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

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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

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!).


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!)


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!? 😀 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!

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Comments 271

  1. Alicia

    This was so helpful! Thank you Colin! My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. We were wondering how manufacture coupons worked exactly. And I now know the difference of “one per purchase” and “one per transaction.” I thought they were the same. I am so glad you cleared this all up. Thanks again!!!! 🙂

  2. Kim J

    I have had to sign up for certain IPs. In doing so, the q that printed said ‘Limit one per customer.’ BUT the print limit was 2. Both had my name/email on them. I called the company hat the q was for, and told them that it allowed me to print two, and wondered if I was supposed to use both of the coupons. The customer service assured me that it was alright to use both, since it allowed me to print both(on 2 separate items of course…not on the same item). Sooooooooooooo? Any idea about this situation.

  3. Katie S.

    I have a coupon question I have trouble getting answered. Let’s say you have a BOGO sale for Lays Potato chips and store policy allows you to use a coupon on both the item you buy and the free item. You have a coupon that reads Buy 2 Lays Potato Chips, get 1 free. How many should you be buying and how many do you get free? Corporate of this regional grocery store was no help–they forwarded my question to Lays, who told me the coupon was valid, but I would have to buy 3 Lays and get 2 free (which doesn’t make any sense, because without the coupon if I bought 3 Lays I should get 3 free). My store allowed me to buy 2 and get 3 free. I’m still not sure if that was correct.
    Any help is appreciated.

    • Heather M.

      I’ve had similar questions myself. Others may not agree with me but this is what I think. It seems that according to the manufacturer, you’re buying 2 items even though the store sale is a BOGO. I mean, even though you’re getting one of those items free through the store sale, you’re still actually purchasing it. The free item is really a store sale’s price of $0.00. So, since the store allows you to also use a manufacturer’s coupon with their BOGO sale, you can use the buy 2, get 1 free manufacturer’s coupon to get an additional free item. You’ve bought 2 items at the store sale price so you get a 3rd item free.So, you pay full price for 1st item, get the 2nd free through the store BOGO sale, and get the 3rd free through the manufacturer’s coupon deal. Hope that makes sense… If anyone else has other thoughts, I’d be really interested. It’s a confusing issue.

      • nothip2starv

        I’m a newbie so it all sounds confusing to me. I do like the way you cleared this up, that’s a great help! thanks!

      • Xclusive

        Thanks! that really helped, to understand. I am trying to figure out how those ladies on extreme coupon get so much coupon and so much free. I have been doing the coupon thing for a long time my family calls me coupon lady but that’s ok if I can save money. Im a single mom with no help so anyway I can save money is a blessing to me. I just wish I was as good as those ladies…lol I tell them I’m not that good because I can’t walk in a store and leave with a 0 balance or them oweing me money. That’s what you call good couponing!!!!

    • Demi Wroten

      In this case (as long as the store’s policy allows you to use a coupon on a free item) I would purchase 4 items and only pay for 1. The store gives me 2 free, as I am buying 2 B1G1 deals and the coupon makes the 3rd free. Ideally, I would like to have 2 of these coupons so that I could buy 6 and get 5 of them free, only paying for 1.

  4. Missy

    You mentioned that if a coupon says “one coupon per customer”, but I can use a different coupon for another item, correct? In other words, I can use several coupons for other items , just not the same coupon? Does this make sense?

  5. Rachel

    Thanks for another GREAT video!!!! It wasn’t boring in the least!!! I loved hearing your little one breathing in the background :0) It is always good to go over basics and you did it in a quick and easy to understand way. You rock!!

    • casey

      haha i was looking around me thinking my kids were behind me or i had a ghost in my house, haha, im so glad you heard that too!

  6. LevisMom

    Heads Up! Verifying coupons doesn’t always work. I just tried this with an expired coupon from and it wasn’t correct. The code I put in did not match the product that is on the coupon. The printed coupon was for 1/2 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, exp 4/5/11. Timestamp is 3/6/11, 21:18. Online the ‘Veri-Fi’ states it is valid for 3/1 Garnier HerbaShine Color Creme, exp 1/31/11. “Timestamp: 9/15/2010 8:24:22 AM” I didn’t even know about back then, so I know I didn’t print it. I emailed them also. We’ll see what they say.
    Also you can get an error message after checking a few (less than 10), “We’re sorry, you have exceeded the maximum number of verification attempts. ” 🙁

  7. Nadia

    Hi, Colin.

    I love your site, loves the video, you are sooo helpful. I have learned so much from you.

    Thanks so much. God Bless!

