Your Mission: College Coupon Savings

My name is Erling Anderson, and I am currently a sophomore at Eastern Washington University studying Technology with Design Option and minoring in Military Science and Construction Management. As many of my friends will attest to, I like to coupon shop. When I find a deal, I sometimes get overly excited (maybe too excited). Because of this, when I saw a scholarship essay contest on dealspotr’s website ( on couponing and saving money in college, I knew I had to share my personal experiences and tricks!

College is expensive. Living on your own and buying all of your own food and life goods can be overwhelming, challenging, and expensive if you don’t have a plan. As a full time college student, contracted Army ROTC cadet, and manager of a rental property, utilizing my time and money effectively is crucial to budgeting success. Couponing is an essential piece of this process. My Army ROTC Military Science classes have recently taught me the 5 Principles of Patrolling: Planning, Recon, Security, Control, and Common Sense. When I go shopping, I apply these 5 principles as if I am on a mission. While I personally enjoy the whole process, the planning process and execution is especially important to me because spending three hours in a store takes away valuable time from my homework studies and social life. Allow me to demonstrate to you my couponing strategies using my Army ROTC training (and mentorship from my mother from the years of “field trips” to the grocery store) to guide you and your shopping needs to stay within budget, get in and out of the store, and remain well nourished.

Planning- An essential step

Plans are worthless, but planning is priceless.”- General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Before you start, design a meal plan. Think of four of your favorite dishes by asking your mother or by Googling recipes and create a list of needed ingredients. Always remember to shop specifically and avoid the question: What am I going to have for dinner tonight? Some of my meal staples are: crockpot chili, chicken divan and pork piccata with rice, and homemade macaroni and cheese. All of these are relatively easy to make and freeze well if desired.

Also, establish a list of staple foods you enjoy eating and are quick to prepare. Some of my favorites are: Peanut butter, bread, eggs, bananas, milk, and sandwich meat. Watch for deals on your staple items as you go through all the weekly ads (more about ads later).

Once you have created your list, stick to it. This step in crucial, because without a plan or list, you will buy items impulsively that you don’t need and end up wandering up and down the store aisles. Stores have flashy displays and fancy end-caps to draw your attention. Practice discipline and only purchase what is on your list. It also helps to not shop while you are hungry.

Utilize an envelope system to stay on budget. When I make a purchase with my credit card, I save the receipt, and when I get home, I remove the appropriate amount of cash from the correct envelope and deposit it into the bank account I use to pay my online bills. This practice keeps me honest with my spending and usually under budget, allowing me to put the extra cash into savings for the future. If I have margin in my budget, this gives me the option to stock up non- perishable items that are on sale in the store for future meals. Cold cereal, crackers, canned beans, pasta, and tomato sauce are items I typically stock up on when they are on sale.

Recon- Search for the Deals

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” -Thomas Edison

Resources for saving money are all around you in a college town. From farmer’s markets to the school paper, I guarantee that your town has programs designed to save you money. The first item I purchased when I moved off-campus was a subscription to the local paper (through a discount received on Groupon). Not only does the paper provide me with the local store ads and sales, but also the ads for the big box stores two towns over (a short 23 minute drive away). The local paper is very versatile: providing a list of local community events and inexpensive things to do on a Friday night, the Wednesday and Sunday editions include grocery, drug, and hardware stores, and general ads by brand or product such as heath and beauty product manufacturers, fast food chains, etc.. Most papers include a fairly robust classified section where local companies list jobs and community members advertise garage sales and specific items for sale.

Your student paper can also be a valuable resource. Local businesses commonly advertise and offer special deals to students. There are often fast-food flyers quickly stuffed inside for the student always on the go. Place the fast food coupons in your vehicle glove box; it makes for a quick, easy, and cheap snack while out on errands or a bite to eat after a movie with friends. Your friends may think you are crazy at first, but when you start to save them money on a meal they will quickly thank you.

Free online services such as Groupon also offer local products and services for a discount.

Online subscription services such as Amazon Prime Student can be a great resource for textbooks, school supplies, and entertainment.

Security- Protect your savings

“Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people that they don’t like.” -Will Rogers

Don’t be afraid to compare prices. Calculate the price per pound or item, as stores will mark items deceivingly. An item that appears to be a better deal because it has a larger quantity may actually have a higher price per unit.

