It’s a fact of life we collegiettes have come to accept: college is expensive. After covering ever-rising tuition and fees, shelling out hundreds for books every semester, paying for room and board or your portion of the rent every month, and scraping together enough change for a mocha or two in order to make it through that 8 a.m. class, money is tight for most college students, regardless of the school you attend. Looking to save a little more this semester? Students across the country with similar aspirations are starting to clip coupons to save on food, school supplies, and other everyday necessities. While you probably don’t have room in your dorm for the shelves and shelves of paper towels and toothpaste participants proudly show off in TLC’s popular show “Extreme Couponing” that’s even earned the attention of celebs like Kourtney Kardashian, coupons can be a great way to stretch any college budget.
How to get started: Mix, Match, and Compare
Jamie Wong, a freshman at Columbia College in Chicago, is one student who’s jumped on the couponing bandwagon. “Coupons add up really quickly. Even if you only use a single $1 coupon a day, that can add up to $365 a year,” she explains. “Saving money is definitely worth it. The best part is, there are occasionally coupons for items that certain stores have on sale. Once I had a $1 off coupon for lemonade that was 98 cents, aka free lemonade!”
Couponing “experts” have turned saving into a science. One such expert is Carrie Regnier, founder of Clippin’ With Carrie, a website that lays out the basics of couponing and provides tips on where to get the best deals. She says the number one way to succeed with coupons is knowing when to use them. “The use of coupons when there is a low sale price is the most effective way to use coupons to get your items at the lowest price and that would be the time to purchase extra for a small stockpile,” she explains. “Couponing is a game. You know how your kids like playing video games? Well, couponing is my game of choice.”
Her website clearly explains how to yield maximum savings in terms even a newbie to the world of couponing can understand. She stresses the potential pairing different kinds of coupons with a sale in the store, and gives an example of how to do so using a recent deal she scored at Target. “The absolute best scenario is sale + store coupon + manufacturer coupon. That is when you save the most,” she details on her site. She then gives an example using a recent deal she found at Target. “Target has Soft Soap Body Wash on Sale for $2.79 (regularly $3.49) I found a Peelie [a coupon found on a product] on Skintimate Shave Gel which was a Target Store Coupon for $1 off Soft Soap Body Wash. Because it was a Target store coupon, I could stack it with a $2 off printable coupon that I had. So I ended up getting the body wash FREE + overage.”
Cutting coupons is quick, easy, and painless, and can yield excellent savings. With new reward programs that help you save simply by attaching a store rewards card to your keychain, or downloading the store’s smartphone app, the process is easier than ever. College is a time to have fun and enjoy life as a student. Constantly stressing over how much you have in your bank account can bring your mood down faster than a midterm.
Who has the best deals, and where can you find them?
Finding the best deals requires planning ahead of time. Sit down with your roommates, friends, sorority sisters, or whomever else you shop with, and make a list of items you need. Then, hit the ads!
“Traditional” Coupon Sources
Simply sticking to the basics and using traditional ad sources like the Sunday paper, in addition to the various sites mentioned above to find coupons to cut could yield great potential savings. This is Regnier’s first source for weekly savings. “I scan through the coupon inserts and decide if the coupons include items we use,” she explains. Most women’s magazines also feature ads that regularly offer coupons to readers.
Many stores also place coupons readily available to shoppers the minute they step foot in the door. Next time you wander into a grocery store, pick up the weekly ad, typically located near the entry. A quick scan of the week’s deals could help you save some serious dough. As you shop, be on the lookout for “peelies,” coupons that are attached to products by the manufacturer, “blinkies,” which are coupons in those funky little dispensers we all loved yanking coupon after coupon out of when we were little, and “hangtags,” coupons dangling on or near a shelf where the product is placed.
