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

As citizens of a free country, many of us have been raised with the idea that we will be able to reach the goals that create an all-too-common dream: the American Dream. It is through this dream that many of us strive to live. It is because of this dream that many of us find some encouragement to keep going. This dream, illustrious and so close at times, is fruitful in that it sparks our creativity and challenges us to try harder, but it is not always an easy dream to accomplish. In my lifetime already, I have seen parents doing without to give their kids a piece of the perfection we all idealize; I have watched my own mother, a single parent, work until her bones ache and until she has no energy just to provide for us. In a perfect world, every single thing we needed would be available at our fingertips. We do not live in a perfect world, however; every day the choice between living comfortably and doing without is one that so many Americans are forced to make. As painful of a reality as that may be, there are steps we can take to minimize the weight placed upon us. These steps may seem minimal to you, or to those who want for nothing, but to those of us living on the very edge, they could be the difference between something as simple as a meal. Ask yourself what should be a simple enough question: do coupons harbor any influence on your purchases? Consider why they might; consider why they might not. I assure you, the answer you receive from every person will be different, complex, and proof that even the little things can send us on our way to reaching our goals and pursuing our dreams.

While it may seem a stretch to say that a thin piece of paper makes or breaks our decisions, I urge you to be open minded. I am a college student with a wonderful support system behind me. I was encouraged to go to college for as long as I can remember. My parents completed high school and struggled in an ever-changing world to provide for my siblings and me in a way that topped what their parents before them had been able to do. When things changed at home, the dream of college seemed so far away unless I made it happen on my own. But while I studied and did my best, one day I was faced with the harsh reality that my best would not be enough. My best meant that I would be completely broke if I paid tuition. I am stubborn, however, and tried to make it work. For me this meant that I would be working and going to school at the same time.

Although I was making a decent wage at my part-time job, money was tight. The first time I went to the grocery store alone and paid for food myself, the experience was surreal. Those 15 or less items in my cart still cost me a pretty penny. College students have become renowned for their poor (and usually cheap) eating habits. When you have a limited income, no matter if you are a student or a single mother who just barely makes too much to qualify for government assistance, what you purchase is based on how much you can afford to spare. The name brand macaroni is delicious, sure, but there is a coupon that offers you two boxes of the store brand for less; which are you going to choose?

A note from us at I’m In:  We offer lots of ways to save on groceries at I’m In!

It goes beyond groceries, though. When my favorite pair of jeans had literally had it and the soles of my shoes were worn thin from the amount of walking I did daily, I had to replace these items. I went to a local thrift store, but was shocked to see the prices being nearly as high as going to an affordable retail establishment. I looked for options, and the best ones came in the form of a coupon. Saving $10 on a pair of shoes, saving $5 on a pair of jeans… these are the things that helped me put clothing on my body. Scouring the Wednesday coupon advert in the mailbox, I would be able to get a free burger with the purchase of a drink that I could purchase in change; this allowed me to sometimes have a hot meal that did not require me to add water and microwave. The ability to save felt good, but it felt even better to no longer do without.

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

My situation is still tight, but with the right coupon I have even paid it forward to someone else in the best ways I could. I offered a bag of groceries to a coworker who I knew had no money to feed her children for the rest of the week ; another time I found myself using a buy one-get-one coupon and offering the extra sandwich to the homeless man just by the interstate holding a sign up begging for food or warm clothes. I have no doubt that those in situations similar to or worse off than mine will understand the importance of saving where you can, and if that means I have to clip coupons to make it happen, there is no shame in that. By planning my purchases based on the best deals I can receive, I do let the coupon often be my decision maker. I have made great strides just by altering my spending and I’ve also given others the opportunity to have their needs met simply because I was willing to use a coupon rather than not. In some situations, going without that coupon would’ve meant maxing myself out, going hungry, or being unable to give to someone who is also doing without. I have the opportunity afforded to me to save and give back by using a coupon. My dreams are being met, even if it did take some tweaking to reach them. So when you consider a question like the one previously posed on whether or not a coupon influences your buying decision, think about everyone in our country and how we all face a different struggle. Some of us are dependent on those good deals being offered, as they are a matter of putting food on the table.

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