Coupons, just like people and animals, have a basic anatomy. Unlike people and animals, though, coupon anatomy moves around. A lot.
I know the pictures aren't that great, but each one is a coupon, but very different at the same time. The first is a recently expired coupon for Burt's Bee's gift lotion. The second is a Target coupon for their Up & Up facial cleanser. The third is a CVS Extra Care Buck (ECB).
Every coupon has some things that are exactly the same in order to work with the system. Where each piece is, changes depending on each coupon, but every single coupon has the same stuff inside, just like everyone has a heart and a brain.
What is it?
Every coupon will tell you what it is. Otherwise, how would you know what the coupon is good for? Each coupon will directly state what product it works with. In the first example, the coupon is for Burt's Bees. Not just any Burt's Bees product, but for any body lotion 6 oz or larger. So now, when you walk in the store or look in your ad, you can directly see if you can use this coupon. Oftentimes, the coupon will include a picture. The picture gives you a basic idea of what the coupon covers, but it isn't always the only thing, so read it, don't just go by the picture! I find this especially true on cereal coupons where a lot of cereal is covered but only one or two is pictured.
How Long is it Good for?
The date. Ah the date. Yeah, it's important. Every coupon has a date (or it isn't a valid coupon). It tells you just how long the coupon is good for. For the Burt's Bees coupon, it expired January 30, 2011. That means that today, February 4, for the most part I won't be able to use it anymore. A few stores will take expired coupons for a little while after their date, but for the most part once it expires, it expires.
Generally coupon dates are 6 weeks to 2 months, although most P&G coupons expire after a month and I've had coupons that expire as quickly as a week after I've gotten them and other coupons that are good for a year! Pay attention to the date, because it can make a big difference when using it.
The Fine Print
Every coupon has fine print. It's usually there for the stores, but you need to pay attention to it too. The coupon will state in the fine print a very important thing: how many coupons you can use. When it comes to manufacturer's coupons, there are two main ways you will see when it comes to how many you can use and one weird twist.
95% of coupons will say "One coupon per purchase". This means that you can use one manufacturer coupon per item you buy. So with the Burt's Bees coupon, I can use it on 1 item but can buy 3 or 4 with 3 or 4 coupons all at one time.
About 2% of coupons will say "One coupon per transaction". This means that you can only use one coupon for each time you go through the cash register. If the Burt Bee's coupon said this, it would mean I could only buy 1 lotion with a coupon. If I want to buy another, I would need to do a separate transaction to buy it.
The weird twist is on P&G coupons (P&G is really weird). They state "One coupon per purchase, limit 4 like coupons." This means that I can use one coupon for each item I have but I can't use more than 4 of these coupons in one transaction. Now, I have yet to see how P&G enforces this and your store may take more than 4 in one transaction, but personally I stick to it. If you really need more than 4, make a separate transaction, OK? This covers about 1% of coupons.
The final 2% is totally off fine print or no fine print. These are incredibly rare and if you find one with no fine print, treat it like a "1 per purchase" since that's most likely the intention of the company.
The other two coupons up there are 2 store coupons. The first one is from Target. Target coupons are like most store coupons and the most common store coupons. You can print them from their website. Most store coupons look and act just like a manufacturer's coupon. The difference is, though, is that you can use them AT THE SAME TIME as a manufacturer's coupon. Now I put up a coupon for a Target brand product, but many of the store coupons are for major national brands. So if you walk into Target with a manufacturer's Burt's Bees coupon for $1 off lotion and a Target Burt's Bees coupon for $0.50 off lotion, you would get $1.50 on the lotion. For the most part store coupons are "1 per purchase" although some have different things. The most common variation is "Limit XX per coupon" where XX is a number. This means you can buy up to that many with just that coupon. So if it says "Limit 4 per coupon" you can buy 4 with that coupon and add another 4 manufacturer's coupons to get the deal.
The other coupon is a CVS ECB. ECBs (and Register Rewards for Walgreens and UP+ Rewards for Rite Aid) is a $$ off your next purchase. These still have an expiration date like a normal coupon, but it works on any product. You get them from buying qualifying items at the drug store (so far only the drug stores use this type). Let's say that I buy some stuff at CVS that qualifies for $4 in ECB. At the end of my purchase, I would get this $4 off coupon. The next time I'm in CVS, I can use this $4 off my purchase. This is on top of using any other manufacturer's coupons and store coupons (yes, the drug stores do offer regular store coupons too). Thanks to this, I usually spend very little at CVS while walking out with a lot of stuff. I don't do it for Walgreens or Rite Aid, but that is totally a personal preference. The biggest caveat to this is that you have to use the full amount. So if I walk into CVS and my total is $3.50, if I use my $4 ECB, I lose that extra $0.50. They also don't cover taxes, so check your subtotal before handing over your ECBs! I've lost a bit because I didn't check and still had to pay the taxes.
I hope this gives you a better explaination of how a coupon works and what it all means when you are looking at them.
Next, Part 4, How to Store All these Coupons!!!!
See the Other Parts Here: