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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Collin M.

In my second year of graduate studies, I acquired a skill set that has completely changed the way I view purchasing decisions.  The picture above captures one of my real coupon organization sessions on my apartment’s living room floor.  The coupons pictured include online manufacturer coupons, newspaper inserts, online promotions, and individual store coupons.  My coupon binder has tabs for different categories of coupons organized by expiration date.  You might be wondering, “How did it come to this?” Trust me, I never expected to take coupons so seriously.

Growing up in a middle class family, I learned from a young age to be thrifty with money.  I learned the value of off-brand products, seasonal sales, and the occasional high-value coupon.  A coupon binder though, up until this year, I would have laughed at the idea.  I had heard about people who clipped coupons, but I assumed it was mainly the older generation that had developed the habit during tougher economic conditions.

My outlook on coupons took a dramatic turn one day while standing in line at a grocery store.  I watched a woman with an overflowing cart of items check out with what seemed like hundreds of coupons.  I remembered the same type of overflowing grocery shopping cart from shopping with my mom when I was younger.  I knew a cart like that typically cost a few hundred dollars.  After watching the cashier scan each coupon, the grand total for this overflowing shopping cart was an unbelievable $11.97.  I was so astounded by the total price that I still remember the exact amount.  Because I had already seemingly invaded this woman’s privacy, I decided to hold back my curiosity, even though I really wanted to ask her questions about what had just happened.

When I got home that day, I decided to search the internet for saving money using coupons.  In almost no time at all, I discovered the underground world of couponing.  There were blogs.  There were instructions.  There were printable coupons.  There were online coupon providers. There were strategies.  There were success stories.  It seemed too good to be true.  Could I really save so much money shopping with coupons?

After reading a comprehensive how-to guide on couponing, I decided to try couponing.  Being a graduate student living in Washington D.C., any money I could save was worth saving.  Before trying couponing out on a large scale, I found one item that I thought was worth couponing for.  What college student doesn’t love frozen pizzas?  I printed off all the necessary California Pizza Kitchen (my personal favorite frozen pizza) coupons and headed to the participating store.  To be honest, I almost felt like I had stolen something as I walked out to my car after paying just over one dollar for six of my favorite pizzas.  It worked!

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

Over the next few months, I really came to understand the underground world of couponing.  It became an addiction.  I could not purchase anything without a coupon.  I could get almost any personal hygiene item for free along with various foods and products as long as I stayed organized and put in the time in to clip coupons and look through sales.  It worked great, but it was a lot of work.

Although I saw firsthand just how much money can be saved couponing, I eventually decided that the time required to coupon at a large scale is not worth the savings or embarrassment at the store.  Extreme couponing takes dedication and it is not for everyone.

Despite giving up on extreme couponing, coupons will now forever be a big part of my purchasing decisions.  I still occasionally clip coupons and certainly notice sales and promotions, but I now mainly use real-time coupon applications on my Smartphone. Rather than making purchasing decisions solely on what I have coupons for, I look for coupons for items I want to buy.

I can confidently say that coupons can have a dramatic affect on purchasing decisions, but there are two main obstacles to overcome.  First, the consumer has to experience firsthand just how significant the savings can be.  Money is money.  Second, the consumer has to have easy access and understanding of real-time couponing applications.  Time is money.  With real saving opportunities and the growing convenience of Smartphone applications, coupons will increasingly influence purchasing decisions.

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