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Learn to Understand the Fine Print on Coupons

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Bleh. Nobody truly enjoys reading the fine print on anything. But in the world of couponing, it’s a game changer. Reading the fine print can help you avoid awkward couponing situations by ensuring you pick up the right size, the right number of products, and that you shop at the the right store in the first place. Plus, when you understand things like transaction or product number limits, you’ll be better able to build an accurate budget before you shop. 

The first thing you’re going to want to read in the fine print is whether you’re holding a manufacturer coupon or a store coupon. That one’s pretty easy. But after that, reading coupon fine print can sometimes feel like you’re reading a legal document. You think you know what it means, but the lingo isn’t natural so you could use some clarification. 

Don’t worry. We’re going to help you fully understand the language today. Afterward, you’ll be confident using these coupon rules, and then you can begin to explore stacking coupons!

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Is it a manufacturer or store coupon? Read the fine print. 

The fine print is going to tell you if you’re looking at a manufacturer coupon or a store coupon. That’s really important, because it determines how you can stack coupons according to the store’s couponing policy. Here’s what you need to know: 

  • Manufacturer coupons are issued by manufacturers of products for use at any store that accepts manufacturer coupons. They say “manufacturer’s coupon” somewhere on the coupon.

  • Manufacturer coupons can come as paper coupons that are found inside Sunday newspaper inserts like Smart Source (SS) and Save.

  • You can find printable manufacturer coupons at Coupons.com, or you can use KCL’s free printable coupon database.

  • You can find digital manufacturer coupons in store apps like the CVS app, Walgreens app, Kroger app, and Target app.

  • A store coupon is issued by a specific store for use only at that retailer. Store coupons tend to be dollar-off savings or percent-off savings like “20% off a baby purchase.”

Coupon Fine Print FAQ

Once you’ve determined whether you have a manufacturer coupon vs store coupon, it’s time to dive a little deeper into that fine print. Let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions we see here at KCL.

1. What does “Limit one coupon per purchase” mean?

a $1 off coupon for any one Selsun Blue Product with the fine print highlighted that says, "Limit 1 coupon per purchase of specified ...

When trying to understand the fine print on coupons, like “limit one coupon per purchase,” remember that words like “purchase” or “purchase of item” mean you can use one type of coupon for every individual item purchased. On the coupon above, you can purchase one bottle of Selsun Blue using one coupon and get $1 off. Or, you could purchase two bottles with two separate copies of the same coupon and get $1 off each bottle.

“Limit one coupon per purchase” is meant to enforce the point that you can’t use two of the exact same $1 off coupons for the same bottle and get $2 off just one bottle.

 Here’s another example:

If someone is buying three tubs of frosting and they have three $0.50/1 Betty Crocker frosting coupons, they can use one coupon for each frosting. On the other hand, if the coupon is $1/3 Betty Crocker frostings, the shopper can only use one coupon per three frostings purchased.

 2. What does “Limit one coupon per transaction” mean?

A close up on a coupon for olives with the fine print highlighted that says, "Limit one coupon per purchase and per transaction

When you see this phrase in the fine print on coupons, you can only use one of these specific types of coupons per item and per store transaction.

Here’s an example:

Say you want to buy two bottles of Tide and you have two of the same store coupon that reads “Limit of one coupon per transaction.” You’ll need to buy one bottle, use one coupon, pay the cashier, and then do a separate transaction for your second bottle, use the second coupon, and pay the cashier again.

 Here’s another example of this coupon rule in action:

Now, let’s say you have a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon. Depending on the store’s coupon policy, you may be able to combine two “Limit one coupon per transaction” coupons for the same item. This won’t work if they’re both manufacturer’s coupons, though – or if they’re both store coupons.

Here’s how it works IRL. You want to buy a bottle of Tide that’s on sale at Walmart and have one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon for the same bottle. Both coupons say “Limit one coupon per transaction.” Because you have two different types of coupons, you can use both (aka stacking coupons) to score significant savings. 

TIP: Have other coupons for different products in your transaction? You can use those too — as long as you obey the fine print on each separate coupon. 

3. Can you use a coupon that says “Available at Walmart” at Target?

A close up on a coupon with "Available at Walmart" highlighted

Yup — as long as the “Redeemable at …” or “Available at …” coupon also states “Manufacturer Coupon” on it. Many of the printable coupons from Coupons.com have a store suggestion on them. Keep in mind, this is only a suggestion. Some retailers like Walmart pay to have their names printed on manufacturer coupons, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use them at other stores. Unless the coupon specifically says …

 “Redeemable only at …”

If a coupon has the term “Redeem only at …” on it, redeem at the store listed. The coupon is a manufacturer coupon, but only the store listed will be compensated for the value. For example, if you get a Target coupon mailer delivered to your house, expect to see this rule applied to most if not all of the manufacturer coupons – you’ll only be able to use the coupons at Target. 

 “Only at …”

If the coupon says “Only at …” that means the product itself is only available at a particular store. However, if the coupon has a long expiration date, it may be good to hold on to this coupon until more stores receive the item, pushing the price down. In that case, the competition may save you more money than the actual coupon. 

4. What does “Limit of 4 like coupons” mean?

A close up on a coupon for Windex with the fine print highlighted that says, "Limit of two identical coupons in same shopping transaction"

When you see this fine print on coupons, it means you may only use four (or the indicated amount) of the same identical coupon in the same transaction. Basically, the company is saying, “Okay, we want you to stock up on our brands, but we don’t want you to wipe out an entire store’s product in one shopping trip, so we’ll limit you to four per transaction.” 

