Posted on: August 8, 2017

I Know When My Coupon Expires, But When Does It Begin?

“Dear Jill,

I get coupons in papers delivered on Friday and Saturday in my area. Twice in the last three months I have cut out a coupon to use that day and the coupons have been refused, though they were for the item listed. I wrote to one of the companies to ask if there was a start date for the coupon and did not get an answer to that question. If a coupon comes in a weekend paper, is it not valid until that Sunday or Monday?

Thank you,

Patti K.”

The short answer: Yes, it’s highly likely the coupons you receive in the newspaper before Sunday aren’t valid yet. Most people realize coupons have expiration dates, but many of them also have individual start dates: The date the coupon’s offer begins to be valid.

A coupon’s start date isn’t printed in a text format you can see. It’s encoded into the barcode on your coupon. When a coupon is scanned at a store’s register, the store can read both the start and expiration dates within. If you’re attempting to use a coupon prior to the start date encoded in the coupon, the register will beep and not allow it to be used – just as this reader discovered at her store.

You may remember back in 2011, coupon barcodes started to look different than they had in the past. The older UPC-A barcode on coupons began to be replaced by the newer GS-1 Databar, which is the larger and more complex bar code you see today on nearly every paper manufacturer coupon, whether you find it in the newspaper or print it from the internet. The GS1 Databar is capable of holding a great deal more information than its predecessor. In addition to expanding the kinds of discounts manufacturers can offer (higher values, multiple products) the GS1 also gave manufacturers a new data field: An optional start date for each coupon offer.

Manufacturers began taking advantage of the new option within their coupons’ barcodes, and now many coupons have both a start date and an expiration date. While a coupon’s start date typically isn’t printed in a format shoppers can see, each one of your newspaper’s coupon inserts does print the date of each insert along the spine of the insert’s cover. I like to write Sunday’s date on the front cover of each insert with a marker so it’s easier to read. Then, it’s much easier to tell at a glance during which week a coupon insert arrived.

You may wonder why many coupons now have start dates. An encoded start date for an offer helps the manufacturer ensure the coupon discount will be applied only during a specific time period. Have you ever noticed a great sale ends one day before a new, high-value coupon is set to appear in the paper? This isn’t by chance. It’s usually because the manufacturer has placed a temporary price reduction on the product in the store to encourage shoppers to buy the item at a lower, sale price.

With this kind of temporary price reduction “sale,” the brand is actually reimbursing the store for placing the product on sale at a lower price. By scheduling the coupon to start the day after their scheduled sale ends, the manufacturer prevents paying for a shopper’s savings twice on the same item. (We love to pair coupons with sale prices, of course, but manufacturers are aware of this, and it’s certainly within their rights to schedule their price reductions and coupon offers so that they don’t overlap – especially when they’re the ones paying for both discounts!)

While it’s natural to get excited about new, high-value coupons in the upcoming Sunday paper, do keep in mind many coupons in that paper will not scan until the start date – the Sunday date printed along the spine of each insert.


Jill Cataldo Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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