e-Course: Deciphering the Coupons

by Beth Montgomery on April 13, 2010 · 3 comments

in Coupons & Rebates, Tips & Basics

This is Part 13 of the 30-day Savings Soiree e-course by In Good Cents. View the most recent course in this series or head to the Saving Soiree e-course main menu.

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(Updated: May 17, 2011.)

We’ve already deciphered the circulars, but those coupons aren’t so self explanatory either! Often even cashiers and managers don’t quite understand what the fine print means.

So, lets talk about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of coupons… Okay, well, there’s no why, other than because we love coupons, but you get the point.


Limit 1 Per Customer/Person
If you’re only one person or one customer, you can only use one of these coupons. For example, if you have two $1/1 Dawn dish detergent coupons and want to buy two bottles of Dawn, but find this at the bottom, you’ll have to convince your spouse, child, etc… to make the second purchase.

Keep in mind, unless you have a loyalty shoppers card, most stores can’t track your coupons and/or purchases, so you may be able to do multiple transactions or make multiple trips to and still manage to meet the coupon’s terms. It’s going to depend on your store.

Limit 1 Per Household/Family
Like with the “Limit 1 Per Customer/Person” coupons, you can only use one of these coupons. You won’t be able to send your husband through, but maybe your neighbor.

However, just like with the above, unless you have a loyalty shoppers card, most stores can’t track your coupons and/or purchases, so you may be able to do multiple transactions or make multiple trips to and still manage to meet the coupon’s terms. It’s going to depend on your store.

Limit 1 Per Purchase/Item Purchased
Sigh… how many of you have stood in line with your cart full, coupons in hand, and glowing in the brilliance of your well thought out shopping trip. Then, you hand your coupons to the cashier, who looks at them and says, “Oh, you can’t use two of these. It says one per purchase.” Raise your hand. Almost all of you? Yeah, many of us couponers have been there.

Next time, I want you to put on your doe-eyed innocent face, smile politely and say, “Oh good, because I’m purchasing two. See… 1… 2.”

Often purchase and transaction are confused, but “one per purchase” or “one per item purchased” simply means that you can only use one coupon per item. If it’s a $1/1, you can use two, if you buy two.

Limit 1 Per Transaction
Now this one is different. It’s per transaction. So, no matter how many you’re buying, you can only use one, unless you break it up into separate transactions or make multiple trips.


Product Description
No, it won’t say “product description” on your coupons. I’m talking about the text like “Valid on Tide liquid laundry detergent 100 ounce bottle”. That means, you can only use it on that particular size and version of tide. You can’t buy the powder or the trial size.

Some think that if it scans without beeping, it’s okay. Technically, that’s not true. If a coupon says “valid only one Honey-Nut Cheerios” and you use it on the regular Cheerios, the manufacturer does not have to reimburse the store and you’ve used a coupon other than how it was intended, which is technically coupon fraud. So, pay attention read it carefully and use it as stated.

Excludes Trial Sizes
It’s simple. You can’t buy the trial size. However, if you don’t find this on a coupon, you can sometimes snag some FREEbies on certain products like laundry detergent, lotion, shampoo, and toothpaste, in the trial size. Remember, at times, using your coupon on the smaller size, actually saves you more. It’s all about those unit prices!

Excludes… / Does Not Apply To…
This coupon isn’t valid on whatever is excluded. If it excludes conditioner, then you can’t buy conditioner. Depending on the product description though, you may be able to buy shampoo, hair color, gel, or hairspray. Just, unfortunately, not that conditioner.

Valid Only On …
And this is just the opposite. If it says “valid only on conditioner”, then that’s the one and only product you can use this coupon on, so don’t pick up that shampoo.

Valid on Regular Priced Items Only
Unfortunately, you can’t use this coupon to snag a great deal on a clearance or sale item, since you can only use it on a standard, regular price item.


Redeem at …
This one is tricky. Often this is just the store simply trying to encourage you to use the coupon at their location, but if it’s a manufacturer coupon, it’s valid anywhere that accepts manufacturer coupons. However, it’s up to the stores discretion to refuse to accept coupons with other store’s logos or names on them, so simply ask your store’s policy.

Redeem Only at …
With this one, there’s no wiggle room. If it’s only valid at store XYZ or in a certain state or city, then that’s the only place you can use it. Unless you have a local store that accepts competitor coupons.

Offer Not Valid at …
Also, with this one, there is also no wiggle room. Some coupons just aren’t valid in a certain city, state, or even store for many reasons. It may be a state law or a store policy, but whatever the reason, you can’t use the coupon there. For example, in Indiana, you can’t require the purchase of alcohol to receive a discount, so alcohol coupons and rebates aren’t valid here.


Expires December 31, 2012
It’s VERY rare that you’d find a coupon without an expiration date. In fact, many stores won’t even accept coupons that don’t have one and that’s their right, since it’s a common trait of fraudulent coupons. It may be written in many different ways like “valid until 12/31/11″ or “offer good through December 15, 2011″, but it all means the same – you can’t use this coupon after that date.

Yes, like with all rules, there are exceptions. Some stores accept expired coupons. Check with your store to see if they do and if they don’t you can’t legally use them past the date listed.

Valid 12/31/11-12/31/12
While some coupons simply expire, others mention a start date too. If it’s not yet December 31, 2010, then this coupon isn’t valid yet and you can’t use it. Hold on to it though, because you may find a great deal when it does become valid.

While Supplies Last
It’s rare, and usually only seen on rebates for coupon booklets or other free items or store coupons, but some may be good while supplies are in stock only. What does that mean? Well, if they don’t have it, you can’t get it or, obviously, use your coupon.


Valid Only With This Coupon
For this one, I often want to say “duh”, but it’s found on coupons and that means, if you don’t have the coupon, you can’t get the discount. Watch, because there are sale notices that may look like coupons, but don’t require a coupon to get the discount. You may even be able to stack coupons on top of it, depending on the offer and your store.

Online/In-Store Only
If it’s valid online only, you can’t use it in store and vice versa.

Can’t Be Combined with Other Offers
This will depend on the coupon. Typically, it means you can’t combine it with other discounts, like a Senior Citizen’s discount, student discount, or employee discount. It also means that you can’t combine it with other like discounts or offers. So, if it’s a manufacturer coupon, you can’t use another manufacturer coupon and same for a store coupon.

Valid Only with … Card
You can use the coupon, but you’ll have to present your membership, loyalty, or rewards card. For example, you’ll have to pull your Cosco Membership, Kroger Plus Card, or T.G.I. Friday’s Get More Stripes Reward Card.

This Coupon Can Not Be Exchanged for Cash
It’s there and often seen on coupons. You have to buy something and the coupon value will come off of your purchase total. You won’t be given cash in exchange for the coupon.

Do Not Double/Triple
While stores cover the extra cost, manufacturers often don’t want coupons to double or triple. Why? Well, it all comes down to the bottom line – their budget. But, for you, it means, even if you take this coupon to a store that doubles or triples coupons, the store should not do so.

Now, some coupons, like those that begin with a 5, typically double regardless, if your store double/triples coupons and the coupon is within the store’s double/triple policy. Those coupons that start with a 9 will not automatically double no matter what. It’s all going to depend on your store.   Keep in mind, since doubling a coupon that clearly states “do not double” is against the coupon’s terms, your store has the right to refuse to double that coupon.

Additional Resources from Previous Posts

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