By Jill Cataldo, Coupon Queen, Published November 23 2012
COUPON QUEEN: Readers ponder taxing coupon conundrum
Claudia has a question on coupons and sales tax:
Q: I enjoy reading your “Super-Couponing Tips” every Sunday in my paper. I have a question about tax.
Why do stores charge tax on the whole purchase amount before they deduct the coupons? In my area, the local tax is 6.5 percent. If an item is $1 and I have a $1 coupon, I end up paying 7 cents for the item. The items are never really free. Isn’t there a uniform law for this?
A: If you’re using manufacturer coupons, sales tax should be applied to the price of your items before the coupons are scanned. Why? Sales tax is based on the purchase price – the price the item sells for at the store. The state is entitled to collect tax on the selling price of the item. Neither your store nor your state cares whether you pay for an item with a dollar bill or a $1 coupon. (Store coupons, meanwhile, are usually deducted from the purchase total before sales tax is applied because this type of coupon functions as a lower sale price provided to you by the store.)
Honestly, I never worry about paying the sales tax. Paying 7 cents for something that would ordinarily cost $1 is still a great deal! Imagine what you’d pay for these items without coupons!
Laura is frustrated about store prices not matching what’s promoted in her weekly flier:
Q: I read your column regularly. Thanks for all of the great advice. I was looking for your input on a situation I encountered. [The store] was running a promotion offering $5 off when a shopper purchased $20 worth of select grocery items. The flier promoted cookie mixes for $2.50 each. But when I bought them at the store, they rang up at $2.29 each.
I planned on the mixes being $2.50 in order to get to the $20 threshold. This affected me because my total was off and I did not receive the $5 discount because I hadn’t spent $20. I explained the situation to the manager, saying that I had calculated my list and deductions based on the advertised price of $2.50. She said prices can vary store to store despite what was listed in the paper. This is frustrating! Clearly we are trying to be prepared shoppers, making lists and calculations before we head to the register. What do you think? Does this happen to shoppers often?
A: A casual reader might ask, “Is Laura actually complaining that her groceries cost less than she planned on?” But I understand your frustration immediately. Coupon shoppers put a lot of preparation and energy into shopping trips such as this one, in which Laura planned to buy eight $2.50 items to hit the threshold in a “Spend $20, Get $5” deal. To get to the register and find out that those items were really $2.29, adding up to only $18.32? Definitely frustrating. Had the items rung up correctly, the price for all of them would drop to $15 with the store’s sale.
While stores must honor the prices in their ads, occasionally stores price items lower than the advertised price. One of my local stores even notes prices in the flier as, for example, “$1.99 (or lower)” when some of its locations may offer an item at an even better price. If you are planning to take advantage of a sale in which you need to meet a specific dollar amount, it may be worth double-checking prices at the price checker in the store before you reach the register.
Otherwise, as long as the store wasn’t too busy, I would have likely asked if I could return my items, then ask the cashier to re-ring my transaction with additional items.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.