can either pay full price or put the product back. However, I do not recommend raising a stink about it if they refuse it. Just politely say, “Thanks anyway!” and move on.
This is the most important part of the coupon. The meat of the thing, as they say. This is what tells you how much will be deducted from your purchase and what you have to do to make that happen. It will specify either the dollar amount that you’ll save or the product(s) you’re entitled to if you meet the requirements.
For example, if it says “Save $1 on 2 Boxes of Cheerios” then you will save $1 total on your purchase if you ring up 2 boxes of Cheerios. You will not be able to redeem this coupon if you only put one box in your shopping cart.
On the flip side, if you get a coupon that says something like, “Save $5 on ANY $10 purchase,” you’ll be able to redeem that with a qualifying $10 purchase of anything (as long as it’s not excluded in the fine print, more on that below). Some people get tricked into thinking they can only redeem these by buying what’s pictured on the coupon, but that’s simply not true!
The picture on the coupon can be useful if you have never heard of the product, or if you need help locating the item on the shelf. It also helps build product recognition and is a great form of advertising for the manufacturer.
However, the picture is NOT what is important. The manufacturer will generally put the newest or most expensive product in the picture, obviously hoping you will think that’s the only qualifying purchase and buy that product. As long as you follow what is in the wording of the coupon, you can usually redeem the coupon by buying a lower-priced product, which is generally going to be the better deal.
The fine print is usually information meant for the retailer, like where to send the coupons for redemption. But, there are usually one or two lines that are intended for the consumer.
Manufacturers typically make the fine print small so that you’ll miss it and bring an item up that you think is valid for the coupon but is not. Since you’ve already made it that far, the manufacturer is counting on you buying it regardless of whether the coupon actually works. Reading the fine print will also help to eliminate the risk of an awkward encounter at checkout, so make sure you read it!
That being said, some cashiers will not fully understand the fine print either, and may try to refuse a coupon that your purchase totally qualifies for. Here are brief explanations of some common fine print phrases so you can confidently explain them if you’re ever in that position:
- Limit one coupon per purchase. Each qualifying item(s) is a purchase. If the coupon is for “Save $1 on 2 Boxes of Cheerios” and you buy two boxes, that is one purchase. If you bought two more, that is another purchase and you can use another one of these coupons. You can’t, however, use two of these coupons on one purchase. For example, you would not be able to use two coupons on just two boxes and expect to save $2.
- Limit one coupon per transaction. This means you can only use one of each coupon per transaction. Each transaction is concluded with a receipt. One way around this is to ring things up in separate transactions so the cashier can scan the coupon multiple times, but a lot of stores look down on this and may tell you that’s not allowed.
- Limit one coupon per day/visit. You can only use one of those coupons per store visit in one day, but there’s nothing stopping you from coming back the next day to use it again!
- Limit one coupon per person/customer/household. This is the most restrictive phrase of them all. No matter how you slice it, you can only use this coupon once.