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College Couponing: Clip and Save Tips for Students on a Budget

by Kristen Hassey

The term "broke college student" has taken on a whole new meaning in the economic downturn. In fact, some students are turning to an activity typically not associated with college life -- couponing.

The Extreme
Couponing has swept blogs and TVs by storm. The Learning Channel's series, "Extreme Couponing" follows couponers through the process of finding, clipping, and using coupons. The subjects of the show often spend hours per day clipping, organizing, and doing math, and even more hours in the grocery store -- filling multiple carts and making their purchase in multiple transactions.

Collegiate couponers such as Jennifer Cheng, a second-year business major at Northern Virginia Community College, say they are motivated to start clipping coupons after seeing the show.

"I think they are inspiring, especially the stay-at-home moms. Couponing can be almost a full-time job because of how much you can save, says Cheng.

Most couponers featured on TLCs show donate a large portion of their hauls to charities or churches, but many people feel they are taking it too far.

"I think the people on the show are great except for the fact that they often overdo it. It's great to have everything you need, especially if you can get it that cheap. Stockpiling is even fine when it is stuff you use and it is done in moderation. But having 300 boxes of cereal that will go bad long before it can be eaten is ridiculous, says Josh Rice, a junior criminal justice major at Georgia Southern University, and casual couponer. I generally just coupon whenever I made my regular shopping trips but I buy a paper every week, he says.

Keeping It Casual

Lia Saunders, senior at Indiana University Bloomington and author of the blog The Broke Students Guide suggests casual couponing as the way to go for students. I find that extreme couponing takes endless amounts of extra time, organization and effort -- something which we college students are short on, let's face it, she says.

Saunders blog offers these tips for prospective couponers:

* Avoid the dumpster diving, and other bold methods taken by the extremists. Just keep an eye out for coupons around campus and in local newspapers or magazines.
* If your coupons match your grocery list, theres no need to figure how cheap you can get something or what combination can gets you the best deal. By just clipping for things you plan on buying, you can skip the tricky math problems -- we get enough of those as it is.
* Keep your coupons in a small folder so you can take them into the store with you any time you go.

Show me the Money
While you wont save 90 percent of your bill just by clipping here and there, you can still save enough money to make a pretty big difference -- especially on a tight budget.

Alexa Cocker, a junior community health student at the University of North Florida says couponing has helped her save money to pay for her books and part of her housing fees. I've saved about $50 per week since I started couponing. The most I've saved in one trip was about $75, she says.

You should check with your favorite grocery store to see if they have a rewards program. These programs combined with coupons can save you even more. "By using my rewards card and coupons, I've saved probably a couple hundred dollars over the last year," says Rice.

Saunders says she only spends about $50 on groceries each month. If the average person spends $150 that adds up to $1,200 saved each year, just by being attentive and spending a little extra time to clip some paper.

The Bottom Line
If youre barely scraping by or if you just want a little extra spending money, couponing could be for you.

"I would definitely recommend couponing to a college student as long as it didn't come in the way of classes," says Cocker.

With coupons being so readily available, its easy to not let it get in the way of your normal life.

Pick up a paper this weekend and cut coupons while you watch TV at night.

You can find coupons online at specific websites for coupons, grocery store websites, or on product and supermarket social media profile pages. Simply "like" the pages of products you buy for exclusive deals and offers.

All in all, couponing has been nothing but a positive experience for Cheng. It's a really great way to get the most for your money."

Top 5 Couponing Tips

1. Only clip items you would usually buy. Couponing should save you money, not get you to spend on things you dont need.

2. Keep your eyes peeled. Great coupons are all around you (websites, Facebook, newspapers, magazines).

3. Stay organized. Keep your coupons in a folder so you dont forget them when shopping.

4. Read the fine print. Watch out for expiration dates and quantity restrictions.

5. Know the rules. Does your store accept coupons from competitors? Can you stack coupons? Find out your stores policy.