Jill Cataldo

Jill Cataldo

A few weeks ago, I shared a reader’s story of finding diapers on clearance for $2.49. Each package had a $3 coupon inside.

After buying her first package, my reader took the diapers to her car, opened them, removed the $3 coupon and returned to the store to buy another package, which was free with this coupon.

My readers wondered: Could she have gotten an even better deal – better than free?

“Dear Jill,

When the lady bought $2.49 diapers with $3 coupons inside, what happened to the extra 51 cents of value of that coupon? Her deal was pretty great, but could it have gotten better?”



I just read your column about the grandmother who bought diapers for $2.49 that had a $3 coupon inside, and then repeated the transaction five more times using the coupons. I’m a math nerd and former college economics major, so I have some thoughts on this.

She got a great deal, and I have done very similar things in the past. But, she might have gotten a better deal. Using five $3 coupons saved her $12.45 when it could have saved her $15.

The economist’s answer is that she lost $2.55 in opportunity cost by using a $3 coupon to save $2.49 five different times (five times 51 cents in lost opportunity cost).

What could she have done to maximize her savings even more?

After getting the first $3 coupon, she could go back in and buy two packets of diapers at a total cost of $4.98 with that coupon. If they charged $2.49, it means that she maxed out the value of the coupon at the item’s price. If they charged her $1.98, it means she got the full $3 of coupon value.”

Bob F.

Any time you have a coupon with a dollar amount that exceeds the selling price of the item you’re buying, things do start to get interesting! The extra 51 cents of coupon value that’s left after the $3 coupon is applied to the $2.49 diapers is called coupon overage.

Stores differ in how they apply coupon overage.

At some stores, when a $3 coupon is scanned on a $2.49 item, the store’s register will automatically reduce the value of that coupon to match the item’s selling price. The register will show that a $2.49 coupon was redeemed, and the shopper will get that item free.

At other stores, the coupon will ring at its full face value, $3, giving the shopper 51 cents in overage. Neither way is “wrong” or “right” – the store will receive the full $3 value of that coupon once it is sent in for redemption. To find out how your store handles coupon overage, read through the store’s coupon policy. This can typically be found on the store’s website.

My reader did not name the store where she purchased her diapers, and she did not mention receiving more than the face value of the coupon in each transaction.

Had she shopped at a store that allowed coupon overage, she would have been owed 51 cents at checkout after scanning the $3 coupon. It’s important to keep in mind that while some stores allow shoppers to receive coupon overage, few stores will give this overage back to shoppers in the form of cash.

Most stores require you to buy additional items to “eat up” the overage to restore a positive dollar amount owed at the register.

For sake of argument, let’s envision that she bought two $2.49 packs of diapers. Her total at the register would be $4.98. With one $3 coupon, she would pay $1.98, but she’d also have another $3 coupon for a future shopping trip.

Or, she could have purchased the $2.49 diapers and a 59-cent candy bar, bringing her total to $3.08. After the $3.00 coupon, she’d pay 8 cents for the diapers and the candy bar.

No matter how her store handled these coupons, this reader took the diapers home for the best price – nothing!

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