Common Problems With Using Coupons in Canada

Sunday, June 05, 2011
Whether you have been couponing for years (and are possibly an Extreme Couponer) or you're new at it, it can be daunting when you're at the checkout lane and the cashier gives you a hard time. It makes you feel you are doing something wrong, or asking too much. However if you are prepared and know how to react, and what to say back it will become a lot easier over time.

When I first started using coupons, I would 95% of the time have good cashiers, but once in a while I would get a grouchy one or one that didn't understand necessarily how to process the coupon. Having been a cashier myself, I know the best way to deal with it is to remain calm and not cause a hissyfit in the store, that will get you nowhere. Be nice to the cashier and they will be nice back. Sometimes the wording on coupons is difficult or confusing to understand. Here are my top 10 common problems that you may encounter when using coupons.

1) "One Coupon per Purchase"  This is a common one, this means that you can only use one coupon per item purchased. If I have one coupon and 10 razors, I cannot apply that one coupon to all 10, I would need 10 separate coupons. Cashiers sometimes interpret it as one total, you can only buy one item, but that isn't true. There is a difference between 'purchase' and 'transaction', a purchase is one razor, and a transaction is 10 razors (10 together). I have ran into this problem myself, and asked the cashier to ring in each item separately, and they did!  Some retailers even let you stack coupons, this is common at London Drugs (and pretty much only there), where the cashier will let you use more than one type of coupon on an item. For example if I am buying Revlon nail polish, I have a coupon for $2 off Revlon nail polish and $1 off any Revlon product, I can use both in a single purchase, and get $3 off that single item.

2) "One Coupon Per Transaction" I explained this in the last point, but it basically means you can only apply that coupon once in a transaction, meaning on your entire receipt, it can only appear once. However, if you ring transactions in separately than you can use more coupons. And you can always use various coupons in a transaction, just not the same exact one more than once.

3) "One Coupon Per Customer/Family/Person" This one is often used when there is a freebie included in an offer, for example M&M meat shops sometimes has spend x amount and get a free cake or something, it's one per customer/family. This means that coupon can only be used once period, so if you come in with your 4 kids, you cannot assign a coupon for each one and have them checkout. But you can get your friend to go back and use the coupon again.

4) "Picture does not match the item" Coupons usually include a picture of the item for which they apply to, but sometimes it's not always totally clear. If a coupon for example includes "any" in the wording, that means that it can apply to any item of that type. For example, Maybelline coupons can state $2 off any mascara, and in the picture there is a specific mascara. Well that coupon is not only for that specific mascara, it is on any Maybelline mascara. I have had cashiers point out to me that I can't use a coupon on a product because the item isn't in the image, then I proceed to tell them it says any, that always works. Manufacturers cannot possibly put every applicable image on a coupon, so it's easier to just specify any.

5) "Coupon value is more than the price of the item" Most coupons have a maximum value listed. For example, the recent Free Natural Instincts coupon specify a max value of $16, meaning you cannot get more than $16 off your purchase. Since Natural Instincts typically sell for less than that (from my experience) it's not a big deal. However if you happen to purchase the Natural Instincts hair dye for $20, your coupon value is up to $16, the cashier will (and should) only take $16 off, meaning you would have to pay $4 for it still. If you purchase the hair dye for $10, the cashier may take $10 off only or the full $16, if she takes $16 off you've just scored! You have what some couponers refer to as 'moneymakers' or 'overages', meaning the additional $6 can be applied to the total of the rest of your bill, or even better the cashier may hand you $6 back if that's the only item that you bought.

6) "We don't accept printable/internet coupons" It's important to familiarize yourself with the retailer's coupon policy, some stores do not accept printable or coupons from the internet. I can understand why since some people abuse coupons (not cool). I typically only use coupons that are mailed to me, or from publications (magazines, newspapers, flyers etc). I know Sobeys is one retailer who usually does not accept printable coupons. Retailers sent all their coupons away for reimbursement and when coupons turn out to be fake, they lose money, which in turn makes them raise their prices (lose-lose for everyone).

7) "It's not valid in Canada/this store" Always check the fine print in coupons, they always specify if there are any restrictions on them, for example some coupons are not valid in Quebec. Other coupons are 'manufacturer coupons', meaning they are issued by the manufacturer and can be used anywhere or 'store coupons', meaning they only apply to certain stores. For example, coupons from the Coupon Zone at Real Canadian Superstore and their chains are sometimes "store" coupons, they specify that they are only to be used at Loblaws store chains, and not elsewhere.

8) "This does not apply to trial sizes" Coupons will usually state what size of product they apply to, for example a Head and Shoulders coupon may only apply to 500ml bottles, if you attempt to use that coupon on a trial sized product, you will be rejected. If the coupon does not state a minimum size requirement than I suppose it's fair to use it on any sized item, many couponers choose to pick our trial sized products because it means they can get 'overages' and 'make money' off that purchase.

9) "This coupon is expired" The expiry date is always listed on a coupon, some have short expiry dates and some have long. It's usually quite clearly noted, for example 07/31/11 would indicate the coupon expires July 31, 2011. Sometimes it's difficult to tell, usually it's month, day, then year.

10) "Cannot use that coupon on a sale item" Typically coupons can be used when an item is on sale or clearance, that's the best time to use them because you get the most bang for your buck. If it's a manufacturer coupon, it should and can normally be used at any time, however a store and their policy may decide otherwise. For example, an Old Navy coupon may state that it cannot be used on clearance items, in that case clearly you cannot use it on clearance items, simple right?

I hope that helps out a bit. It's all about being prepared ahead of time, knowing store policies and reviewing your coupons before you use them. Also, maintain patient and cheerful when waiting for a cashier to approve your coupons, you aren't doing anything wrong using them!


  1. Out of 10 times I go shopping, 9 of them will yield issues. It's usually the "one per purchase" line, which drives me absolutely INSANE!

    I also get the "no overage allowed" line quite bit, even at places that DO give overage (according to their coupon policies).

  2. Good post, J. All major points included :)

  3. thank you for the heads up!

  4. This is dead on. Stores and brands are trying to come up with coupons, but they have all these restrictions and you save nothing but a dollar or less on food in particular, which is nothing great for most products. Hope things change one day.

  5. Hey Justine, were you able to get coupon overage for the free natural instincts $16??

  6. @Anonymous - Nope they rang it through for the price that it was, it's never that expensive.


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