How To Read Coupon Fine Print And Increase Your Savings (Now)

How to read coupon fine print and increase your savingsEver been denied the use of a coupon at the register because of the fine print?

Has it happened to you even when you were sure your coupon is valid?

You’re not alone! Coupon fine print can be very confusing and even cashiers often have a wrong understanding of exactly what it all means. By arming yourself with the proper definitions, you’ll know when to stand your ground or when to walk away and use a different coupon another day.

The manufacturer is the one who writes the fine print, which is why it is often interpreted differently by some retailers. It’s best to be aware of these differences before you plan your shopping trip.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Stacking Coupons And Deals On Groceries

15 Coupon Terms You Need to Know

I’ve gone through my entire coupon collection and produced the following list of common terms. The interpretations, definitions, and examples below are based on my own years of couponing experience that have helped me sort it all out.

  1. Limit one per person/customer. This simply means that you are only allowed to use one. If you have family members or friends with you while shopping, they will be allowed to use one each.
  2. Limit one per per household. Even with other members of your household present, they will only allow you to redeem one coupon.
  3. Limit one coupon per purchase. This term, to most retailers, means you are allowed to use one coupon per item purchased. I have run into the odd instance where a cashier has told me that they interpret this as one per transaction. These issues were never specific to any one retailer, and are rare. My advice, if they misunderstand the language it is better just to accept it and price match that sale somewhere else. Those instances aren’t worth the trouble. I avoided my favorite Shoppers Drug Mart for months because of one cashier who thought this, but no issues with other cashiers in the same store.
  4. Limit one coupon per item. You can redeem one coupon for every item purchased. Your only limit are any retailer limits and the number of coupons you have.
  5. No doubling. If the retailer has a promotion on to double your coupon amount, it will not be permitted for this coupon. I have heard that London Drugs may occasionally offer this deal, but have personally never been to that store. No other Canadian retailer doubles coupon amounts that I am aware of.
  6. Limit one coupon per purchase per transaction. This extended term is obviously meant to create no doubt in the retailers mind. However, because it does not mention “customer”, “person” or “household”, you can split your purchases into separate transactions to redeem more than one coupon.
  7. Limit one coupon per person per day. Pretty straight forward, you are only getting one deal today. If you have family or friends with you, maybe they will be nice and grab you another one.
  8. Free product, maximum shelf price of $____. Watch the free product coupons, if the shelf price is higher than this maximum shelf price amount then you will have to pay the extra. And stores don’t often pay the sales tax on free items, unless they reduce the price to zero before they hit the total button. The cashiers that keep all the coupons in a pile until the end of the transaction and subtract the amounts after totalling up, are likely costing you money. This is because without lowering the shelf price of the item by processing the coupon before subtotalling, the tax charged on the item will be based on the shelf price and not the reduced price. The additional sales tax cost is small however, and not worth arguing about. Keep an eye out for cashiers that process coupons during scanning at your favorite stores and remember them, they are saving you money.
  9. No cash or credit in excess of shelf price may be returned to consumer or applied to transaction, no cash value, cash value 1/10c. No overage shall be paid to the customer or applied to the total transaction. If your coupon is worth more than the shelf price of the item, you will not receive overage in any form. Even if you are shopping at Giant Tiger or Walmart, the only two stores in Canada that apply overage to the total transaction, you will not receive overage from this coupon.
  10. Customer must pay applicable taxes, Provincial law may require the retailer to charge the applicable tax on the full value before coupon reduction, Consumer must pay sales tax. You will pay the tax on the item’s full shelf price, before the coupon value is subtracted. Even if the coupon is for a free product, you will pay the full tax if it states this in the text.
  11. Cannot be combined with any other coupon offer. You will not be able to combine this coupon with any other coupon, even on a BOGO deal.
  12. Offer may not be combined with any other offers. You are not allowed to combine this coupon with any other offer. This can also apply to retailer’s in store offers, if your cashier wanted to be picky about it, but this is very rare.
  13. GST, HST, QST & PST are included in the face value where applicable. If provincial retailer law states that full tax is to be charged where you live, then you will still have to pay if the item is taxable.
  14. Not valid on trial & travel, special packs, gift packs or bonus/value packs. This coupon is only good on full sized single products.>
  15. Good in (Province) only. Whatever province is stated in the text is the only place the coupon can be redeemed. This may be due to varying provincial regulations surrounding coupons.

