Coupon Wording

Have you ever stumbled across a coupon so vague in it’s wording that is allowed you to obtain FREE merchandise?

Don’t you just love these coupons?

One that I specifically remember of recent was the $4 off 1 Knox product, which by the picture one could assume that the manufacturer intended for it to be used on the $6 & $8 joint products. However, many coupon savvy shoppers don’t use coupons based upon the image displayed on the coupon…Now do we?

Many of us looked for the cheapest product for the most savings. With the Knox coupon that product was jello for $1.49. Buying an item that cost less than the value of the coupon created a $3.51 overage that was applied to the total grocery order.

What about the $3 off any 2 Johnson & Johnson product coupon with the Red Cross logo. You remember it don’t you? You know the one that allowed us to get all those FREE Johnson & Johnson buddies bars, First Aid kits FREE plus a $1 overage.

Coupon such as these are made great simply because of their wording.

I have learned that the wording on a coupon is the most important part of any coupon, because both consumers and cashiers depend on this wording to understand what is being offered. To be effective this wording must specifically outline the offer terms, including any restrictions.

The two examples that I gave you above were examples of an unrestricted offer. The wording on the coupon is usually as such;

Save $1.00 on Brand X

The wording on a more restricted message would be;

Save $1.00 on 32 oz. Brand X

Let’s say you have a less restrictive coupon that states “Save $1 on any brand X product” and you choose to purchase a “brand X product” valued at .35¢ which is a product that cost less than the face value of the coupon. This would result in a .65¢ overage. A few things could happen at the register;

1. The clerk will ring up all of your items and as long as you have included additional items to absorb the .65¢ overage you should be fine.

Number one is what we want to see happen however the following scenarios will more than likely be the outcome.

2. Before or after ringing up your items, the clerk says that you will not be able to use the coupon since it exceeds the value of the item purchased.

3. The clerk may not say a thing, however the register beeps when the coupon is scanned and offers a message stating that the coupon value exceeds the purchase price.

4. The clerk offers/advises you that he/she is only allowed to give you credit up to the value of the item purchased.

What do you do now?

The simple response to scenarios 2-4 would be to respond to the cashier with, “Show me where it says that on the coupon?

In order for coupons to work as intended and for clerks to make declarations, all restrictions must be prominently displayed on the coupon.

In layman’s terms…a store clerk cannot fabricate coupon restrictions.

If the size or type restriction is not included in the wording, then the consumer is free assume the offer is available on any “Brand X” items.

Let’s say that the clerk insist only on giving credit for the value of the item purchased, hence manually reducing the value of the coupon. This practice of reducing the face value of a manufacturer coupon is considered coupon fraud and is punishable by law.

When that coupon is submitted to the manufacturer for reimbursement, the store will be reimbursed for the full face value of the coupon. Therefore we should be given credit for the full face value of the coupon.

Example of Coupon Fraud

step 1- Coupon states “Save $4 on Knox”

step 2– Cashier only gives me credit for the price of the Knox item I purchase at $1.49

step 3- Store then sends in the coupon (which works like an invoice) to the manufacturer to request payment on the savings it granted the customer

step 4-Store is reimbursed $4 thus making a $3.51 profit from my coupon. A profit that should have benefited me.

If a clerk reduces the face value of a coupon yet the store is reimbursed the full value by the manufacturer the store is now stealing from the manufacturer in getting reimbursed for savings that they did not issue to the consumer.

This is an unacceptable and illegal coupon policy. If you have a clerk that is uncooperative, insists upon reducing the value of the coupon, rejects your coupon or prevents you from using a unrestricted manufacturer coupon, I would suggest asking for a manager and explaining what coupon fraud is.

If that doesn’t work contact the stores district manager or cooperate offices. I would even go as far as contacting the manufacturer. They want to know what stores are stealing from them or impeding their business.

If all else fails please contact Bud Miller the Executive Director of the Coupon Information Cooperation at (703) 684-5307, or visit the website

Now, let’s get back to the lesson

Let’s say that the Knox marketer didn’t intend for me to get $4 off a box of jello, but wanted me to buy the most expensive product for $8. Now instead of Knox making a $4 profit per purchase they could now be faced with significant, unplanned expenses.

This is sometimes the case. Once the coupon is in circulation the company must eat the cost of their marketing mistake. When companies realize their mistake they often correct it. For instance as the $3 off any 2 Johnson & Johnson coupon I mentioned above that coupon has been modified to now reads $3 off any 2 Johnson & Johnson First Aid product. It also expressly excludes the purchase of the travel size First Aid kits for .99¢

So, that’s the lesson pertaining to restrictive and non-restrictive coupons. Any questions?


  1. Ann says

    I am so excited that I have found your site. Your information has been VERY helpful. I have a blog of my own and I have been couponing for several months now but your information has been extremely helpful. I have had many problems with Target not accepting my coupons and it has been very frustrating. I look forward to sharing tips with you and reading your blog.
    God Bless!


  2. Tannika says

    I will have to agree that if the product we purchase is $1.79 and the coupon is for $2.00 off. We should only get the amount the product is sold at. As we know many retailers have different prices/sales of items versus their competitor.

    It costs money $$ for the retailers take the coupons as a service to their customers. The retailer then has to spend payroll to have the coupons sorted and mailed out, then wait for reimbursement. That is thousands of dollars that the company could be using to provide additional discounts/services to the customer or their staff.

    So whether it is a penny to four dollars I am okay with the company keeping that money because the amount of payroll and postage it costs to be able to provide that service to its customers. Retailers are not required by law to accept coupons. They have the right to refuse to accept the coupons.

    Instead they willing accept coupons. Therefore eliminating the burden the consumers would incur to have to mail in their own coupons and wait for reimbursement.


  3. Emily Sturdevant says

    So I took this post to heart and addressed an issue I had with Walmart on a recent shopping experience with their assistant manager (who is in charge of coupon issues or claims to be.)

    I originally sent in a message to Walmart, using the link you provided. And it was this assistant manager who got back to me via a phone call.

    She addressed my issue and told me I was in the right as far as overages (provided the wording of the coupon doesn’t say ‘up to ‘x’ amount’.)

    I was in the store today and ended up with a cashier that was fairly inexperienced. The first manager she took my coupons to told her to adjust them down. I informed her which manager to talk to (politely.)

    She came back with her team leader who explained that the manager I had been in contact with has been exploring this issue since our conversation on the phone.

    She said that corporate is in the process of changing their coupon policy to adjust down. And also added that they were working with their vendors to fix this problem since it is essentially ripping off the vendor with Walmart’s low prices.

    I personally want to check further into this. I plan on calling this manager I have been dealing with tomorrow to get the whole story. And then, most likely following it up with corporate.

    I was wondering what your take on this is and how correct this could be.

    Thanks and sorry about writing a novel!


  4. GritsGirl says

    Thanks Great post!! I never thought about the clerk adgusting the coupon down as fraud. This has happened to me many times!! Your right the store does get reembursed….wow cant believe I never thought of it!!


  5. The Proverbs Wife says

    I get many visitors but not many questions so I am often unsure about what readers are unsure about.

    I am always looking for questions and comments as a springboard for post topics.

    I am going to be addressing coupon~ing issues all this week, so come back and visit soon.


  6. Veronica says

    thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for explaining all this. I am a newbie and was wondering how coupons that exceeded the value worked!


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