Coupon shoppers love overage. Overage occurs when the dollar value printed on a coupon exceeds the selling price of an item. If I buy a box of pasta that’s on sale for 79 cents, but I have a $1 coupon, I’ve got 21 cents in overage. What happens to that 21 cents?

Depending on how your store handles overage: You may get that 21 cents back as cash, the 21 cents may be applied to your end balance at the register or the store may keep the overage, adjusting the coupon’s value down to match the item’s sale price.

Now, you may be thinking that 21 cents isn’t a big deal. But overage can equal both big business and big savings. It isn’t always pocket change. Recently I had a coupon for $4 off any cosmetic product from a major manufacturer. Cosmetic remover was just $1.14 (and yes, cosmetic remover is a cosmetic product!) Now, I had $2.86 in overage. What happened to it?

Well, my store’s coupon policy allows shoppers to receive coupon overage back in cash, and I essentially was paid $2.86 to take the cosmetic remover home. That’s a deal! And because I had four coupons, I bought four removers and was “paid” $11.44 to buy these products.

Several readers have asked about overage recently. Here’s one:

Q: Sometimes I have a coupon for an amount that exceeds the item’s sale price, usually when the item is a store markdown. I have encountered different responses. If I purchase the item alone, the store often accepts the coupon but usually doesn’t give cash back. If I buy other additional items to get a total that exceeds the coupon value, I get the full coupon discount. How does the manufacturer reimburse the store for these different situations?

A: It sounds like the store allows coupon overage but does not allow cash back in an overage situation. The register allows the overage to be applied to other items he’s buying in the same transaction. The store is reimbursed the full, face value of the coupon. So, to use my $4 cosmetics coupon as an example again, the store will be reimbursed $4, plus a handling fee, no matter the cost of the cosmetic product. Knowing this, if the store allows you to buy other items and “eat up” that overage, applying it to your own groceries, it’s absolutely a smart thing to do.

Smart Living Tip: To find out how your store handles overage, check the store’s coupon policy. Many national supermarket and drugstore chains have their coupon policies available online, and clarify if your coupon will be adjusted down or whether you’ll receive the overage.

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