I receive thousands of emails every week from coupon shoppers wondering how they can maximize their savings, but this reader's mail made my head spin!
"I want to know more about combining manufacturer coupons to get the best possible deal. I have:
• Three 75-cent coupons good for bran flakes cereal
• Two 75-cent coupons good for rice cereal
• One $1 coupon good for the purchase of any two boxes of this manufacturer's cereal
• One $1 coupon good for the purchase of any three boxes of this manufacturer's cereal
• One $2 coupon good for the purchase of any five boxes of this manufacturer's cereal
• One coupon for a free gallon of milk with the purchase of any four boxes of this manufacturer's cereal
"Can I buy five boxes and use all of these coupons?"
I'm always up for a great deal, but no, you can't use all of these coupons together on the same five boxes of cereal. Couponing just doesn't work that way.
Manufacturer coupons state, "Limit one coupon per purchase." Remember, every item bought on a shopping trip is considered a purchase. The register will accept only one manufacturer coupon per item. What happens if the shopper presents all these coupons together at the register?
For argument's sake, we'll assume the shopper is buying five boxes of cereal made by the same manufacturer. Three boxes are bran flakes and two are for rice cereal. The first five coupons presented are each good for 75 cents off each box; these will scan fine, and save the shopper a total of $3.75.
If the shopper presents the $1 coupon good for the purchase of two boxes of cereal, the register will beep. Any coupon that scans for a specified amount off of multiple items "attaches"a certain value to each item. To the register, this coupon functions like two 50-cent discounts that need to be applied to two boxes of cereal. However, the $1-off-two coupon cannot be applied to any of these boxes of bran flakes or rice cereal, because each of the five already has a manufacturer coupon applied to them (from the initial 75-cent coupon).
The same is true for the $1-off-three and the $1-off-five; both those coupons will "look"for that number of additional boxes to apply its discount to. If all the boxes already have manufacturer discounts applied to them, the additional coupons will cause the register to beep.
To use all of these coupons in the same transaction, the shopper would need to buy a total of 15 boxes of cereal.
The only exception to this example is the coupon good for a free gallon of milk with the purchase of four boxes of cereal. Because this coupon is likely coded to apply to the gallon of milk, it's possible that it may be used with the same boxes of cereal the shopper plans to buy. The four cereals are the qualifying items that must be purchased to use the coupon, but the coupon's value is actually applied to the milk.
This reader is confused about the wording on a coupon:
"Some of my coupons state ‘Limit four like coupons per shopping trip.' I had a $1 coupon for detergent and wanted to buy four bottles with that coupon and get $1 off each of the bottles. But the cashier would not scan this coupon four times. Who is right?"
The cashier is right. If you want to receive $1 off each bottle of detergent, you need four $1 coupons, one for each bottle. Again, manufacturer coupons are limited to one per purchase, so you'll need one manufacturer coupon for each item you buy.
The "Limit four like coupons" wording means that if a shopper bought multiple newspapers and had many of the same coupon, the store is only allowed to let the shopper use four of the same coupon per trip.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon-workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her Web site, www.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.