Learn the rules of the couponing road

"How should I handle a situation like this? My store frequently has sales in which the ad states "4 boxes of crackers for $5 — must buy four to receive $5 total price for all four." This would be fine, but this store will only accept three like coupons for the crackers in the same transaction. Of course, the store never posts its coupon rules. Even if I ask to see the store’s policy, the staff will not produce it."

It’s important to understand the rules of couponing. Every store has them — but sometimes, in the busy aisles and checkout lines of a grocery store, it can be difficult to determine what they are.

It certainly doesn’t sound like this store is very friendly to coupon shoppers. Coupon policies exist for both the store’s employees and its customers. They spell out all of the rules for coupon usage. They’re important tools for any good super-couponer to be familiar with.

Most major grocery stores either post a coupon policy on their websites or provide a copy for customers to view in-store at the customer service counter. If yours doesn’t, call or e-mail the store’s corporate office and you can probably get a copy of your own. It is worth contacting the corporate office directly for a policy versus trying to obtain a coupon policy at the store level, especially if the store has been less than cooperative.

So what’s in a coupon policy? They often cover a wide range of rules for using coupons. Almost every coupon policy answers the following questions:


• Does the store double (or triple) coupons?

• Does the store accept competitors’ coupons?

• Does the store accept Internet-printable coupons?

• Does the store accept expired coupons? (Some do!)

• Can you stack a store and manufacturer coupon together?

Some other topics you may find covered in the coupon policy can include:

• Buy One, Get One Free sales — many stores allow shoppers to use a coupon on each item, even the "free" one.

• Coupons without size limits — a coupon stating it is good on "any deodorant" may be redeemable on a trial or travel size if no specific size is noted.


As for what your store told you about the three like-coupon limit, once you have a copy of the store’s coupon policy, take a look and see if what you’re being told matches what the store’s policy actually states. If it doesn’t, take a copy of the policy with you on your next shopping trip and have it on hand the next time you are confronted with a "rule" that is not actually stated in the store’s policy. I never advocate being a pushy or aggressive shopper. However, as I’ve discussed in previous columns, super-couponers may be more familiar with a store’s coupon policy than some of the cashiers are. It’s very difficult for a store to argue with its own corporate policy on coupon use.

If the store does indeed have a three like-coupon limit spelled out in its policy, guess what? You must accept it. That’s the other part of knowing the coupon policy well. As shoppers, it’s our responsibility to abide by the rules. And while a rule like this may seem strange or odd, if it’s in the policy, there’s probably a reason for it. In this case, perhaps the store has had an issue with people clearing shelves of popular sale items.

One of my local stores has added a rule limiting the use of printable coupons to one per transaction. Certainly, as a shopper, I've found this annoying. The store's own website allows shoppers to print two of each printable coupon! However, if the store had a problem with coupon fraud in the past (photocopying Internet coupons is a common problem) it likely implemented this rule to reduce its exposure to fraud. Knowing the rules helps me plan my shopping trips. I know not to take more than one like printable to this particular store, so my shopping trips go more smoothly. It's also good to show our stores that shoppers are interested in playing by their rules.

Of course, the other side of the equation is that this supermarket's competitor, just down the street, will allow me to use as many printable coupons as I'd like. My decision on where to shop in any particular week is based not only on what's on sale at which store but also on where I'll be able to use the coupons that I have. Yours can be, too.

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