If you have a product that you really enjoy, call the manufacture and let them know. Most times they will send you coupons to say thank you for your loyalty to their brand.

Stay focused when checking out (don’t be distracted with Facebook, Snapchat, or on the phone with your mother… call her after to brag about your savings). Watch the tellers monitor to make sure you are receiving the appropriate discount (because the computer doesn’t always take off your coupon), and don’t be afraid to ask them to scroll back up to make sure it took of the extra $1.09, it adds up over time. It’s also ok to ask for rain checks. Almost all stores have programs extending the sale if they are out of an item. Simply show the teller your coupon and ask for a rain check, sometimes the store will even substitute the item on sale for a similar item or brand.

Control- How you save time and money

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” -Bruce Lee

If you know where to look and how to shop, grocery and outlet market stores offer a wide variety of ways to save such as: store reward programs, email lists, and free item days. Most stores also offer loyalty programs, mobile apps, and weekly coupons via email — many times tailored to your shopping trends. If you want to save, it is important to sign up for monitor your email and the stores specialty app weekly. Being a savvy shopper means making sure that the coupons you use are accurately applied to your purchase.

Know the store you are shopping in. As far as saving time, I organize my shopping list in the order that I would find the items in the store — it cuts down on backtracking as well as forgetting items. Most stores have an electronic grocery list and they will organize the items by store location: produce, dry goods, meat, bakery, deli sometimes even giving you the layout of your local store.

Watching for weekly free item days is a great way to try something new for zero cost. Some of my favorite freebies have been yogurt custards, raspberry Jello, and a loaf of cinnamon bread. All you have to do is sign-up for a stores email ad and bam, free stuff! Mobile apps are another great source of savings. Regularly, there are special “mobile only” coupons just waiting for you to load to your store account and use. It’s easy to quickly log in and check right before you make your list and head to the store. Another tip is to play store games. While they might seem complex and the chances of winning slim, they usually offer smaller local coupon prizes just for buying selective items. If you plan your list right, you won’t have to buy anything extra to receive a whole stack of game tokens filled with coupons and free giveaway items.

Buying in bulk can also save you money. Watch for store “case sales” and stock up on non-perishables such as pasta and canned goods. But be remember to price check and calculate the price per can or pound before you buy to ensure it is a good deal.

Utilizing our IDs. Student IDs, military ID, and sometimes even a work ID can get you discounts at certain stores and restaurants, if you ask the right questions.

Maximize savings by earning credit card points. Do you have a favorite store? Chances are they offer a rewards based credit card. I utilize two cards for convenience, one for fuel and school purchases and the other for food and personal expenses. Now you need to be careful not to spend beyond your means and make sure to pay off your card at the end of the month to avoid late fees and interest. Using a credit card vs. carrying wads of cash can be convenient, but comes with great responsibility. If your credit limit is high enough you can even charge your school tuition and drastically increase your favorite store reward points.

Common Sense- How to maximize your savings

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin

Staying organized is essential to maximizing your savings.

Keep track of previous purchases and prices for future reference. I use a 4x6 spiral notebook to make my weekly lists and annotate the store, item, and price. This allows me to be able to reference my previous lists when an items goes on sale again and check the price to see if it is truly a good deal.

Buying your textbooks early and online can also save you big bucks. If you wait until the last minute, online resellers often sell out of the book you need or raise the price due to the high demand.

Farmers markets can be a great source of fresh and inexpensive produce while supporting the local community. Normally open on a weekly basis from early May through the end of August, local growers sell produce, fruits, vegetables, home canned, cooked, or jarred goods such as honey, jams, and homemade pies. Farmers markets are also a great opportunity to get out away from school, enjoy the fresh air, and work on your networking skills. Although the prices here aren’t commonly reduced via coupons, you can often buy cases or flats of items and learn to preserve some of your own food. Freezer jam is easy to make, and tastes so much better than the jarred options in the grocery store.

Thank you for reading my article! I hope you found at least a few techniques that you can use the next time you go shopping. Don’t forget the 5 Principles of Patrolling (Planning, Recon, Security, Control, and Common Sense) and how you can effectively utilize them to save money.

Happy savings,

Erling Anderson