Couponing Made Simple: College Edition

This article was also published in the April 15, 2015 issue of The Anchor on page 1.  


Couponing became a fad diet of the budgeting sort in 2011 with the rise of shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”  Millions of viewers became attracted to just how far others will go to save a dime.

Recently, I’ve started using coupons as a way to scrimp and save with my limited grocery budget.  To help other college students, I put together this list of tips for Hope students, like me, who are interested in saving some money.

Since I’ve started being “coupon conscious,” I’ve noticed that a lot of Hope students don’t use coupons.  Jamie Steinman, like many other students, doesn’t like the time that it takes to clip coupons.

“I prefer to wait until things go on sale,” she said.

Couponing can be overwhelming and time consuming.  Tatanisha Worthey, who runs the couponing website A Mitten Full of Savings wrote a blog post that said one of the best things you can do is to begin couponing in only one store.  Since Meijer is the closest big grocer to Hope, I am going to focus my tips around shopping there.

Sign Up for mPerks

mPerks is a reward system at Meijer that allows you to clip coupons right from your phone, if you download the app.  This is one of the simplest ways for Meijer shoppers to save.  Meijer practically does it for you.

mPerks members also receive exclusive discounts.  To get these, you clip them off of the app or online, and then enter your number at checkout to receive the discount.

Clip Other Coupons

Don’t rely solely on mPerks.  There are many other good sources of coupons, especially online.  Some brands offer coupons, if you sign up to be on their email list.  This can flood my inbox, so I created a separate email account just for those mailings.

Websites are also a great source of coupons.  I recommend coupons.com because it offers a huge variety of coupons, sorts them into different categories, tracks your savings, and allows you to clip and print directly from the site.

Get the Sunday Holland Sentinel

Hope students should take advantage of the Sunday Holland Sentinel.  The Sentinel is free on campus, and you can find it dispersed throughout dining halls, residence halls, the library and other buildings.  The Sunday paper is packed full of coupons just waiting to be clipped.

Use Other Resources

I mentioned using coupons.com and the newspaper for finding coupons, but there are plenty of other resources out there.  People have dedicated entire websites to getting the best deals at Meijer and other stores.  One of my favorites is amittenfullofsavings.com, which is dedicated to deals at Michigan stores.

Couponers have their own lingo, which is heavily used on couponing sites.  If you’re going to use these resources, How Stuff Works recommends brushing up on coupon acronyms like ONYO, meaning “on your next order.”

Stay Organized

If you want to get the most out of your coupons, it’s important to know what coupons you have.  Liz Kubias, who is the resident director of Cook Hall and avid couponer, recommends using binder clips to keep things sorted by expiration date.  You may also want to put together a binder or folder to organize everything, but that probably isn’t necessary when you’re buying for a single-person home.

Always Have a List

I cannot stress this enough.  The times that I go to the store without a list, I end up going way over budget.

With a list, you’re able to make sure that all of your coupons match up with the items you buy.  For example, Hamburger Helper recently had a coupon for $0.75 off when you purchase three boxes.  Hamburger Helper was also on sale at Meijer for $1 per box.  On my list, I wrote that I needed three boxes to fulfill my coupon.

Don’t Be Afraid to Buy an Abundance

There are certain items that, when on sale, are okay to buy in large quantities.  Over Christmas break, I bought enough shampoo and conditioner to get me through at least the end of this school year, if not longer.  Why did I do this? I got a really good deal, it doesn’t go bad, and I knew that I would use it.  For items like this, it is good to go a little overboard.

However, do not buy something just because you have a good coupon.  There is no reason to have 40 bags of potato chips sitting in your cabinet, if you aren’t going to eat them.

Look for Freebies

There are a couple of ways you can get freebies.  One way is to combine sales and coupons.  For example, lip balm might be on sale for buy one, get two free.  If the lip balm is $1, and you have a coupon for $0.50 off, each lip balm will cost $0.17.  Although this isn’t technically free, it’s close to it.  Couponers consider this a freebie.

Other things I look out for when I’m shopping are items (that I have a coupon for) that come with a free sample.  Earlier, I mentioned buying a lot of Pantene.  When I did this, the shampoo also came with a travel-sized can of dry shampoo.  I was sure to get those, so I got a little bit more for my money.

Combine Sales

Whenever possible, go grocery shopping when other deals are happening.  Meijer often has 10 items for $10, and the 11th item is free.  The last time they had this deal, there was also an mPerks offer for 5 percent back on all of your grocery and personal care items.  Plus, I had coupons.  I ended up saving almost $30, which was about 32.5 percent of my purchase, by combining these deals.

It’s also good to note that at Meijer when items are labeled two for $5 or 10 for $10, you don’t have to buy the total of two or 10 items, and you will still get the discounted price for one of those.

Coupon with a Friend

Does couponing still seem daunting? Find a friend to do it with you, and make it fun!  Sometimes two brains are better than one, if you’re trying to decide how to combine coupons to get the best deal.  Personally, I wouldn’t have gotten interested in couponing, if it hadn’t been for my mom.  She showed me the ropes and took me with her.  When we get a good deal, we celebrate.  Don’t make grocery shopping and couponing a chore.  Encourage your friends to do it too.

Couponing doesn’t have to be intimidating, boring or time consuming.  Know what your goals are, and then you’ll know how much effort you want to dedicate to it.  Not everyone has to be an extreme couponer like those on TLC.  The beauty of couponing is that you can individualize it to fit your needs.