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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Christine A.

Coupons most definitely influence my purchasing decisions.  Especially as an imminent college student, every penny saved is vital.  As a group, I think those of us in college are always looking to find ways to put a couple more dollars towards tuition.  Even though 15% off might not sound like a lot, if you use them correctly, coupons can definitely pay off.

A note from us at I’m In:  We can help you get great deals on school supplies at I’m In!

Sometimes, I must admit, the discovery of a coupon is cause for a shopping trip, and I end up spending more than anticipated.  They often remind me of things I need; when I get a coupon for clothes in the mail, I suddenly remember that I need a new pair of jeans, or that my hat is getting frayed, or that my shirt shrunk in the wash and I need to get a new one.  There are always a lot things on my To Do list, but getting a coupon in the mail often refocuses me and reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to purchase.

The danger with using coupons is if you use them incorrectly.  Is there such a thing as a wrong way to use a coupon?  I think there is.  People who lose money on coupons tend to buy things not because they need them, but because they feel like they don’t want to miss a good deal.  But what’s the point of buying a 20%-off bottle of dog shampoo if you own a cat?  It’s extra money spent on something you’ll never use.  When you spend money in that way, it isn’t you who wins, but the company you bought from.

In economics, we learn about supply and demand, and the different things that affect people’s buying habits.  One of the more important concepts (and the most relevant to my coupon use) is elasticity—and more specifically how purchases change because of it.  If demand for a product is elastic, it means that buying habits fluctuate greatly with the price of the good.  For example, the hamburger is a very elastic product.  If a fast food restaurant was to raise its hamburger prices to $6.00, people would be less likely to buy them—perhaps they would capitalize on the $1.00 tacos at the cart down the street.  The two foods have similar properties (both fill you up and taste pretty good) but with such a price difference, it only makes sense to get the tacos.

When coupons influence what I buy, it is usually for a product that I consider to be elastic.  Breakfast foods are a prime example.  Aside from clothes, the majority of my coupon expertise involves breakfast items.  I usually eat cereal for breakfast, but sometimes my favorite cereal can be pretty pricy—this is the point at which the coupons come out.  I replace my cereal with bagels that were 50% off; they will last me the same amount of time that the cereal would have, but I’ve saved $2.00 that can go towards gas, books, or tuition.  A small amount?  Yes.  But in the same way that every journey begins with the first steps, saving money happens in small increments.  Coupons influence my buying habits by providing less expensive replacements for everyday items that I would have had to spend money on anyways.

The way I, and others, spend money is changing, and the 21st century is a new age for coupons.  With technology as advanced as it is—and improving every day—companies are able to target their advertisements to individual consumers.  A shopping trip in my house is now never ventured without checking the online coupons available for our primary supermarket, coupons that are specifically tailored for our use.  By monitoring what we purchase, the website can create a profile for us that is constantly shifting and updating as we change.  We save money, and the supermarket keeps out business.

Coupons play a big role in how I spend my money.  When I use them right, they have a positive effect on my life, and can help a few dollars go a long way.  The fact that I am able to use them to save means that money is available for the more important things in life (like a college education).  One coupon might not pay for school, but compounded they have a great deal of power.

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