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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Alyssa P.

Until recently, being coupons users came with the stigma of being cheap. With the recession, and thanks to shows like Extreme Couponing, many people have become more aware of ways to save money, and a new image has been given to coupon users. Frugal is no longer a bad thing, and no longer synonymous with cheap. Personally, I used to be a coupon snob, looking down on people who used them. However, I have recently learned how powerful they can be. Now I’m a different kind of coupon snob: if I have a coupon for it, I would not dream of paying full price! I use coupons for many, though not all, of my most common purchases, and I also use coupons for a variety of other purposes.

One of the biggest challenges I have come across in using coupons is the lack of coupons for healthy and fresh foods. My family does not eat any frozen meals, packaged foods or anything processed. The availability of coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and dairy products is very limited, as are coupons for baking ingredients and other healthy foods. Most food coupons are for highly processed snacks, frozen meals, processed meats and dairy, sugary breakfast foods etc. This poses a problem in trying to eat a healthy diet and still save with coupons.

A note from us at I’m In:  We can help you save on food and restaurants at I’m In!

There are other areas where coupons offer huge savings. I use most of my coupons on toiletries. By combining coupons with drug store sales and their own rewards programs, I can buy even the best shampoo and conditioner for under a dollar a bottle. I can buy toothpaste, tooth brushes and mouthwash for around a quarter, and make up is almost always free. By using coupons, I have a years’ worth of toiletries stored, all for under $50, a fraction of the original cost.

A note from us at I’m In:  We can help you save on health and beauty products at I’m In!

Coupons are also invaluable in other areas of life. Thanks to many websites offering local coupons and vouchers, you can find discounts for everything from eating out to a local festival. Personally, I use discounts to local restaurants frequently, as well as coupons for spa treatments, and other events or even classes, such as pottery or cooking. I also use coupons when shopping for clothing. I am able to find coupons for almost every major department store, which can yield huge savings off of clothing, shoes and household goods. Coupons are also available for shopping online, and I use the codes often.

There are various challenges in successful couponing. Many of these challenges can be overcome with sufficient planning and preparation. One challenge is not having enough coupons. Thankfully, I live in an apartment building where everyone receives coupon books each week. Many people leave them in the recycling box next to the mail boxes, so they are easy to grab and mean 10 times the coupons for me! It can also be challenging to figure out what coupons to use at what stores. Some websites outline the best sales matched with current coupons so you get the best value each week. If a coupon doesn’t match up to a sale that week, I save it in a binder for another time. Sales are cyclical, so the item will eventually be a good buy. I’ve also learned to stock up on an item when I can get it at a very low cost, or even free. For example, if I’m able to get four dollar shampoo for 25 cents, I will buy as many as allowed and save it for later. Even if I don’t need it right that moment, if it is something my family will use, I try to stock up.

Coupons have changed the way I shop for many items. I cannot use them for everything, but they save me hundreds of dollars on many necessities, and even on entertainment and other luxuries. I never thought I would use coupons, but now I cannot imagine shopping any other way.

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