Question: "I love your column! My mother and I are avid coupon users and are pretty proud of the techniques we use. We have a topic you haven't yet covered in your column: old coupons that have "No Expiration Date" printed on them. My mother has coupons that date back to the 1980s that state "No Expiration Date." They also do not have a UPC code on them. Are these coupons still good? Will stores honor coupons with no UPC codes?
"I know, I know ... you are probably wondering why a ‘couponer extraordinaire' has not used those coupons. My mother always uses coupons with the closest expiration date first, and I guess those coupons from the '80s just haven't been a priority. With no expiration date, there seems to be no urgency to use them. I refer to those coupons as her coupon children –– she just can't get rid of them!"
Answer: I have some bad news for your mom. Her "No Expiration Date" coupons, for all practical purposes, have expired.
There are several reasons that she'll likely not be able to use them. First, as you pointed out, they do not have a UPC bar code on them. It is unlikely (not impossible, but again, quite unlikely) that a store will accept them, since they cannot be scanned at the register. Stores rely on the register to scan the coupon's value and match that coupon to the correct item being purchased.
Another reason is that many stores' coupon policies contain a statement similar to this: "Coupons must contain an expiration date and a scannable bar code." If this terminology is part of your store's policy, you have something tangible that you can show to your mom and gently break the news that those coupons are now no longer usable.
On the bright side, she will never have to let go of her coupon children now! Perhaps, she can keep them in a scrapbook as a memento of her decades-long passion for couponing.
Whenever I discuss expiration dates in this column, readers inevitably will write to ask why coupons have to expire at all. That's simple: manufacturers want shoppers to purchase the product within a specified time period. An expiration date limits the time in which the manufacturer will have to pay for that coupon's redemption. Of course, it also motivates shoppers to buy the product before the coupon expires.
If a product is new to the market, manufacturers typically offer coupons with a shorter expiration date. Those coupons also tend to have a higher-than-average dollar value. Why? They're using the coupon to push the product's price to the "tipping point," where they think shoppers will be willing to suspend their habits and spend money to try something new.
When a major cheese manufacturer came out with a new "cooking creme" for skillet meals, the sauce was priced at $3.50 at my store. That was more than I would usually pay for a small tub of cheese sufficient for only one meal for my family. But, there were $1.50 coupons hanging on a tear pad right the product in the refrigerated case.
Enough of a discount to entice me to purchase? Not quite. But, my store also had a printable store coupon the same week for $1.50 off the creme. Stacking that with my $1.50 manufacturer coupon brought the price to a much nicer 50 cents!
Now, I was willing to take a chance and try something new, because the price had tipped into my "buy" range.
I bought the creme, cooked with it and my family liked it. Without the coupons, I would not have tried the product. When a company launches a new product, how can it persuade people to try something they've never tried before – and generate enough sales to consider the product launch successful? With coupons!
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 c.