Posted on: September 26, 2017

Coupons’ Terms Continue to Confuse

"Dear Jill,

I have a question on a coupon that says '$1 off 2 baking soda products.’ However, this brand makes laundry detergent, toothpaste, toothbrushes, kitty litter and deodorant.

Can I use this coupon on any of those items and not just a box of baking soda?”

Claire H.

A coupon that says $1 off any two products made by a specific brand is different than a coupon specifying that the two items must be “baking soda products.” In this case, you should make sure the products being purchased also contain baking soda. I like to look at the brand’s website for more information, as it usually states the products that fall into a specific category. In looking at the brand’s website, many of these products are advertised as having baking soda as an active ingredient, so your coupon likely is valid on multiple baking-soda items from this brand. (The toothbrush, however, doesn’t appear to contain baking soda.)

The photo on the coupon also is a clue. While coupons often are valid on more items than those shown on the coupon itself, if your coupon shows not only baking soda but also detergent and cleaners, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of products on which you can use the coupon.

“Dear Jill,

What do you think of coupons that say 'Not valid on clearance items?’”

Jonni P.

There aren’t too many of them out there, but I have seen coupons where, buried in the fine print, is the statement that they should not be used to purchase items that are already on clearance. Why? Some brands do not wish to reimburse stores for purchases that have already been marked down into bargain-basement range, or perhaps are being discontinued from the product line.

It’s understandable that a brand would not want to pay the store for shoppers to buy something the brand will no longer manufacture, but realistically, this restriction is very difficult to enforce. Brands cannot expect cashiers to know which two of a customer’s 20 items being purchased are clearance items and then prevent a customer from using a coupon on them. Realistically, this particular restriction relies both on the customer’s honesty and willingness to simply not use the coupon on an item marked at a clearance price.

Additionally, I’ve had instances where I’ve bought a sale item in the aisle, believing it was the advertised price, and later learning at checkout the item’s price was even lower than advertised. Is this a clearance item? Probably, but if it’s not specifically marked “clearance” so, again, this restriction becomes very difficult to police.

“Dear Jill,

My supermarket has a coupon in the ad for $2.50 off store brand chicken 'with a value of $5 or more.' I bought a package of chicken breasts that rang up at $3.49, even though the regular price of the package of chicken was $6.49. I used the coupon not realizing the chicken was a lower sale price and it scanned just fine. Did I commit coupon fraud?”

Dana O.

I don’t believe you committed coupon fraud. The coupon’s requirement that it be used on a package with a value of $5 or more becomes a little more open to interpretation when the advertised price is more than $5, yet it rings up at a lower price. Because this is a store coupon, it’s an offer set up within the store’s own register system. If they did not want the coupon used on the sale-priced chicken, they likely have the ability to restrict this on their end.

I always appreciate hearing stories from shoppers who try to do the right thing by following the terms printed on coupons. While there is a great deal of coupon fraud out there, I believe the majority of shoppers are trying to do the right thing and not defraud stores or manufacturers with their coupon usage. While coupons do at times contain ambiguous wording, the majority of coupons’ terms are easy to understand and follow.


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.

could not select :Table 'contentdirect.templates' doesn't exist