What is a “filler” item and why do I need one?

Today I’ve decided to tackle another one of those fundamental couponing concepts: “filler” items.

What is a filler item?

Simply put, a filler item is any item added to a transaction in order to make it “work” at checkout. Usually the goal is to find the least expensive item possible.

For instance:

  1. To make sure your coupon value doesn’t exceed the total value of the items.
  2. At Walgreens, where you must have at least as many items as Register Rewards and manufacturer’s coupons. (More on this in a bit.)

Coupon Overage and Filler Items

Let’s suppose your favorite peanut butter is on sale for $1.50. And, lucky you, there is a coupon for $2 off 1. Your first option is to go through checkout with the peanut butter and coupon, and hope that the store can mark the coupon down to $1.50 or mark the item up to $2 to make it a wash.

I’ve had stores such as Walgreens, Target, and Albertsons do this for me.

As an alternative, you could head to checkout with the peanut butter and a small “filler” item of $0.50 or more to absorb the extra value of the coupon. While this might sound a bit strange, understand that the manufacturer has agreed to pay the retailer the value on the coupon provided the correct item(s) have been purchased. So some stores may permit overage. There’s an acronym you may have seen before – “YMMV.” This stands for “your mileage may vary” (or, your results may vary). In other words, each store may have their own policy on this issue.

Coupon Values vs. Item Values

A couple years ago, there was a great Catalina deal at Albertsons:

Buy (5) Kraft BBQ Sauce for $0.99 each, get a $5 Catalina

So you’d pay $4.95, and get a $5 Catalina. I decided to “roll” this deal, but there was one problem. I couldn’t use a $5 Catalina coupon to pay for $4.95. I needed to get the total to at least $5. To do this, I needed to find a “filler item,” a cheap item of ideally $0.05 or slightly more in order for the cash register to accept the coupon.

Filler Items, Register Rewards, and Walgreens

Usually when I think of or refer to “filler items,” Walgreens specifically comes to mind.

You see, Walgreens has this very “interesting” coupon policy: you must have at least as many items in your transactions as manufacturer’s coupons. Oh, and Register Rewards? They are treated as manufacturer’s coupons.

As a brief reminder, Register Rewards are Catalina coupons that print at the point of sale. Think of these coupons as instant in-store credit you can redeem for virtually anything.

So let’s imagine that you wish to buy (2) bottles of glass cleaner for $1.50 each. You happen to have (2) $0.55/1 coupons and a $1 Register Reward from a transaction you did last week. Here’s what you’re looking at:

Item count: 2
Manufacturer coupon count: 3 (2-$0.55/1 coupons + $1 Register Reward)
Bottom line: won’t work

When I say “won’t work,” what I mean is that the cash register won’t permit the last coupon.

To remedy this, you need to purchase a small “filler” item, so your transaction will now look like this:

Item count: 3
Manufacturer coupon count: 3
Bottom line: you’re good!

Good Choices for Filler Items

Obviously, inexpensive items will keep your out of pocket expense down. In my Walgreens list last week, I provided a section with ideas for good filler items including small candies, pencils, and holiday items. At a grocery store, you might choose something from the produce department, such as a single banana. Clearance items are another good possbility.

Another important thing to note is that Walgreens coupons do not factor into the coupon count. In other words, a filler item can involve a Walgreens coupon (such as from the weekly ad) and it will not mess up your transaction.

While I generally like to look for the cheapest items I can, I sometimes will buy something slightly more expensive that I actually could use. Here is a filler item I picked up last week in my Walgreens deal:

I found this brush and mirror set in a bin on the holiday aisle (a good place to look for filler items, incidentally)!

Where can I read more on this topic?

I know I might have shared some concepts that were foreign with you. If so, I highly recommend you check out these posts:

How to be successful with Walgreens Register Rewards
Understanding Walgreens Register Rewards, Part I (for Steals & Deals)
Understanding Walgreens Register Rewards, Part II (for Steals & Deals)
Drugstore Shopping 101 (webcast recorded August 2, 2010)
How Catalina Coupons Work

Do you have any questions regarding filler items? Or, have some tips to offer about filler items?


  1. Marla says

    Thanks so much for the information! I never shopped at Wal-Greens until I started using coupons last November. With the information you share along with others, I have really been able to save my family money. I needed a good tutorial on Wal-Greens. I didn’t understand when I could combine items giving register rewards or the best time to use the register rewards. Thanks so much!

  2. K says

    Can I use 3 coupons for one item as long as I have 3 fillers?
    Also does Walgreens take internet coupons, they told me they could only take one coupon, when I had 4 shampoos and 3 internet coupons. They said that if it is the same coupon they can only take one because it has the same bar codes and could have been copied.

  3. Megan says

    Do you need filler items when you still have a positive balance? Recently I was shopping at Target and I had more coupons than the amount of products I was purchasing. I noticed that the cashier was having a hard time ringing all the coupons and I had to have them go back and make sure all my coupons got removed because the price was much larger than what I had expected. The price became a lot lower, but when I got home I noticed that the cashier had still missed one coupon. I am wondering if this is because I had more coupons than products or if it was just a error.