The Savings Mom Answers Your Questions

This week, the Savings Mom answers questions from viewers.

Question: I have been cutting and collecting the "proof of purchase" labels from numerous products for years. What do I do with them? Are there Web sites that can help? -- Jean Goodlife; Kenai, Alaska

Savings Mom: There are many ways you can use proof of purchase seals to get free merchandise and even cash refunds. However, your best bet would be to search for promotional offers for the products you buy first, then collect the proof of purchase seals you need.

There are literally hundreds of offers available. You can find them by looking in the Sunday grocery coupon circular for rebate and promotion forms, check to see if your grocery store or drugstore has a bulletin board with available promotion forms, and visit the Web sites of the products you buy. Subscribe to their e-mail newsletters to receive information about current rebate and refund promotions, sweepstakes and free coupons.

Check the manufacturers' Web sites to see if they have a "Promotions" or "Special Offers" section. Kellogg's, Keebler, Gorton's Seafood and Kraft Foods have detailed sections on their sites listing various promotions, to name only a few examples. Those sites are:

www.kraftfoods.com

www.kelloggs.com

www.keebler.com

www.gortons.com

For example, a current sweepstakes offer called "Magic by the Millions" on the Keebler Web site rewards sweepstakes instant winners with a free coupon for Keebler cookies, while supplies last, worth $3.49. Find details here: http://www.keebler.com/promotions/magicbythemillion/sweeps.shtml

Another promotion on Gorton's Web site rewards participants with a certificate for a free personal training session or a sports lesson (worth $55) with the purchase of three Gorton's products. Shoppers send the three proof of purchase seals and the completed promotion form to Gorton's to receive their certificate. Printable forms are available here: http://gortons.com/promotions/get-fit/

Question: How do you interpret the wording on a coupon: "limit one coupon per purchase"? I'm finding many cashiers and some managers don't know quite how to interpret this wording. To me, it means you can only use one coupon per item purchased. So if I'm purchasing two like items, I can use two coupons; but some cashiers tell me it's one per entire grocery order. -- Ramona; Huntsville, Ala.

Savings Mom: This question can create debate at the checkout counter, depending on how the cashier or store manager interprets the coupon policy. You are right; the phrase "limit one coupon per purchase" means that one coupon can be used per item purchased, regardless of the number of coupons and items in one order. Some stores will limit the number of identical coupons doubled per order, but they should not limit the number of coupons redeemed at face value.

For example, you may have 10 identical items with 10 50-cent coupons (one coupon per item purchased). If the store doubles coupons, it may elect to double only the first coupon or the first few coupons for the same item. According to the manufacturer's coupon policy statement, the manufacturer will reimburse the store for every coupon used as long as you buy one item per coupon.

However, the store will ultimately have the final decision on how it chooses to accept coupons. If you encounter a challenge with a particular store manager on this issue, I would suggest you e-mail the customer service contact for the product you are purchasing. You will receive an e-mail response from the manufacturer verifying that you can use multiple coupons with the purchase of multiple items within one order. Print out the e-mail and show it to the store manager to help the store understand the accepted coupon policy.

Question: How should the word "any" be interpreted on a coupon? I take this to mean any size or variety, but I'm finding once again that the cashiers will go by the picture on the coupon and not the wording. Ramona; Huntsville, Ala.

Savings Mom: You are right again -- the wording on the coupon determines the specific coupon offer, not the picture. For example, one product group may have several different varieties, but only one item can be pictured on the coupon. The key is to look for limiting terms in the coupon wording, such as "not good on trial size" or "for sizes 5 ounces and larger." In those cases, it is clear how you should apply the coupon.

When the coupon says "any" with no specific limiting terms, then you can use the coupon for any size or variety. You'll pay the least per item if you look for the least expensive variety or smallest size of a product within the group. You can look for trial sizes of personal care products that would fit within the group, and you may be able to get those items free if the item price is the same or less than the coupon value.

The Savings Mom, who is also known as Stephanie Nelson, is based in Atlanta. For more information, you can visit www.thecouponmom.com.