Questions & Answers

How tough are clearinghouses complying with the requirements of a refund?

You can count on the clearinghouses to be very strict. They expect you to send exactly what is listed on the form.  Though most refunds ask for the UPC, not all do. Read the form carefully. Some want the net weight statement or perhaps a special proof of purchase seal. Many forms will give you a picture of the part of the packaging needed.  If the offer requires a cash register tape, you must send it. Some ask for "dated original cash tapes". If so, be sure to send the entire tape and check to see that it has a date on it.

What is the difference between a coupon, a refund, and a rebate? Aren't they all really coupons?

It's a matter of definition. Many people use the terms "refund" and "rebate" interchangeably. For hobbyists, the difference is the amount of money involved. Refunds are on smaller grocery items, like a box of cereal or a bottle of mustard. A rebate is money you get back on the purchase of a car, an appliance like a hair dryer, or a washing machine. Both refunds and rebates are sent through the mail.
Generally, refunders are not interested in trading rebate forms on small appliances, cans of paint, toys or major appliances, since these are not the type of items people buy weekly. For this reason, rebate forms are considered "junk", while refund forms are highly valued. 
Coupons (also known as "c/o's", "cpns", "cash-offs", or "cents-off") are always used at the check-out. 

I sent some proofs of purchase for a coupon for a free box of breakfast cereal. I got my coupon some time ago, but now I can't find the cereal in the grocery store. Have I lost out?

No. Several things could be going on here. First of all, not every store carries every brand of cereal (or any other product line). Check other stores. If none carries the product, it may have been discontinued. Sometimes this happens when new products are introduced but don't catch on. If this coupon were mine, I'd look on it to see who the  manufacturer was, then I'd write a letter and explain the problem. Most companies will respond with another coupon on a different product. There is a lesson here. Don't let a free item coupon sit for years before you redeem it, even one with no expiration date. Redeem it as soon as possible.

My favorite store doesn't display pads of refunds. What can I do?

Talk directly to the store manager. Most are delighted when someone takes an interest in their store. Ask why no pads are displayed and tell him or her that you would really like to see more offers on the shelves.  You may discover that the pads are stashed in a drawer. If you're lucky, the manager will invite you to look through them anytime you are in the store. Some managers have responded to suggestions by putting up a "form bulletin board" where pads are hung.

I often buy the Sunday newspaper off the newsstand for the coupons, but sometimes there aren't any in it. What happened?

There are no coupon inserts in the Sunday paper the week before major holidays like Christmas, New Years, and Memorial Day. Also, the newspaper agency first stuffs their inserts into subscribers' papers, then into the newspapers sold on newsstands. If they are shorted inserts, the newsstand papers won't have any. Unfortunately, some inserts are
stolen by overzealous folks who buy one paper but take the inserts from all of the ones in the box.  The safest course is to subscribe to the paper. Not only does that guarantee that you'll get the inserts, but it is more convenient to have it delivered to the door than to go out and track down a newsstand. It is possible to subscribe just to the Sunday paper if you don't want the weekly newspaper.

Can you do anything with expired coupons other than throw them away?

If you have a friend in the military who is stationed outside the United States, send your expired coupons to him or her. Coupons that have expired as long as 6 months ago are accepted by overseas commissaries. Check the links at right for addresses of military personnel.

Isn't it true that most of the gifts you receive from refunds have a product name on them, making them unsuitable for gifts?

No, most gifts do not have a name or logo on them. About 25% of the items do, and generally, the logos are small and tastefully done. Of course t-shirts often have a company name and picture on them, but that is part of the fun. Other items, like toys and kitchen aids, come just as you would buy them in a department store.

How do you get labels off jars? Mine come off in little pieces and the label is ruined.

Most labels come off easily in hot water. The trick is to give them enough time to really soak. Overnight is best. Fill you kitchen sink with hot water before you go to bed. Submerge your empty bottles and jars. By morning most of the labels will be floating on the top of the water. Dry them face down on a paper towel or in a sunny window ledge. Some very stubborn labels may come off if you wrap them in a wet paper towel and heat in the microwave. For labels on plastic bottles that come off in shreds, try placing a piece of transparent tape over the label before you soak it. Then pull off the tape with the label stuck to it. If all else fails and the label shreds, go ahead and send it for your refund. Enclose a short note explaining what happened. You won't be the only one sending a demolished proof of purchase and the chances are you will be paid.

What is a bearer check?

Some cash refunds come back to you in the form of a "bearer check". If you look closely at the front of the check, it will be made out to you (by name) "or bearer". A bearer is anyone who has the check in his possession. Anyone can endorse and use a bearer check, not just the person it's issued to, so be careful with your checks. Cash your checks
once a month or deposit them in your bank account. Most checks expire after three months so cash them regularly.