Related: My System For Stacking Grocery Deals & Coupons

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Use The Fine Print To Your Advantage

Your take-away?

Always double check coupon terminology ahead of time when making your shopping lists.

It can save you time and money.

If you are going out of your way to a specific store thinking that you will be able to load up on a good deal and can only get one item, you won’t be saving money. New couponers don’t make that mistake too many times before remembering that one important step.

Remember stores and cashiers that consistently misunderstand the terminology and avoid them. In my experience most retailers are not too fussy, as they prove by invoice to the manufacturer that they actually purchased items to cover their redemptions, so they usually do not impose too many rules on the consumer.

Many stores price match, and it is as simple as taking that flyer to a store that does. It makes sense to shop at stores that both price match and favourably interpret coupon terminology so you can get all the best deals.

Always double check the fine print to make sure it has a Canadian address for retailer redemption. Some printable coupon sites have both Canadian and American pages, which are easy to access and similar to their counterpart so you may not notice that you are on an American website by mistake. Verify that you’re on a Canadian page before you print coupons, to avoid wasting paper and ink.

When you have your coupons in hand and are looking for matchups, take a minute to look for anything in the fine that applies to you. You may have to constructively plan your shopping trips around customer limits, and it can be aggravating to discover limits when you have 10 items at checkout and can only redeem one coupon.

In short, plan ahead to save yourself the headaches.

Do You Have Any Fun Stories To Share?

Every store and cashier can be different when dealing with coupon small print and it can produce some pretty funny and frustrating encounters. Hopefully we can all laugh about them together and use them as learning experiences for next time.

Share your story and leave a both amuse and educate us!

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.


Roz's picture

I'm going to have to disagree with #13. If the coupon wording states that applicable taxes are included in the coupon face value, then the consumer is not required to pay the tax. Yes, tax is charged, but as the wording states - it is include in the face value.
SDM's (Shoppers Drug Mart) registers are programmed to include all applicable taxes when a customer presents an fpc - free product coupon (if prohibitive wording states otherwise, then a different vendor code is entered).

January 14, 2016 @ 10:04 am
Maria's picture

Don't think I've used a coupon with #13. However, when I do - I'll definitely pay attention if taxes are covered or not!

January 19, 2016 @ 5:09 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

This could mean that the retailer pays the tax unless the law states that the consumer MUST pay the tax in that particular province. I'm not sure on that though so I will have to contact Char and get her to respond to your comment.

January 20, 2016 @ 11:39 am
cajon's picture

What #13 means to me is that if the coupon is for $2.00 and the sales tax is 13%, the actual value of the coupon is 2.00/1.13 = 1.77. Since the tax on 1.77 is 1.77 x 0.13 = 0.23, the total value is 2.00. The sales tax of 0.23 is included in the total value of the coupon.

January 21, 2016 @ 6:28 pm
Shannon's picture

That's NOT what that sentence means! It is there to indicate that tax is calculated on the selling price before a coupon is applied.

With a free product coupon, no sales tax should be charged on the product...period. A store like Shoppers has this easily set up in their system. Walmart should be having their CSM's come to a register to override the tax on a free product coupon, but they don't. However, the coupon is ONLY for the cost of the product; the manufacturer does NOT pay the tax on a product; the consumer is responsible for it. Unless a coupon specifies "manufacturer pays sales tax", it is still the consumer's responsibility.

What the line means on coupons is that because manufacturer's coupons are applied AFTER sales tax is added to the cost of the product, a portion of the coupon value is deemed to be tax, therefore when the vendor/retailer submit their taxes, they can claim an input tax credit.