Here’s an example of this coupon rule:

You have four of the same $4/2 Pantene Shampoo products and each coupon requires you to buy 2 bottles. You can use all 4 coupons and get 8 total bottles, saving you $16 total.

If you wanted to buy more than 8 bottles using additional copies of the coupon, you’d have to split your order up into multiple transactions.  

5. What happens when a BOGO coupon’s “not to exceed” value is less than an item’s actual price?

A manufacturer coupon from Olay for a buy one get one deal for up to $8.00

When you have a BOGO coupon, you can purchase one item and get an identical product for free or at a discount depending on the coupon. The only issue is when the fine print states “not to exceed $X” or “Up to $X” or “Maximum retail value $X” and the shelf price is more than that amount. At most retailers, you’ll be responsible for the difference. 

Here’s an example:

You have a BOGO coupon for Olay Facial Moisturizer and Cleanser and the fine print says “up to $8.” So you go to Rite Aid and find that the shelf price is actually $8.99. At the register, you present the one BOGO coupon, and see the total without tax is $9.98. You were charged the regular Rite Aid price for one Olay Facial Moisturizer and an additional $0.99 for the second Olay product. 

6. What does “One per person” mean?

A close up on a coupon showing the fine print highlighted which says, "Limit 1 coupon per person

If you have four of the same coupon with the phrase “One per customer” or “One per person” in the fine print on coupons, you can’t use more than one total. You can, however, ask your spouse, child, or friend to use the coupon for you. And if you think that’s working the system, remember that plenty of coupons limit one “per household.” 

So I figure until they clarify, if it just says “per person,” I’ll keep handing a coupon to my 8-year-old in the checkout lane. 

7. What does “One per visit” mean?

A close up on a Uniball coupon showing the fine print highlighted which says, "Limit one coupon per purchase per visit

“One per visit” in the fine print on coupons means you can only use one identical coupon per shopping trip. If you have multiple identical coupons that have this rule, you’ll have to return to the store another time to redeem them. 

While we hear stories of couponers arguing that simply walking out to the car and coming back in constitutes a new visit, we think that’s probably not within the spirit of the coupon fine print. You’ve also gotta remember that the manager gets to decide if they like your logic – just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean they’re going to let you get away with it. 

8. What does “Cannot be combined with any other coupon” mean?

A shout coupon with highlight fine print explaining you can't combine offer with any other coupons

Here’s another detail that trips up a lot of people. When you see a manufacturer coupon with “Cannot be combined with any other coupon,” it doesn’t mean you can’t use a store coupon on top of the manufacturer coupon. Just don’t try to use (or combine) two manufacturer coupons for the same item.

 Here’s an example:

I’m at Walgreens and have a manufacturer coupon for Shout and a store coupon for the same stain remover brand. At checkout, I combine both coupons because they’re different types of coupons, and Walgreens allows customers to use one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon on each item.

Here’s an example of what won’t work: 

Same shopping trip goals with the Shout, but I have two different manufacturer’s coupons. One is for $1 and says “cannot be combined with any other coupon. The other coupon is worth $2 off. I can’t get $3 off total. Since I have to pick one or the other thanks to the fine print, I’m gonna go with the $2 off coupon.  

9. What does “Do not double” mean?

a close up on a coupon for sausage that says "Do not double" in the fine print

Just so ya know … stores get reimbursed for all the manufacturer coupons they accept. Manufacturers will reimburse a store for the face value of a coupon. Some stores, however, double coupons (stores like ShopRite or Stop & Shop), discounting customers twice the face value of a coupon.

While some manufacturers may reimburse a store on the doubled discount, most will not. Manufacturers make it clear that they won’t fully reimburse a store that doubles coupons by printing “Do not double” right on the coupon.

Basically, the verbiage is there to protect the manufacturer and the store. You can still stack a “Do not double” manufacturer coupon with a store coupon on a single item when available. Doubling is getting twice the value out of one coupon. Stacking is using two coupons on one item.

TIP: While every coupon is different, you tend to see this rule applied to coupons valued at more than $0.50 off. If the value is lower, you won’t see the “do not double” wording as often. 

 Here’s an example:

I have a $0.75 off manufacturer coupon for Johnsonville sausage, and I want to use it at Stop & Shop. Since some Stop & Shop stores double coupons, I would normally receive a $1.50 discount on the sausage with just one coupon. However, since the coupon clearly states “Do not double,” they may or may not double it (individual stores differ). 

10. Do you have to buy the products pictured on a coupon?

a close up on a manufacturer coupon for Barilla that says " Save 55 cents when you buy any TWO Barilla Blue Box Pasta Products" that is h...

A lot of couponers assume that the product(s) shown on a coupon are the only items eligible for the discount. Luckily, this isn’t the case. Pay attention to the words on the coupon more than the picture because most of the time, you have more options — both in product variety and size. Like the coupon says above, you can buy ANY Barilla Blue Box product, not just the penne in the picture.

 Here’s another example of this coupon rule:

There’s a coupon for $1.50 off any Snickers, Twix, M&M’s, Milky Way, or Dove ice cream multipacks (3- to 14-count). The picture on the coupon features the Snickers and Twix brands. By just relying on the photo, your choices are limited to two brands versus the five brands that are actually available per the fine print. 

Also, the picture might not give you a good idea of the product size. But if you read the fine print on this particular candy coupon, you’ll find that it states you must buy a size that’s anywhere between a 3-count and a 14-count. 

Related: When you pick up the right size the first time, you’re less likely to run into awkward couponing situations at checkout.

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