Don't refunders spend a fortune on postage and envelopes?

Postage is the main expense of the refunding hobby. You'll need stamps to send in your refunds and to trade with others through the mail. But keep in mind that you are spending 41 to make an average of $2. That's an excellent return on your investment. Deduct your postage costs from your profits to get a true idea of how much you are saving. When you
first start refunding, it will seem like you're spending too much on postage, but keep the faith. As soon as your checks begin arriving, you'll feel much better about your postage investment. Purchase envelopes on sale and in bulk.  Some refunders contact local printers and buy thousands of misprinted envelopes for a few dollars. Then they place their own address labels over the misprinted information.

If a refund for premiums is unlimited, can I send out 1 order but then later send out another order with another form?

Yes. In 95% of the cases, if an offer is unlimited, you can just keep sending it and sending it. Always read the fine print.

What is a required booklet form? What is a home mailer? What is a hangtag form? What is a calendar form? What is a specially marked package write up?

These are all places where refund offers are found. A home mailer is a form that was mailed to your home, usually after you have already submitted refund requests to a company. For example, if you mailed in a refund for Marlboro cigarettes, you might later get a home mailer with a new and different refund offer on it for Marlboro. Companies
target specific markets after they have your name and address and know you use a certain product. A required booklet form is found inside a booklet or pamphlet at the grocery store, or in a recipe pamphlet. A hangtag is a cardboard form attached to the neck of a bottle, for example. A calendar form is one that was found inside a calendar, usually a calendar which was sent out on a previous refund, like the pet food calendars that are offered each year. A specially marked package write up is not actually a refund form. It’s better because no form is needed. Sometimes on the
package will be instructions on how to apply for a refund, but no actual form is given, just an address to send your proofs of purchase. These are great because everyone can do them without having to track down a form.

Is a form for a premium requiring a postage/handling fee considered a money plus form? Or are money plus forms only those offering a product at a reduced cost with qualifiers and/or postage handling fee?

Ten years ago, when things were simpler, the difference between a money-plus offer and a refund was clear. Any offer which required money as part of the deal was considered money-plus. If no money was required, only qualifiers, then the offer was considered a refund (which is better than a money-plus offer). But these days most gift offers ask for at least a small postage and handling fee. The key word here is small. If a toy worth $9.95, then an offer which asks for 10 UPCs and $1 p/h is reasonable and still considered a refund. If it asks for 2 UPCs and $6.95, then that’s considered money plus.

 Why do some coupons carry the limitation ‘do not double’. I shop at a double coupon store, so this makes a big difference to me. I thought that the store itself covered the cost of doubling the coupon. If that is true, why does the manufacturer care if the store doubles the value of their coupons? You’d think they would be happy to let them, since it would sell more of their products if people could save more.

Good question. Here’s why. You’ll notice that the coupons that say ‘do not double’ have either come out of a blinking machine in the store or were handed to you by someone demonstrating food inside the store or someone handling out coupon booklets as you walked into the store. Manufacturers WANT the stores to pass out these coupons, but for stores that double coupons, this is an added financial burden. Basically, the manufacturer goes to the store and says, “Please hand out these coupons in your store when you pass  out our food samples”, and the store answers back, “No, thanks. We’ll have to double them and we’ll lose money on your product.” So the manufacturer says, “Okay, we’ll print on them that they can’t be doubled.” (Then both the store and the manufacturer are happy.) Make no mistake.... stores that double coupons don’t necessarily like to do it. They do it to compete but it costs them lots of money and reduces their overall profits. An interesting note about this is that some stores will double them anyway, but again, that is the store’s individual decision, and they don’t have to do it.

I have noticed that sometimes a company offers more than one refund on the same product in a year. For example, Mitchum Anti-perspirant was offering a refund if you purchased it at the RxPlace and a month later they were offering another refund if you bought it in another store. Could I send in for both refund offers in a case like that? What if they offer two separate refunds in one year?

This is a frequently asked question and there is no set rule that always applies. The important thing  is not that the refunds were offered in the same calendar year. The important things to check are: 1) expiration date  (same or different) , and 2) box number (same or different). Generally, refund offers are not considered the same if they have different expirations or box numbers. Each company sets its own policy in this regard. Clairol is one that will always refuse on different box numbers or expiration dates. In your Mitchum example, this would be the same refund if the forms appeared similtaneously with the same box number and expiration date, but with different store names plugged in. But if the second form appeared after the first one had expired, then it would be
considered a new and different offer.

