Understand How to Read Your Coupons

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understanding coupon language

These days, it seems that the price of everything is on the rise. If you walk through your grocery store or drive down the street and look at the fuel prices, you will probably agree. So, how can you keep more of what you have earned, while still giving your family the things it needs? The answer is simple – Coupons.

Yes, those little inserts in the newspaper and in magazines really can make a difference – if you understand how to use them. So, let’s discuss coupon lingo first.




PER TRANSACTION.  A transaction is defined as everything you are purchasing during your shopping trip.  This restricts the number of coupons you can use in a single shopping trip.   So if your coupon states “Limit one per transaction” that means you can only use one of that particular coupon for that transaction – no matter how many of that item you may have purchased.  The way around this is to ring up separate transactions and then use a coupon on each one.  For instance, if you happened to have 3 coupons with this wording, you would need to run three transactions to use them

PER PURCHASE.  An item you buy is deemed a purchase.  That means if you buy 5 bottles of shampoo, you have 5 purchases. If your coupon has a limit of 1 item per purchase, you can use one coupon on each item.

PER VISIT. This one can be a little trickier.  If the coupon includes this wording, then you can only redeem one coupon each time you visit that establishment.  For example, if you were buying a 3 boxes of cereal that had this wording on it, you could only use one coupon with each visit.  You would have to make additional trips, or visits, to the store in order to use all of them.

PER CUSTOMER.  You are a customer.  Your spouse or significant other is a customer.  If the coupon has this wording, each of you can run a transaction and use the coupon.  Each customer is limited to using just one coupon.




BUY ONE GET ONE FREE:  When you buy the specified item as listed on the coupon, you can get something for absolutely NOTHING, or discounted if that is how it reads.

The catch with these coupons is that the manufacturer normally puts a limit on your free item. For example, it may say “not to exceed $3.49”. If the shelf price of the item that should be free is $3.59, you will be responsible for the difference of $0.10.

BUY ONE GET ONE AT “X” DISCOUNT:  Some coupons will allow you to purcha-se one item at full price and then your next item can be a set dollar value or percentage off.  The most common is a 50% discount.  This equates to getting each  item 25% off when you do the math.




When you look at the coupon, you should completely disregard the photo you see printed on it.  Why?  The wording identifies what product(s) the coupon can be used on.  Many manuacturer’s will put a photo of the most expensive item in the product line, in hopes you will use it only for that item.  This is difficult for some cashiers to understand.  Always remain calm and collected and work with your cashier to help him or her understand the coupon as well.




REDEEMABLE AT. This wording means that you can redeem the coupon at that store.  The important thing to note is that the coupon may state this, but it does not mean that is the only store where you can redeem it.  For instance, it may say “Redeemable at Target” but you can still use it at Walmart.  Keep in mind that some stores (CVS include) have policies that state they will not accept any coupon with another store’s logo on it – so you may not be able to use them at these locales.

ONLY AT.  If the coupon has these two important words listed, then that is the only store where you can redeem it.  If it states “Redeemable only at Walmart,” then you can not use it Target, or any other store.

AVAILABLE AT.  This does not indicate where you need to redeem your coupon.  This is basically and advertisement for the store letting you know where you can find the product.  You can use these coupons anywhere.

Knowing how to read, and understand, the language on your coupons is key to being able to use them to your advantage – -as well as in the correct way.




Nearly all coupons include expiration dates on them.  The coupon can be redeemed through midnight on the date the coupon expires.  Cashiers will carefully review your coupons to ensure that they are not expired, so if you miss one, they may catch it.

People do not understand why there are expiration dates on them.  This helps the manufacturers tell which offers are working and which are not.  By only allowing them to be redeemed for a select period of time, it does just that.  This way, they know whether to offer that same coupon again or if they need to try something else.



Some coupons include a code that reads “DND/DNT”.  This means Do Not Double / Do Not Triple.  If your store offers this additional savings, consider yourself lucky!  Many stores (in fact most) do not do so.  You will want to check with your favorite store to see if they offer this additional savings.  You can usually find this in their coupon policy, which might be online or in the store.

How does this work?  Basically, a coupon that is worth $0.50 would now be worth $1 for doubles and $1.50 for triples.  The store will actually cover the additional savings.  In this case, the store would be reimbursed $0.50 for the coupon — but the additional $0.50 or $1 savings you received would be a loss to them.

Why do some coupons say that you can not double or triple?  This was done to protect the stores.  If they offer doubles or triples, this can be a great additional expense to the store.  This feature allows the stores the right to not have to double/triple them all.  Of course, many stores ignore the wording, but that is up to each individual store.




 There are coupons which are store coupons and others that are manufacturer’s coupons.  How can you tell the difference?  Here are some things you can watch for.

Barcodes.  Many store coupons do NOT include a scannable bar code on them.

Barcode numbers.  Most store coupons will begin with a 0 or a 4 in the number.  Manufacturer’s coupons beging with a 5.

Remit to address.  If it is a manufacturer’s coupon, it will include a remit to address in the fine print.  Store coupons will not have this listed as they do not need to send the coupon off for reimbursement.

The only caveat to this is that some manufacturer’s coupons are redeemable only at select stores.  These are considered manufacturer’s coupons and can be combined with store coupons to save more (read more at How to Best Use Your coupons and stacking).