What you should know about coupon overage

A reader wrote in with a question about overage. It's an issue many Super-Couponers ask me about.

"I recently printed some coupons for $2.50 off picture hanging hooks. Then, I saw the hooks on clearance for 99 cents. I was so excited to think that I would get the item for free and possibly make money. The checker and the manager weren't going to let me use the coupon, but decided to give me the item for free, with 99 cents of the coupon's value. When I told them that I thought the company reimburses the amount of the coupon to them and that they should give me the difference, they said that was not true. What do you think?"

Whenever the value of a coupon exceeds the cost of the item a shopper buys, interesting things start to happen! Couponers refer to the difference between the cost of the item and the value of the coupon as "overage."

When a coupon exceeds the cost of an item, many stores will scan the coupon, give you the item for free and automatically apply the coupon overage to everything else you're purchasing. If your stores allow overage, clearly, this can be a great way to reduce your entire bill! But it's important to remember overage is a privilege, not a right. Stores also reserve the right to adjust the value of the coupon down to match the cost of the item, which is what happened to you.

You still got your item for free but the coupon didn't "pay you" to take it home.

If you find yourself in a situation where you may have a negative total at the register, you must add other items to your shopping trip to "eat up" that overage before you start to check out, or you will have issues with the register. Most cash registers will lock up if they go into negative numbers, simply because the store can't legally issue you that overage difference in cash. If you were only buying your 99-cent item with a $2.50 coupon, the register could not proceed. The cashier would have no choice but to adjust that coupon's value down.

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