Our Food Lion had Axid AR on sale for 99. I went and got the only one on the shelf. I asked if they had more. They said no, that some man came in and got 10 with $1 off coupons. The manager said they can’t give $1 off. That’s fraud. They can only give 99 off unless they buy other things, then they can give $1 off.  To me that’s wrong. Looks like that would be fraud when the store sends in the coupon claiming they paid a $1 to the customer plus their 8 for handling. There is nothing in the ad or on the coupon that says it has to be a certain price or size. I called the 800 number on the box of Axid. They said it is fraud for the customer to get a $1 off when they only paid 99 for it. Can you help with any of this to help me understand.

When you called the Axid 800 number, they gave you the right answer. If a product is 99, and your coupon says $1, then they can only give you 99 off. You don’t lose anything because you got the product for free either way. Now, some checkers are pretty relaxed about such a small difference and may give you the full $1 off, but technically that is not correct. I would NEVER hassle a store about the penny. It’s not worth giving coupon shoppers a bad name to fight for a penny when you’re getting the item for free anyway. Let’s be grateful for these wonderful deals and not make the store regret that they take coupons in the first place.

 What advice, suggestions, and guidelines would you give to someone on how to get a coupon club started?

A: First advertise locally. Call local libraries, churches or McDonald’s to find a place to meet.  Put up some posters or fliers in grocery stores. Pick a time and place for the first meeting and list that on the posters and also give a phone number to call for more information. Your news paper may have a place to list free community announcements.  Also,
send your name and phone info to RMC for the “Coupon Club” section. The listing is free.  Now, when it comes time for your meeting, plan some trading activities.   Tell everyone who calls what to bring....unwanted coupons, forms, etc.
There are several good ways to trade items at a meeting. You can have a box for potluck coupons that everyone contributes to, and can take coupons from. Or you can have a round robin of trading, where everyone brings an
envelope or box of unwanted items, and you trade by passing the envelope/box to the person on the right, they look through it and take whatever they want, and then everyone passes to the right again. Or you can simply trade one on one around a table while chatting.   Take time to ask everyone what they would like to get out of the club, how often they would like to meet, ways they’d like to trade, etc. Set up a time to meet again and encourage everyone to bring a friend.
Reader Carla Buchanan, Orange, CA, sent this note about what happens at her coupon club: “First we talk about current supermarket specials, rebates, and current good coupons. Three stores in our area double, so there is a lot to discuss. We look at RMC and discuss it. We each bring 20 items that we have excess of, like health and beauty, Hawaiian Punch, rice, pasta, catsup, dressing, paper products, etc. We put them on a big table and SWAP. We all go home with new “free” groceries. We pass coupons and forms around a big table and swap. We make new friends
and go on field trips to the local market. I always give a door prize like good coupons with a shopping list. This club is through the Parks & Recreation Department in Orange. We meet every other Monday at the East End Substation in Orange.”

 What are “box closed” offers?

A: Some refunds come out with no expiration dates. The offer may be good for a few months or a few years; it’s entirely up to the company that is sponsoring the offer. At some point they may decide that they want to close the offer. The way they do it is to close the post box. Then people get their submissions returned to sender. We list these in
RMC Extra. If you are about to send for a “No Expiration Date” offer and are wondering if it is still good, you can check the list to see if the box has been closed.  If it has, don’t bother with the submission, and throw away any more identical forms that you may have on hand. If you get a “box closed” rejection, send it to RMC. If you are the first, you get one RMC credit, and we add it to the list.

My local Fareway store would not let me use the $1 Drypers coupon found inside the 99 2 pack to buy additional packages at my next visit. The coupon did not mention a size requirement. How should I handle an embarrassing situation like this when I believe I was in the right?

A: You were in the right. This can be so aggravating. First, I would try to keep my cool and be cheerful. I’d ask to talk to the manager and present my case as intelligently and calmly as possible. Make sure to point out that there were no size restrictions on the coupon, that you do not expect to get money back, just the product for free, that there is nothing on the coupon to prohibit you using it as you are requesting. If they still refuse, take your coupons to a different store.

 I would like to know if a coupon says: “Buy 2 Corn Flakes, receive $1 off”, can you add 2 single 50 coupons along with it? Is this legal? To me this is just creative usage.

A: No, you can’t do that. You would be using two manufacturer coupons on each box and that is prohibited. Sometimes a coupon will say: “Buy 2 Corn Flakes, get $1 off MILK”. In that circumstances, some stores (or individual checkers) will also allow two other coupons on the Corn Flakes, since the first coupon could be considered on the milk. But if
your store won’t do it, it’s not worth arguing, as this is a gray area.