    • madason

      that so sweet if theres more peaple like you the world would be a better place

  8. Karen

    I have a question regarding something that I was told, but didn’t know if it was true. If I had a coupon for a product, and it was close to the product that I want – the first 6 or 7 numbers of the skew were the same, then it would work for that item? Is this true?

    For instance: Tide stain release. Say I had a coupon for save $3 on any tide stain release 20oz, or 15 ct. packets, etc…and I wanted to buy the 10oz bottle because i don’t use that much of it. The first 6 or 7 numbers were the same, so I was told I could use the coupon. (I haven’t done this, I was just wondering). Is this okay?

    Any help would be great! I have a friend teaching me how to coupon, but was unsure of this area.

    • Ashley B.

      I believe that is a fraudulant way to use coupons. You have to use the coupon for what it’s specifically stating on the coupon.

  9. junetheloon

    So I made the mistake of thinking it was okay to copy printable coupons. I didn’t copy but two coupons twice and then I found this and I feel extremely stupid for doing it and thinking it was okay. Obviously I won’t do it again at all but now I am afraid I will get in trouble for it. Any answers?

  10. yangzi

    I learned something new today! The process of redeeming coupons though clearinghouse is interesting. I thought each store has to mail coupons to companies to get money back.

  11. lisa fogarty

    loved your videos.. so good
    I also love your earrings are they stella and dot????

    • Collin

      Yep… they sure are! 😀

  12. Amelia

    Awesome video! I have been couponing ever since I was little with my mom and now that I am married i have gotten back into it. I live in south korea (near an army base/army spouse) so I am always looking for coupons to use at the commissary! your site is awesome!

  13. nothip2starv

    that was so informative to this newbie! thanks much!

  14. aschneider

    I have not started the couponing as of yet. But my questions is this. If a store of 5 cereals for $10 or other items for 10 for $10 can you use coupons for these deals or not? If so how does that work?

    • Collin

      Yes, you can use manufacturer’s coupons on these items! 🙂 So, if you are buying 10 items and have 10 $1/1 coupons, you can use each of them! 🙂

  15. aschneider

    Collin what if the coupon states Save $1 on any 2 or 3. or buy 2 get the 3rd free..

  16. Sarah

    in the video you mention that if you combine a B1G1 coupon with a B1G1 sale you can get 3 free…..just how exactly does that work?

  17. Marcy

    Collin – I’m curious how you feel about using expired coupons at Bed Bath & Beyond or Ace Hardware. Employees at both stores have encouraged our family to hold on to expired coupons as they honor them. The fine print is that Bed Bath & Beyond will only honor mailed coupons beyond the expiration date; they will not honor printable coupons beyond the expiration date.

  18. Lourdes

    What does it mean when it says ONE COUPON(ANY KIND) Per purchase? Also I see a lot (one coupon per purchase of specific item and one coupon per purchase), and I was wondering if that still meant one coupon per item or per transaction?

  19. Kristin

    My confusion is that the “Manufacturer coupon”. I was told at Shoprite that I was not able to use the Catalina with another “Manufacturer” coupon because it said “manufacturer coupon” on the Catalina. I know you said you can stack Catalina’s with regular manufacturers coupons but all of the Catalina’s say “Manufacturers Coupon”. The real confusion is the Rite Aid video coupons say cannot be combined with any other offer and does say “Manufacturer coupon”. Confused…:-/

  20. shannon

    I also don’t remove coupons from an item if I’m not purchasing it. It’s only my coupon to use if I purchase the item.

  21. Katherine Davidson

    Question – If you are at a certain store, say Harris Teeter and you get coupons after checking out that state at the top they are manufacturers coupons, could you use them at another store like Kroger or Food Lion? The coupon states manufacturer coupon, but to the side it says redeem at Harris Teeter. Thanks!

  22. Nina

    Say I am buying shampoo,can I use a manuf. B1G1 free coupon plus a manuf. $3/2? I have used both at CVS before and some times there is no problem but other times there is. I just do not understand because I am technically buying 2 products.

  23. Bridgette Dobson-Conyers

    Hi Collin, love your blog site, it’s one of the best. My question is for a B1G1 free coupon up to…lets say $7.99 and my purchase costs me $2.99. Can I get (2) $2.99 items free since it’s not over $7.99??? Hope I’m making sense.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You actually can’t. The value listed on a buy 1 get 1 FREE is the up to value, which means you can get up to that amount off the FREE product. However, if the product is less (such as $2.99), then just $2.99 will be deducted when you use the coupon. I hope that makes sense! 🙂

  24. Marilynn Hudson

    I tried to check an internet coupon on Coupon Resource Center and it didn’t work so I tried a newspaper insert coupon that I know is valid and it said it’s invalid.

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