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I'm in Coupons Scholarship 2014. Entry-Sarah H.

The first thing on any college student’s mind is money—where to get it, how to save it, when to spend it, and so on. If that student has already been forced to make several decisions to save money (live at home versus the dorm, take public transit or car pool instead of personal transportation, buy used textbooks instead of new textbooks), then they are already used to living the frugal life. In fact, for many college students—who pay for school through extensive financial aid and take part in their campus’ work study program to further raise more funds—being frugal isn’t a phase, it’s a necessity.

I am a college student who has learned very quickly how to pick and choose which expenses are necessary. I take the bus and the train to school. I live at home instead of a campus dorm. I buy textbooks used, save school supplies from previous semester to use the following term, and never spend beyond my means. I avoid unnecessary expenses whenever possible, and only allow myself ‘fun’ luxury items during the holidays or when I know I can budget to cover the cost of it.

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

But there are some expenses that cannot be avoided, and one of them is food. This is where coupons not only influence my decision on what to buy, they change the course of what I eat that week completely. And when I have to already stress over how to pay for tuition and student fees and textbooks, the last thing I need on top of everything else is the stress of keeping myself fed.

When the weekly set of glossy grocery store ads arrive in my mailbox every week, what I find inside sets the stage for what I’ll be eating in the next 7-10 days. Not only do I take into consideration what is on sale and where, I take into account the variety of coupons available. I can’t afford to pass off deals like “50% off [X Item]” or “But 1 Get 1 Free” when that item is a pantry staple or can be used to stretch a single meal into several. With these tools, I create my shopping list and my weekly meal plan in one go.

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

Coupons are crucial to me because as a poor college student, I need all the help I can get when buying food and perishable items at the store, especially since these items often must feed two people for an entire week, which seems like a lifetime when you live paycheck to paycheck or one person is out of work temporarily. Deep discounts and free items are what frugal living dreams are made of. With coupons, my food budget for the week goes for unmanageable to within our limits.

Plus, coupons help me buy items that might have been out of my reach and can be used as essential study tools: energy bars, coffee instant or otherwise, pre-packaged lunches, travel-sized snack packages, preserved fruit, bottled tea and “brain” water. And it doesn’t have to be just food; coupons have helped me save money on office supplies like paper, staples, notebooks, and the other must have items for the college experience. Computers are great for many things, but sometimes I need that bright yellow highlighter with the clean streak so I can mark up my required reading – and, if I’m lucky, it’s on sale that week with a coupon.

Coupons are not miracle workers—I still have to compare prices between several stores and look at price per measurement versus sale price for the best deal—but they make life so much easier on me and my wallet. I know some people have mastered making careers out of clipping coupons and slashing people’s food bills to nearly zero with them. I could hypothetically spend all my time printing out and cutting coupons and turning a 500 dollar basket of food into a five dollar sale price, but I don’t have time for all of that. I have papers to write, books to read and highlight and notate, video lectures to watch and sleep to catch up on.

Personally, I’m pretty darn pleased anytime my coupon haul lets me go under budget for the week ahead. In a thrifty student’s world, that accomplishment alone is worth celebrating. The less I can spend on food and keep my body up and running for another semester is the best kind of win. If only I could get some more Starbucks coupons timed for mid-terms and finals, then everything would be perfect.

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