Not all shoppers welcome coupons that require purchasing multiple items. Listen in to some recent reader comments:
"I don't like buying more than I need at a time. Some coupons say I have to buy three to get $1 off. Don't manufacturers know how annoying this is?"
"Why do some coupons state $1 off 2 items? I don't like being forced to buy two. If I only want to buy one, why can't I use this coupon and just get 50 cents off?"
"I had two coupons for $1 off 4 cans of soup. I bought four cans and tried to use both coupons on them, but the cashier said I had to buy 8 cans of soup then. Why?"
Why do manufacturers offer coupons that apply to multiple products? It's simple. They want shoppers to buy more than one of an item. This boosts sales and it also ensures that shoppers will consume the product several times instead of once. Companies like this. When you use a product several times, chances are good you'll continue to purchase it in the future.
These coupons require shoppers to purchase the quantity indicated. You cannot use a $1-off-2 coupon to buy just one of the items. A coupon for a dollar amount off of multiple items actually functions as two coupons at the register. The coupon is coded so that the register will look for the presence of two items before deducting the dollar. It helps to think of these coupons as two 50-cent discounts, one for each product. You need two products to use the coupons, and you won't receive the discount without buying both.
Let's consider the third reader's question. With a coupon for $1 off 4 items, you cannot use another $1-off-4 on the same four items. When the register scans the first coupon, it attaches four 25-cent discounts to each of the four cans. Because the coupon states, "Limit one per purchase," only one coupon discount can be used on each item. As the reader discovered, you can't apply a second $1-off-4 coupon to the same four cans of soup.
The bottom line? If you want to use coupons like these, you must buy the quantities specified on the coupons. If you don't, the register won't accept the coupon.
I don't mind buying multiples of products to use coupons like these. When I use a coupon, it's because there's a good sale going on. And any time products I want to buy are cycling low in price, I always stock up on them, buying enough to last until the next time the same items take a price dip again.
When I'm stocking up and buying more than one item, coupons for multiple items go further. With four $1-off-4 coupons for soup, I could buy 16 cans of soup at a discount with just four coupons, instead of needing 16 coupons for the same number of cans.
Stocking up not only makes sense ... it saves cents! Buying in quantity when prices are low goes hand-in-hand with smart coupon use. Stores' sales cycles run about twelve weeks, with prices on items hitting lows and highs during that period. If you buy enough cans of soup to last you about three months at the low point in the cycle, you won't have to pay higher prices before the next great sale.
And yet, some people, like the first reader whose e-mail I shared, seem averse to buying more groceries than they need for the current week. These shoppers, unfortunately, will never save significantly on their grocery bills, even when they use coupons, because they're constantly at the mercy of the store's fluctuating prices.
We'll discuss stock-up strategies in next week's column, but I'll leave you with this thought: When is the most expensive time to buy a product?
The answer, ironically, is just when you actually need it.
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.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.