So you want to be a Couponer?
First things first. Let’s talk about coupons since they will be the most important part of your new adventure. I can not stress enough how important it is for you to READ READ READ as much as you can about couponing before you start using them. Nobody can do it for you. You have to educate yourself. And trust me…you’ll be glad you did.
The casual couponer will buy one paper on Sunday, clip only a fraction of the coupons inside and use them at their local stores to get maybe $0.50 or $1.00 off something that they might not normally buy…but do just because they have a coupon. Or even if you do normally buy the product, you are just getting one of them at a good price with your coupon. You are here because you want to take it to the next level and learn how to maximize every coupon to get max savings!!
The first installment of my Couponing For Beginners series will teach you everything you need to know about the coupons themselves.
What is a coupon?
Coupons are basically free money that manufacturers send out to entice people to buy their products.
Every coupon should have the following attributes:
:: Type of Coupon
Manufacturer or Store (stated at the top of the coupon).
How much money will be deducted from your purchase, plus how many items you must purchase in order to use the coupon.
If the coupon says “save $1 on ANY Charmin product” then it can truly be used on any Charmin product, including the smallest size of toilet paper…or even Charmin flushable wipes since that is a Charmin product. If the coupon says “save $1 on Charmin Ultra Soft 6 Mega Rolls” then that is the EXACT product the coupon should be used for. If you use it for the 4 pack single rolls, that would be fraudulent use of the coupon and the store will NOT be reimbursed by the manufacturer.
:: Expiration Date
MOST coupons have an expiration date. If the expiration date is 6/30/13, you have until 11:59 pm on 6/30/13 to redeem your coupon.
Manufacturers generally put the newest or most expensive product in the picture for advertising purposes, hoping you will buy that product. Although the picture can be useful if you have never heard of the product, it does NOT dictate what you must purchase. The TEXT on the coupon is what you need to follow.
Example: Since the coupon above states “Save $2 on ANY two Kashi Cereals” you can use it on the single cups!
Every coupon needs a barcode. That’s what holds the information the cash register needs! If a printable coupon prints without a barcode – something went wrong. Try to print it again. If you are clipping coupons from an insert, be careful not to cut any of the barcode off because you need that!
Insert coupons (from the newspaper) will all have the same barcode. Printable coupons should all print with a unique code found in the upper right hand corner. This proves that each of your coupons was printed legitimately (not copied).
Some manufacturers choose to release PDF coupons. These make me very nervous because we are all printing the exact same barcode and prints are virtually unlimited. Balance is needed when choosing how many coupons you will print.
:: Fine Print
Every coupon should show some type of instructions for retailers including a redemption address. There is also information intended for the consumer. Some of the most common clauses I have explained below.
Purchase Vs. Transaction Vs. Household Vs. Shopping Trip
This is VERY important! You might look at your coupons and think, “How do these people save so much money?” All the coupons I get say I can only use one! Well, in some ways that’s true but mostly it is just worded in a confusing way. It is important to educate yourself on coupon terminology so you can intelligently defend your case when redeeming coupons.
Almost all coupons will say, “Limit One Coupon Per Purchase.” All this means is that if your coupon says “Save $0.50 on One (1) box of Cheerios” then you CAN’T use TWO coupons on that ONE box to get $1.00 off.
One coupon per purchase means = one coupon per ITEM(s) purchased.
- If you buy one box of Cheerios you can only use ONE coupon, if you buy TWO boxes of Cheerios then you are allowed to use TWO coupons.
- If your coupon says “Save $0.50 on Two (2) boxes of Cheerios” then you have to buy TWO boxes in order to use ONE of your coupons.
Confused yet? ; ) You’ll get it down. Don’t worry…we all started out just as confused as you.
You might even find a coupon that will limit you to how many you can use in a “Transaction”. This is one of those tricky words that people often mix up with “Purchase”. Let me explain the difference the best I can. When you go to the store, gather the items you want to buy and then take your cart to the checkout – EACH item that you place on the belt is a PURCHASE. Now the cashier is done scanning all your items and coupons and you pay (hopefully not too much!). Each time you pay, that was a TRANSACTION. You could have just purchased 100 items in that one transaction.
It gets even trickier! Some coupons, mostly P&G (Proctor & Gamble) will say something like “Limit One Coupon Per Purchase. Limit Of 4 Like Coupons Per Household Per Day.” Here’s where things get interesting. When using coupons like this it means exactly what it says. If you alone and go to the store and want to use your P&G coupons, you are only allowed to use FOUR of each kind (“like” coupons). You yourself are NOT allowed to use any more than FOUR of each one in a single day. If you decide to bring your neighbor Betty Sue and you’d like to give her some coupons to use she will be allowed to use her own sets of four “like” coupons.
“Four Like Coupons…” means Four of the exact same coupons.
And a “Household” is defined as all individuals who live in the same dwelling. So out of everyone that lives in your home you are only allowed to use 4 of the same coupon, per day on these types of coupons. Even if cashier “lets it slide”, the manufacturer technically does NOT have to reimburse the store because they allowed more than the coupon limits. We don’t want that to happen.
A shopping trip can be defined as each trip you make into the store with an empty cart.
So lets say you have a coupon that says “Save $1.00 When you Buy One (1) bottle of Welch’s Juice” and the fine print says “4 Like Coupons Per Shopping Trip” but you wanted to buy 7 bottles of juice. In order to comply with the wording on the coupon AND get all the bottles you planned on buying you would need to get 4 bottles of juice, checkout and pay, take those items out to your vehicle and then go BACK in the store with an empty cart and go get your other 3 bottles of juice. Then you have completed TWO shopping trips and didn’t use more than 4 like coupons in either shopping trip. Be sure you are also complying with store policy regarding multiple transactions as well. Some do not allow it. Some let you go nuts!
:: Do Not Double
Some coupons will state DO NOT DOUBLE. However, if the coupon bar code starts with a 5, and your store’s policy is to double…it will automatically double. This is because the STORE is offering the discount on the doubled portion, so it’s at their discretion whether or not to allow the doubling.
If the barcode starts with a 9, the coupon will not double automatically.
If the coupon has the new databar barcode, you won’t know until you scan it if it will in fact double according to the store’s policy.
Why do brands choose to put a “do not double” clause on coupons if it’s the STORE who is paying for the doubled amount? The manufacturers put the DND clause on the coupon simply to reiterate that they are responsible ONLY for the face value of the coupon. I contacted a few companies who often place this stipulation their coupons to get a better understanding of why they do this and here is one reply I received (from Pom Wonderful):
“…As you know, some stores will double the value of coupons and give the consumer twice the value of the coupon off their purchase. Our “do not double” clause is just informing stores that if they do decide to double, POM will only reimburse them for the face value of the coupon. Merchants can still choose to double the value of the coupon if they want, that is their choice…”
Now that you have all of coupon lingo down, tomorrow we will talk about where to get all of those coupons!