Are Coupons a Discount or a Form of Payment?


This question tends to cause much confusion, especially among cashiers and newer couponers.  I’ve always made my feelings clear:  as far as the store is concerned, manufacturers coupons should ALWAYS be a form of payment, not a discount.

Right now, you might be thinking:  “How can you say they aren’t a discount?”

The answer is simple:  the store gets reimbursed the full amount of the coupon (as well as a small handling fee).  Handing a cashier a $.50 coupon is no different than handing them 2 quarters.

It gets tricky when you factor in store coupons and special promotions.  Many stores will issue a coupon, for example, giving you $5 off your $30 purchase and then in the fine print have something like “$30 must be spent after all discounts have been applied” (which is actually the wording on most Giant coupons).  Does this mean that the value of your coupons don’t count towards meeting that $50 threshold?

The answer is simple:  it depends.

At Walgreens: their policy is clearly stated on their coupons….the threshold must be met AFTER all coupons have been applied.

At CVS: in the absence of any wording to the contrary, the threshold should be met before any coupons have been applied.

At Rite Aid:  They tried to word their coupons so that you needed to have met the threshold after coupons, but seemed to have quickly changed their minds on that and most coupons no longer carry that wording.

What about your grocery stores?

I can only speak for the stores in the Philadelphia area, but for the most part, the following rules apply:

1.  Threshold must be met before the face value of the coupon is applied.

2.  The “doubled amount” of the coupon generally will reduce the “credit” that you get towards meeting your threshold, as that is considered a store discount.  Let’s look at 2 scenarios:

Scenario A.  you have a $5 off $30 coupon and you have 10 $.75 coupons (and your store participates in “full doubles”).  The store might be justified in requiring you to have $37.50 in product before allowing you to use the $5 off $30 coupon.  The reasoning behind this is that the STORE is giving you an extra $7.50 in discounts for your coupons due to their doubling.  When that additional $7.50 from the doubling is applied, your $30 purchase is actually only a $22.50 one!

Scenario B.  you have $30 in items, 10 $1 coupons and a $5 off $30.  You would only need to purchase the $30 in items (because most stores don’t double $1 coupons, so there are no additional discounts).

You can often avoid any problems with Scenario A simply by handing the store the $5 off $30 coupon first.  However, don’t be upset if a cashier having a bad day tells you that you need to purchase that $37.50 for Scenario A.  You would be justified in arguing with them if you are trying to do Scenario B, but the bottom line is:  the doubled value of a manufacturers coupon is a store discount.  If they want to exclude that value, it’s up to them.

3.  In most cases, the registers at the Philly-area grocery stores aren’t programmed to reject a store coupon due to the value of the doubles given….but some coupon-unfriendly cashiers are.

4.  The Store Manager/Director (not the Asst. Manager, Lead Cashier or Customer Service Rep) is often your best friend when it comes to using manufacturers coupons.  I have had transactions where the Store Manager may not have been able to figure out how to adjust the value of a coupon down on the register, but they sure did understand the philosophy of coupons (that they are considered “cash”).

Is this post meant to be a warning or meant to scare you off stacking store coupons with manufacturers coupons?  Absolutely not.  What is is meant to do is to arm you with the information you need to stack those coupons with as few problems as possible.

Do you still think of coupons as a discount?  Or are you finally willing to look at them the way that I do:  as tiny little Gift Certificates from the manufacturer?


  1. Jess says

    Thanks for this post Mindi. I’ve been struggling with this since a few weeks ago a cashier at CVS refused to let me use two coupons on razors that were buy one get one free. I know the free razor was still rung up and free was their “sale price”. He certainly would have let me use both coupons if the sale was BOGO 50%, but there was a line and I didn’t want to argue, even though I knew I was right. He just seemed to have a problem with it just because I would have gotten both free and I guess he felt I shouldn’t have. Obviously I haven’t gotten over this :)

  2. says

    I’ve noticed sometimes at Giant PA stores that even though the wording of a (for ex) $5 off $50 coupon specifically says “after all discounts and coupons are applied,” the register will still deduct the $5 anyway. I don’t hand over the coupon trying to cheat the store, but in many cases when I don’t have a calculator along, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet the threshhold so I include that $5/$50 in my pile of coupons, only to see that my subtotal after coupons and deals dips to, say, $48. If the cashier is paying attention, he or she just hands me back that $5/$50 and doesn’t even try to scan it. Other times, tho, when the cashier isn’t paying attention and just scans everything, the $5 comes off even when the subtotal was below $50. Like I said, I’m not advocating this as a way to cheat, I just found it interesting that the system wasn’t programmed (and I assume it can be) to reject the coupon based on the subtotal…

  3. Jaime says

    I actually requested a statement from Giant corporate regarding those specific $ off a purchase coupon…they responded with “it must be met AFTER all other discounts are applied”. This is bad PR on their part, since the company does get reimbursed (plus $0.08) for each coupon. I feel like I’m being punished for being such a smart shopper and using my coupons, and it seems that those who benefit most will be the ones who normally won’t go through the trouble of using ManQ’s. And don’t get me started on the “we can only double one of any like coupon”. I have been known to do 5 transactions during a visit just to get the most bang for my buck.