April 01, 2017 @ 12:30 pm
Char Dorey
Char Dorey's picture

Roz - It all depends where you live in Canada, as to whether any overage from the coupon amount is allowed to be applied to the sales tax amount. This differs from province to province. I have lived in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, and the overage was allowed to be used on sales tax in both of these provinces. Also, stores can make their own decisions on this as well, and even in those two provinces, I did shop in some stores that refused to allow the sales tax to be paid from coupon overage. This may have been due to a lack of understanding on their part about laws regarding coupon. You really have to watch some places. The coupon wording can only suggest that sales tax could be covered by the amount, but in the end it is up to provincial law and independent store procedure.
Cajon - I will explain number 13 a little better. The face value of a coupon is the amount of the price reduction that the manufacturer is willing to pay to the customer for a rebate on the purchase. It is not meant to be a price, therefore, you cannot calculate a sales tax amount of the product from the face value of the coupon.
If the product I am buying costs $1.50, the sales tax on $1.50 would be $0.20 (rounding up from 0.195) at a rate of 13%. If the item is taxable, and you are living in a province and shopping at a store that allows coupon overage to pay the sales tax on taxable items, your item will be free if the coupon has a face value of $2.00. The amount of sales tax is calculated from the item shelf price of $1.50.
But, if the item costs $2.00, and is taxable, the sales tax amount would be $0.26 at a rate of 13%. If your coupon has a face value of $2.00, you will have to pay the tax amount, even if the laws in your area allow overage to cover sales tax, because you will have $0.26 left in the transaction to pay.

January 23, 2016 @ 7:29 pm
cajon's picture

Char - I agree with your explanation. Our calculations lead to the same result for the $2 item with a $2 coupon. As the wording of #13 states, the taxes are included in the value of the coupon. For the $2 coupon, $1.77 is going to paying for the item, and $0.23 is going to the tax. This leaves 2.00 - 1.77 = $0.23 left to pay. The tax on $0.23 is 0.23 x 0.13 = $0.03. The consumer would pay 0.23 + 0.03 = $0.26. Since the wording states the taxes are included in the value of the coupon, it's interesting (to me anyway) to consider how much of the coupon is being used to cover the taxes and how much is being applied to the cost of the item.

January 23, 2016 @ 11:54 pm
Roz's picture

I'm not referring to "overage", I'm referring to the coupon wording as outlined in #13. Having lived in Que, AB, ON and NS, the province does not matter. If I have a coupon and the coupon states that QST, HST and/or GST is included in the coupon face value, then the tax is included (unless a Max Val is included).
Couple examples, fpcs for M&MS candy. Candy is taxable. Coupon had the wording as outlined in #13, taxes were covered. Same with OB tampons last year; they were taxable - taxes covered as per the same wording. Vector granola is taxable; wording on the coupon stated taxes were covered, Kellogg's paid the taxes.

January 24, 2016 @ 11:06 pm
cajon's picture

Roz - The way most stores handle coupons, the total taxes are not paid by the coupon issuer. The items are rung in, the taxes are calculated on the shelf price and then the coupon is deducted. In the example of the $2 item with a $2 coupon, the item would be rung in at $2, taxes at 13% would be calculated as $0.26 and then the $2 coupon would be deducted. The consumer would still pay $0.26 in taxes. The wording about taxes being included means part of the $2 coupon is going towards paying for the item and part is going towards taxes - see my previous posting for the breakdown.

January 25, 2016 @ 12:25 am
Roz's picture

Cajon, all I can say is that I disagree and to refer to my previous comments. I've always pointed out the taxable wording to the cashiers and managers. If the cashier does not have the chart in their drawer, I'll ask them to ring in the taxable item(s) in a separate transaction. Taxes are included in the coupon face value and the price of the item - including the taxes are written on the coupon (Vector granola for example $4.99 x.13% = $5.65). $5.65 is written on the coupon.
You can always refer to Coupon Christine, Mrs.January, SmartCanucks (to name a few) and you come across the same answer: when a coupon states that taxes are "included" in the coupon face value, the customer does not pay the tax.

January 25, 2016 @ 9:04 am
cajon's picture

Roz - All I know is the way most stores deal with coupons. I guess it comes down to the interpretation of what taxes included means. The issuer seems to have intended that some of the taxes are included in the value of the coupon. In the case of a $2 coupon and a 13% tax rate, $1.77 goes to paying for the item and $0.23 goes to paying for tax. The total value of the coupon is $2, not $2.26. If the tax is covered, the wording would be that the taxes will be paid in addition to the value of the coupon, not that taxes are included in the value of the coupon. If you've been able to get a cashier or a manager to cover the tax, good for you. For small amounts, most managers probably wouldn't think it's worth arguing over.

January 25, 2016 @ 10:38 am
Roz's picture

Couldn't agree with you more, Cajon - we'll have to agree to disagree. In the case of your $2 coupon example, the savings might be negligible, but this is a "How to save money" page. With grocery prices rising steadily, why pay more than is absolutely necessary.
To each their own.
Happy savings :)

January 25, 2016 @ 11:47 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

So you're saying that with a coupon that clearly has $2 printed on it plus the #13 terms, you are able to get stores to give you $2.26 for it? I can see them writing $2.26 if it was an FPC but I am surprised they would do that for a coupon with a limit of $2 printed on it.

