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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Angel R.

As much as I want a higher education, I never want to be a starving student. Proper nutrition is critical for focus, which is key to being a successful student. But, food costs money and money, as my mom says, “doesn’t grow on trees”. Coupons do influence my purchasing decisions, because coupons assist me in staying on budget. I have three couponing rules: 1. the item on the coupon must meet a need. 2. The coupon must make the item less expensive than all other like items to include sale items. 3. I must remain on budget.

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

Before using coupons I wondered why my money didn’t go very far. On the few occasions I had used a coupon, it seemed like a lot of effort for very little reward. Then I decided to do a little research to see if there was a way to improve my use of coupons and maximize my budget. The “trick” for me is planning and organizing.

On average, I spend two hours at the store completing my weekly shopping, with an additional two hours spent on prep and post shopping tracking. 25% of my budget is dedicated to hygiene, paper and cleaning items and misalliance household items, such as light bulbs. The remaining 75% must include the cost of sales tax, food and dog food. I love sales and use approximately 20 coupons to save an additional 15% on my bill. Because of coupons and careful planning, I can eat for about $5 a day.

Some people hear me say, “$5 a day”, and think I’m eating inexpensive freeze dried noodles three times a day. That is not true. I purchase real food ingredients and spend time preparing and cooking dinner. Leftovers are for lunch, and breakfast is often cold or hot cereal, mostly because it’s fast. Couponing has influenced me to purchase items I’d once have never considered. But what is life without verity? Boring! Life is too short to be bored.

For me planning starts Sunday afternoon. I take an inventory of the items I have in the refrigerator and pantry. I collect printed coupon from the Sunday news paper. Next, I visit online coupon sites and print coupons. My grocery store also has an e-card, that I can electronically load coupons to from their website. I look for and clip everything I think I can use before the coupons expiration date.

Monday night I pull out my coupon binder. It is a large three ring binder that is tabbed out into different categories, such as “fruits & veggies” and “Sammy”, my dog. I use card collector sheets to hold all my coupons. Each sheet has nine clear plastic pockets. I fold the coupons so I can see each item, and on the backside I can see the expiration date. I carefully review all the coupons, pulling out the expired and organizing the new. Next, I pull up the stores website and look for the weeks sales and specials. I love to pair a coupon with a sale! With the inventory, coupons, sales and specials I plan the following week’s menu which generates a shopping list. I coded items on my list for sales and coupons, this way I will not forget to use a coupon or price compare the sales.

Tuesday is the day I go shopping. At the store, I have my coupon binder open across the handle bar and child seating area of the cart. The binder also contains scissors, a pen, and a calculator. I walk down every aisle comparing prices. If rice is on the shopping list, but mashed potatoes are on sale and there is a coupon, making it less expensive than the rice… mashed potatoes replace rice on the menu. I will also take coupons for items I’ll need later; such as creamer. My mom likes to have it in her coffee when she comes to visit, but I don’t use it. The coupon remains in my binder until it’s time to use for my mom’s visit. I don’t necessarily cross items off my list as they go into the basket. I write the price down next to each item. This helps me keep of track of how much I’ll spend at the register and keeps me on budget.

Wednesday night I update my cost spreadsheet. I track the cost of goods on an excel spreadsheet. It is divided into the same sections as my coupon binder. I track the regular price, the sale price, and the date the item was on sale.

Couponing has led me to try new things: a few frozen entrees, some with pleasant outcomes, and others leaving me less satisfied. A new antiperspirant I rather enjoyed. Most of all, using coupons has enabled me to experience college. With coupons, a shopping list and three rules, I don’t have to be a starving student.

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