Couponing's Best-Kept Secrets: Don't Believe Everything You See

One of the most common misconceptions about coupons is that the item that you buy must match the picture that appears on the face of the coupon. It's true that you can use the coupon to purchase the item that's pictured. However, you want to pay close attention to the text on a coupon, too. After all, the text contains the precise information that the coupon's bar code is programmed to deliver at the checkout counter. Which brings us to this week's tip.

Super-Couponing Secret: Forget the Photos, Read the Fine Print

It's a very common marketing technique for a manufacturer to show a new or more expensive variety of a product on the face of a coupon in the hope that you will buy this new or more expensive variety. If you read the coupon, though, you'll discover that the offer is good for "$1 off any [brand] product." Consider a coupon for a new variety of cold medicine put out by a leading manufacturer. The coupon may show the new, multi-symptom medicine in the picture, hoping that you will want to try it, but the text states clearly that you can use the coupon on any medicine from this manufacturer.

Learning to distinguish between what the photo suggests and the full terms of the deal that the text actually spells out is a skill that can really help shoppers, giving us more freedom to buy the item we may prefer versus the variety shown in the photo. I recently had a coupon for a new variety of skin-care product. It showed a photo of the lotion, and the text read "$1 off [brand] lotion, body wash, or any [brand] product." That wording is key! When I didn't see a good sale for the company's lotions or body wash, I did see a bar of the same brand of soap - for 99 cents. With my coupon, it was free.

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