Couponing Gone Virtual
After your fingers have turned gray from flipping through page after page of Sunday ads and other print sources, hit the web to find even more savings! As the popularity of and interest in couponing has grown exponentially, savvy shoppers have taken to the web to make saving a breeze. Regnier points out that college students enjoy some unique advantages when it comes to couponing, “I think college students have the ability to save using coupons and to swap coupons with each other and share their savings and so forth using social media,” she says. Many coupon-crazed fans across the country have set up databases to make finding deals even easier. Sites like The Frugal Girls, Coupon Mom and How to Shop for Free, three sites run by women who make it their goal to save hundreds when they shop, have established coupon databases that outline where and how to find the best deals on any and every item under the sun. All of these sites allow you to see what’s on sale at stores in your area and match or compare coupons to make sure you’re getting maximum savings.
Adds Jamie, “Coupons are pretty much everywhere. You can get them in the Sunday paper and even if you use just a few coupons, the newspaper’s already paid for itself… I personally like The Krazy Coupon Lady [www.thekrazycouponlady.com] because they post the new Target, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens ads the day before the ad comes out. They also post coupons that you can use with the sale items on Sunday so that you can maximize your savings.”
Sites like Smart Source, Coupons.com and Red Plum also post deals and hints on how to save big on a daily basis. Check company websites as well for manufacturer’s deals or offers that can also be printed.
Finally, sites like Groupon have also grown in popularity in the last several years. This site regularly emails you different deals you can purchase, print, and then redeem for savings of up to 90%!
Using Your Phone to Save
The Frugal Girls’ site offers some great unconventional advice. Stores like Target, Michael’s, and Jo-Ann’s will text coupons to interested customers. Got a smartphone? Download the Weekly Ads and Sales app for deals and steals on the go. Programs like Cardstar and Key Ring Rewards Cards are two other apps for smartphones that keep an online record of store loyalty programs you’re a member of, meaning you no longer need to tote around a key ring with those little plastic tags to save even more.
What’s the best way to organize your coupons?
If you’re just using a few coupons, you’re most likely fine just sticking them inside your wallet or purse. However, if you’re starting to find those little slips of paper at the bottom of your bag or jammed in random places, you may want to consider taking a more methodical approach to sorting and storing your vouchers. Jamie has gotten coupon organization down to an exact science. “Using coupons needs a lot of organizing as well as cutting them out,” she states. for adorable (but cheap!) coupon organizers.
Jamie also uses a modern twist to organize what she clips. “I also have a document on Google Docs that has what coupons I have and when it expires so that if I’m at a store, I can just quickly look up if I have a certain item’s coupon instead of ruffling through them all,” she explains.
The Frugal Girls suggest a slightly different approach to organizing coupons. Their site has a section that shows visitors how to use a basket to sort different coupons they’ve printed or clipped. A more detailed explanation, including the various categories you can include in your own basket, can be found on their website.
The Missouri Coupon Queens another group dedicated to finding, cataloguing, and sharing tips and tricks of the trade has compiled a list if you’d like to give the traditional binder approach a try. The Coupon Queens suggest organizing your binder, “using baseball sleeves and labels… Separate your coupons by either by category or by date and insert type.” This way, “You will always have your coupons on hand when you find a good deal.” Their list of categories you can use in your own binder can be found on their site if you need some extra help getting organized.
Sometimes a more simplistic approach works just as well. Some couponers bring in the weekly ad and clip the coupons they plan on using once they reach the checkout lines. As long as you stay organized, you can make anything work!
Any secrets for coupon newbies?
How do you know if a trip has been successful or not? Regnier describes, “ Success may mean different things to different people. I don’t use certain trips to the store as success stories, my success story would be meeting our goals of living a debt free life and to have an emergency fund in savings.” Don’t focus on the dollar amount you saved on a certain trip to the store. Instead, focus on the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from knowing you were a smart, resourceful shopper.
The Frugal Girls have some smart parting advice for bargain-savvy college students looking to save, but who are short on storage space: “Don’t feel like you have to go overboard with the stockpile of the century, there will always be another sale!”
Jamie has some final thoughts as well. “Don’t try to compare yourself to people on those extreme couponing shows because those people are not normal examples. Instead just track your savings on your own and you can see the progress over time.”
Whether you save one dollar, or hundreds, couponing is a simple way to keep more dollars in your pocket without having to scrimp on the essentials. Next time you pass the news rack in the union or outside of your dorm, don’t just continue on your way. Grab a copy of the paper, and see what savings are inside, just waiting to be clipped!