Today is George Washington’s birthday, so you know there are a lot of bargains out there if you’ll just shop the holiday sales. But at other times of the year, you might be using coupons to save some cash.

For decades, the most popular features in newspapers have been the comic page, obituaries, and coupons — not necessarily in that order.

Most of us are more than eager to buy something that costs $10 using a 30 percent off coupon, but we might not buy the same item “regularly priced” at $7. Otherwise, some shoppers won’t bring a coupon, so the store pockets the extra $3.

I clip coupons, but cashing in isn’t always as simple as it seems if you ignore the fine print.

Coupons can become habit-forming. Sometimes I’ll clip them because I might actually buy the products before the coupons expire. They’ve even lured me into buying products I would have never considered — because I have coupons. That’s how the game is played.

A coupon that came in the mail offered a 25 percent discount on anything in a store I visit frequently. That 25 percent discount, understand, was good only on things purchased at regular price. Fair enough. No additional discounts off something already on sale.

So, on the day the coupon was due to expire, I went shopping. I could see the savings adding up.

Imagine my surprise when I get to the check-out and the coupon failed to ring up. The clerk tried it twice before calling the manager. The manager tried and failed as well. Then she looked at my purchases. Oh, the manager said, everything you’re buying is already on sale.

Everything? What are the odds of that? The prices at the shelves didn’t indicate “sale.”

OK, I said, just give me the sale price.

The sale, they said, is buy one, and get another for half price. Go pick up second items, they said, and the sale price is mine. Otherwise, each rings up at full price.

Never mind that I don’t need two of these things. And never mind that there wasn’t one more of the most expensive item available on the shelf.

No one was in line behind me, so I tried to win them over with mathematics. Buying one at regular price and getting a second one for half price is exactly the same as 25 percent off both of them, I explained. So, I’ll just take singles of all these items at 25 percent off and it’s the same discount.

Blank stares.

Buy two of everything, they explained again politely, and I’ll get the sale prices.

No thanks. I turned and walked to the parking lot.

The next day, I woke up realizing I still needed most of those products I had left at the check-out counter. Fortunately, they are readily available at numerous retailers. Maybe they’re priced cheaper there, and maybe they aren’t. I didn’t care. At that point, it was the principle of the thing.

It was then that I understood the pros and cons of this type of marketing. Without that coupon, I probably would not have shopped at that store that day. But without that coupon, I also might have bought all those things at full price. Coupons give, but they also take away.

Regardless, I learned a lesson. When using coupons, you have to know the rules.


Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at