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?