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Why coupon's fine print may be your friend

Last week, we discussed how to handle confused cashiers who may try to incorrectly limit our coupon usage in one way or another. The key to eliminating most cashier confusion is to familiarize yourself with the store's coupon policy, which states all of the store's rules for accepting coupons.

And while it's true that most cashiers are familiar with what kinds and types of coupons the store will accept, there are also times when a cashier may mistakenly inform you that the store cannot take your coupons.

In my coupon classes, I've taught more than 6,000 people to Super-Coupon, and so I've heard more than my share of stories of cashier confusion. One common theme has to do with interpreting the fine print on a coupon.

If you pick up any manufacturer coupon, either from the newspaper or one printed from the Internet, chances are it contains the wording "Limit one coupon per purchase." Seems innocent enough, right? But these five little words can often be the source of cashier confusion.

To understand why, consider this distinction. Each item we buy is a purchase. Each group of items that we take to the checkout lane and pay for at the same time, as a group, is a transaction. So, when a coupon's fine print states, "Limit one coupon per purchase," what it effectively means is "Limit one coupon per item purchased." (In fact, many coupons now contain this updated wording, which makes the meaning much clearer.)

So, if a coupon is limited to "one per purchase," it simply means that we can use one coupon per item purchased. If I purchase 15 items, I can use 15 coupons -- one for each item I'm buying (and I often do!) But cashier confusion frequently arises when a shopper uses several like coupons to buy several like items.

For example, if I'm buying two bottles of juice and I have two $1 juice coupons, occasionally a cashier may say, "I don't think you can use both of these coupons, because they're one per purchase." The easiest response? With a smile, ask, "How many bottles am I purchasing?" If you're purchasing two, you can use a coupon on each. If you're purchasing three, you could use three coupons, and so on. In this case, the cashier is confusing the "per purchase" wording with the "per transaction" wording.

Coupons that state, "Limit one coupon per transaction" are typically store-issued coupons. This wording is commonly seen on coupons like "$5 off a $50 purchase" or a store's coupon for a deeply discounted item. Stores use the "one per transaction" wording to limit your purchase in some way.

In the case of coupons offering money off your purchase, the store simply doesn't want you to use multiples of that coupon in the same transaction. Or, they may be offering you a coupon for a special loss leader, like a dozen eggs for 49 cents, but they only want to allow you to purchase one of that item per transaction.

Knowing the difference between a purchase and a transaction can help you alleviate one of the most common sources of cashier confusion.

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.super-couponing.com. E-mail your couponing coups and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.