January 25, 2016 @ 8:00 pm
cajon's picture

Stephen - It sounds to me that Roz somehow convinces the cashier or manager to give her $2.26 for a $2.00 coupon. What this means is that the government will still get their $0.26 in tax and the manufacturer will give the store the $2.00 for the coupon. This means that the store will lose $0.26 on the transaction. This loss will come out of the store's general revenue, eventually being passed on to their customers if a lot of people start doing this. The customers that are using the coupons as intended end up subsidizing the taxes of those who are not using the coupons as intended.

January 25, 2016 @ 9:54 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Ok, I think I can clarify this a bit more. I did some more research and forum reading I can't find anywhere that states that the #13 wording is EVER on a coupon with a specific value. It IS however often on coupons that are Free Product Coupons (or Buy One Get One Free - BOGO).

This thread on RedFlagDeals has a very knowledgeable user zoro69 that has fought many stores on this issue (with free product coupons only) to ensure they don't charge him tax when #13 wording in present:

If you read through the entire thread you will see he has contacted many regional managers and they all agree that no tax should be paid by the consumer on Free Product Coupons (no mention of coupons with specific values). He even got a letter signed by the owner of Loblaws himself (Gaylon Weston). Hilariously enough, he still has store employees fight with him even when he shows them all this proof coming directly from their head offices.

One more monkey wrench though. Free Product Coupons sometimes have maximum values. If the maximum value is before tax or after tax is beyond me. So if the free product coupon has a maximum of $2 and you buys a $2 item should you be reimbursed $2 or $2.26. I think the #13 terms could be interpreted to mean EITHER.

Finally, all of this is governed by provincial tax laws, so even if the coupon says you don't have to pay the tax - you still could have to pay the tax if that is what your provincial tax law states. So far, I haven't come across anyone saying that any province in Canada actually forces the consumer to pay the tax always. If anyone knows of a province where this is the case, please share.

P.S. You can expect a fight on this at many stores with improperly trained staff, especially if their cash registers aren't well set up to take off the taxes when ringing in the coupon. At Shoppers Drug Mart, all they have to do is enter in coupon code 2002 (instead of the usually 2001 I think) and the taxes will be erased automatically. Just make sure they enter the correct code when checking out.

January 26, 2016 @ 9:32 am
cajon's picture

Stephen - in your post you mentioned "I can't find anywhere that states that the #13 wording is EVER on a coupon with a specific value. " I just checked in a coupon book and the fine print on every Manufacturer's coupon with a specific value did include a statement like "GST/HST is included in the value of the coupon". The CRA website shows the proper tax treatment of these coupons:
item cost $10.00
HST(13%) $ 1.30
Subtotal $11.30
coupon -$ 2.00
Total $ 9.30

January 26, 2016 @ 1:21 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Clearly, I don't spend enough time reading coupon fine print then. Thanks for pointing that out cajon. I couldn't find anyone discussing that on forums anywhere, but maybe I just didn't look in the right places.

So I guess this means that you don't gross up the value of the coupon by the tax if we're dealing with a $2 coupon with the #13 terms. It is like the example you posted earlier where $1.77 would go towards the product and $0.23 would go towards the tax. Thanks for helping clarify cajon.

I guess the only time you could expect a fight at the store there is if the product itself cost less than $2 and the store didn't want to let the coupon cover the tax. You should be able to buy the item at $1.77 on sale and then get the full $2 discount for your coupon to cover the $0.23 in taxes. I'm sure some stores would give you a hard time doing that.

January 26, 2016 @ 8:12 pm
cajon's picture

Thanks for the info, Stephen. There is a good article on taxtips dot ca at that gives info on the different types of coupons and the correct tax treatment of each.

January 26, 2016 @ 12:46 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Sorry you are having such trouble with the URLs. That's unfortunately the first thing spam filters have to look for because people want to spam their crappy URLs all over the internet. I've gone back and fixed the URLs in your comments.

January 26, 2016 @ 8:14 pm
cajon's picture

Thanks for fixing the URLs, Stephen. I figured that was the reason that the post was being rejected.

January 27, 2016 @ 12:08 am

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