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Coffee With Collin: Proper Coupon Usage (Un-Extreme & Un-Complicated)

This week’s Coffee with Collin focuses on a VERY important topic in the world of couponing: proper use of coupons. Let me say that this video is primarily directed at coupon newbies so it may be somewhat boring for those of you who have been couponing for quite some time now. However, I encourage all of you to take the time to watch the video (newbies and experts alike) as I hope that all of you coupon experts will leave tips to help the newbies and on the flip side, I want all of you coupon newbies to be able to ask any sort of questions that you may have (and remember, there are no stupid questions!).

**If you can’t see the video, go here to watch it.
Proper Coupon Usage
(1) You can only use one manufacturer coupon per item purchased. For example, if you have 3 $1/1 Colgate toothpaste manufacturer coupons, you can purchase 3 Colgate toothpastes in the same transaction and use all 3 $1/1 Colgate toothpaste manufacturer coupons (i.e. one coupon per toothpaste purchased). This “rule” may seem obvious but many coupon newbies (and even some cashiers/managers) do not always understand the difference between a purchase and a transaction. Since you are purchasing each item, each item is itself a purchase. A transaction is the total of all the items purchased. In this case, the 3 Colgate toothpastes make up your transaction. Still confused? Check out this article.

(2) In some cases, you can use both a manufacturer coupon AND a store coupon for the purchase of one item (this is called stacking). For example, Target allows you to use both a Target store coupon AND a manufacturer coupon for the purchase of one item. This same sort of policy holds true for Rite Aid and Walgreens as well. If you are not familiar with a store’s coupon policy (and whether they allow stacking), I strongly encourage you to read the coupon policy and/or check out my store guides prior to your first shopping trip.

(3) Do not use expired coupons even if they scan! If you have a stash of expired coupons, consider sending them to military families overseas. Check out this post for more information.

(4) If you have a coupon that requires the purchase of multiple items, then you must purchase the stated number of items on the coupon. For example, if you have a $1/2 Ken’s Dressing coupon, you must purchase 2 Ken’s Dressings to use the coupon. Also, keep in mind that this $1/2 coupon is applied/attached to both dressings so you cannot apply an additional manufacturer coupon to either of these 2 dressings.

(5) Read the text on Free product coupons and Buy 1 Get 1 Free coupons and pay special attention to the maximum value allowed. For example, let’s say you have a free product coupon for Axe Shower Gel with a maximum value of $5.99 specified on the coupon. Your store has the Axe Shower Gel priced at $6.99; if you use the free product coupon, you will actually pay $1 for the shower gel since the coupon only allows a maximum of $5.99.

(6) Look Beyond the Picture (i.e. focus on the text and NOT the picture). For example, I have a manufacturer coupon that specifically states “Save $3 off any K-Y Brand product (excludes trial sizes)”; the manufacturer has intentionally placed a picture of K-Y Intense (a rather expensive K-Y product) on the coupon. At first glance, one may assume that you can only save $3 off the purchase of K-Y Intense; however, once you read the text, you realize that the coupon can be used to save $3 off any K-Y product except for trial sizes. That means you could use this coupon to snag K-Y lubricant for FREE or almost FREE!

(7) Have I mentioned that you need to read the text?! ;) Another reason to read that text is because occasionally a coupon may state one per customer. In this case, you can only use one coupon no matter how many items you purchase.
(8) If a printable coupon seems too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of e-mails (even if they are from your friends and family) that attach coupons for free products or other offers that seem “too good to be true.” They are almost certainly counterfeits. To check out a suspicious coupon, head over to the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) and you can view a list of current counterfeit coupons. You can also report a suspicious or counterfeit coupon that you discover.

Photo courtesy of FritoLay.com
If you come across a coupon with one or more of the following items, keep in mind that this may indicate that the coupon is fraudulent: coupons with NO expiration date; misspellings on coupon; no purchase required to get free product; coupon does not refer to specific size or weight limits for free product; extremely high maximum value for free product (ex. – $5 maximum value for a single bag of Doritos is extremely high considering these rarely sell for over $4/bag at ANY store)

(9) If you want to confirm that a Coupons, Inc. coupon is legit, head over to the Coupon Resource Center and enter the Veri-Fi code found on your coupon (i.e. the unique code that prints on your coupon). Keep in mind that when you go to print a coupon, you should never see the actual coupon on your screen, only an offer to print it. Real coupons require special software to print proper barcodes and limits the number of prints of each coupon. For this reason, you CANNOT photocopy a coupon! Keep in mind that photocopying a coupon, intentionally using a coupon for a product that you have not purchased and/or intentionally using a counterfeit coupon can result in serious legal consequences (to date, the longest prison sentence has been 17 years of jail time and the highest financial penalty has been $5 million in fines!).

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OK, now that you know how to use coupons properly, how about learning about the coupon redemption process. Do you really know how the process of coupon redemption works for stores?! What do stores do with those stacks of coupons that they collect from all of us savvy shoppers? Knowing this information outlined below will allow you to be that much more confident when you are at the register and the cashier mumbles something like “Using coupons rips off the stores.”
Coupon Redemption Process
-Manufacturers design coupon promotions with their sales/marketing teams

-Coupons are distributed via newspaper inserts, direct mail campaigns, via the internet etc.

-A very “hip” shopper excitedly enters the store and proudly uses all of his/her coupons at checkout

-The cashier scans the coupons and puts them into the cash drawer. Typically, at the end of the day the coupons in each cash drawer are added up as if they were cash, and that amount is added to the cash sum to be sure the overall total for the drawer is accurate.

-Once per week, all of the manufacturers’ coupons (and any coupons issued by the grocer) are sent in plastic bags or pouches to the store’s corporate headquarters.

-There is a very lucky person at headquarters in charge of processing the coupons. That person boxes all of the bags of coupons and ships them to a third-party clearinghouse.

-The clearinghouse is then responsible for doing the most important part of the coupon redemption process– separating the coupons by manufacturer or by scannable coupons versus damaged/torn coupons. Most of this process is done by hand. Sometimes coupons are put face up on a conveyor belt and move under a scanner that reads the UPC codes and tallies the amounts. However, damaged and torn coupons have to be tallied by hand. The clearinghouse then sends all the sorted coupons with an invoice to the manufacturer.

-The manufacturer will reimburse stores the face value of coupons or if the coupon calls for free merchandise, for the retail-selling price up to the stated maximum value printed on the coupon PLUS 8¢ for handling each coupon properly redeemed (this 8¢ value may vary slightly). Many times manufacturers, such as ConAgra Foods, will also reimburse retailers that are using a clearinghouse or billing agent at a rate equal to $5.50 per thousand of coupons redeemed.

-The manufacturer either reimburses the clearinghouse for the amount of the invoice, and the clearinghouse mails a check to the store for the amount of the coupons OR the manufacturer sends a check directly to the store and the store then pays the clearinghouse. (The clearinghouse is paid a certain amount per coupon by the store, plus shipping and handling).

(Thanks to HowStuffWorks for some of the info on explaining the coupon redemption process!)

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If you’re ever in need of a specific product and are wondering if there is a coupon available, what better place to search for it than the Hip2Save Coupon Database!? :D Here at Hip2Save, we’ve created a Hip2Save Coupon Database where you can search for any and all coupons, including home mailers, printable, store-only, in-store, Facebook, and many other types of coupons!