A Student’s Guide to Couponing

So you moved into a new (okay new to you) apartment and getting hit with bills left and right. You’re finally free of the mandated meal plan but you don’t know how to do this on a budget. What can you do?

The answer to this question is simple: coupons. And I’m not talking about those ladies with the crazy-eyes in front of you with a binder of coupons and two carts of groceries. Believe it or not, not everyone has a huge basement to hold that excess stuff, and you shouldn’t buy anything you don’t need just because you have a coupon.

So what do you need? The Ten Commandments of Couponing should help:

  1. You are in charge of picking what ingredients you need before you go to the store.

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I’m sure you’ve heard people harping about meal planning before but I promise – this will save you so much time and money. Not only are you not left a bunch of odd ingredients that you have no idea how to bring together into something edible, but you won’t have to throw away food you forgot to eat.

But you should also look at what kinds of food you’re using most often, and use coupons to stock up! Look for things that can keep for a long time but you use as part of your daily diet. Typically sales go in 12 week cycles so you only need to buy enough for 12 weeks.

2. You should eat something before you go to the store.  

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Never, I repeat, never buy groceries on an empty stomach. You will inevitably buy tons of snacks (probably unhealthy) that you do not need. Or worse, you’ll buy a bunch of food that you won’t eat before they go bad and you’ll just throw away your money.

Grab a quick snack out the door instead.

3. Pick your favorite coupon sources.

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This is where you’re going to have to take self-actualized action. Most people get access to coupons from the inserts in a news subscription, or through junk mail. But when you’re a student (especially if you live on a campus) you’re not getting those.

Instead, start exploring printable coupons or apps that let you access a digital version of the ads your local stores send out. I recommend Krazy Koupon Lady or Flippd for your phone.

4. Set a time limit to how much time you spend planning

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You might be noticing that at this point we haven’t even left for the store yet. If you’re anything like me, you might be tempted to spend all your time in the ‘planning’ stage.

Instead, limit yourself to a certain time each week to look through your organized coupons, and make your game plan. Then get out and get going!

5. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need.

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Once you get your paper coupons in order, it’s really tempting to put things on your list that you don’t really need. I mean, nobody wants to lose money on that killer sale.

Resist this temptation. Any money that can stay in your pocket is money that you can use on more useful experiences.

6. Make a pricebook.

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If you’re sticking to your local grocery stores, it might be helpful to write down the usual prices of the things you keep buying (eggs, milk, apples, etc.). Keeping this on-hand will help you judge the value of a particular sale from week to week.

7. Consider getting a Sunday newspaper subscription.

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If you’re planning on staying at a particular address for a while, you’ll get a lot more value out of the paper inserts coming in the Sunday paper. You’ll have a lot better access than what’s printable online, and you can help the news industry.

Plus who doesn’t love getting stuff in the mail?

8. Get organized. 

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You don’t need to go crazy, but keep your coupons organized by store at least. Having them easily on hand will save you a lot of trouble and heartache when you’re going up and down the aisles.

9. Learn the ‘Couponing Code’

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This will vary greatly between the kind of stores you frequent, but you should familiar yourself with couponing code.

Examples would be BOGO (Buy 1 item, Get 1 FREE!), B1G1 (Buy 1 item, Get 1 FREE!), ECBs (CVS Extra Bucks rewards). Look for stackable coupons, or a price-match gurantee.

10. Don’t stop at grocery stores!

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Once you’ve got this down for grocery stores, don’t stop there! Drugstores can do some really great sales, and put out a lot of sale inserts.

Once you’ve got this down, have some fun with your saved money!

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