While some people grew up with the advantage of having cost-conscious parents, others aren’t so lucky. Many people have to learn how to save money on their own. If this sounds like you, you may not understand how to properly use coupons – or even how to read them.

How Coupons Work

Very few people – even extreme penny-pinchers and couponers – know how the coupon process works behind the scenes. However, it’s helpful to know how it works in order to fully understand where your savings are coming from.

Each store has its own process, but most look relatively similar. At the end of the workday, all of the coupons collected in the cash drawer are collected and added up as cash. That amount is then added to the total sales for the day to ensure numbers add up. Then, the manufacturers’ coupons are sent to the store’s headquarters. This may happen on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

At corporate, someone is in charge of sorting and processing the coupons. That individual sends all of the processed coupons from the individual stores to a third-party clearinghouse. Massive clearinghouses, such as Mandlik &Rhodes, then process the coupons and ultimately send an invoice to each manufacturer based on the number of coupons used. In turn, the manufacturer either reimburses the clearinghouse, which then sends a check to individual stores for their total amount – or the manufacturer sends a check directly to the store (which then cuts a check to the clearinghouse).  

The entire process can take as long as one month from the time the coupon is used to the time reimbursement checks are cut.

How to Read and Understand a Coupon

Now that you know how the process works, you’re probably wondering how you can enjoy some savings. Well, the first step is to understand what you’re looking at. Upon first glance, coupons can seem confusing and awkwardly worded – so how do you possibly know what to do with them? Here are some things to know:

Store vs. manufacturer coupon. You should note that store coupons can only be used at the specific store labeled on the coupon. That’s because the actual store – for example, Wal-Mart – is giving you the discount. Manufacturer coupons, on the other hand, can be redeemed at any store that accepts the coupon (because they’ll get reimbursed through the process mentioned above).

Expiration date. Many people get confused by the expiration date, but it’s pretty straightforward. If the coupon says “use by,” “good through,” or “expires on” 12/1/15, you can use that coupon through 11:59 pm on 12/1/15 (or whenever the store closes on 12/1/15).

Limit one per transaction. Many shoppers also find the “limit one per transaction” clause confusing. All this is saying is that – if you have more than one of the same coupon – you cannot purchase multiple discounted items in the same transaction. You can use other coupons for other products, but not two of the same coupon.

Fine print. It’s very important that you read the fine print at the bottom (or on the back) of the coupon. This will tell you about limits, brand restrictions, location restrictions, who can use the coupon, etc. Definitely read through this information before heading to the checkout line.

Start Clipping, Start Saving

What are you waiting for? Start clipping coupons today and you’ll be saving money in no time. For best results, find a folder, drawer, or box to store your coupons in. When cutting out or printing off coupons, you may not need them at the time. However, in a couple of weeks things may change. Always keep as many coupons as possible and only throw them out after they’ve expired. 

Using the information found in this article, you now know how coupons work and how to read and use them for maximum savings. Good luck, couponer!