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Commentary: Coupons worth the work, prevent overspending on a college budget

Courtesy of MCT

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Hearing the cashier tell me the total, I hand over my debit card in astonishment and confusion. What did I buy? What cost so much? I look down at my cart of groceries, stare and try adding up the cost in my head.

Being a senior in college has made me grow up and prepare for the real world in multiple ways.

I understand the repercussions of not paying rent on time, and the necessity of an oil change to keep my car in good shape.

One concept I hadn’t figured out yet was how to get more bang for my buck at the grocery store. Then it hit me: coupons – that would solve the issue of spending too much on groceries. First I needed a plan of attack, so I recruited my roommate to help me prepare to take on this feat.

The first step in this masterful plan of couponing was getting a lot of coupons cut and organized. My roommate gets The Columbus Dispatch delivered to our door, so we already had a pile of potential coupons to pick from. We sat on the living room floor, flipping through the newspapers and cutting out the coupons we thought we would want to use. Eight newspapers later, we had piles of coupons for products ranging from shampoos and soaps to frozen pizza and cream cheese.

I took advantage of coupons.com, a website that allows you to print out coupons for specific products so you don’t have to rely on the Sunday paper inserts. The site offered coupons for specific stores and general manufactures – I recommend the website if you are a novice like I am.

I gathered 22 coupons in total.

The second step was looking back through all the coupons and creating a list to take with me to the store.

My mother instilled in me the importance of lists. She said you’re less likely to deviate from items on a list rather than shopping without a plan and purchasing more than necessary.

With my list and coupons organized and ready, and after watching a few episodes of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” to prepare myself, I headed out to test my money-saving skills.

The first mistake I made as a rookie couponer was that I went to Wal-Mart three hours before the start of an away football game. The amount of people in the store almost convinced me to turn around in defeat, but I braced myself, went inside, grabbed a cart and headed toward the aisles.

Pushing the cart through the store felt like I was trying to drive on a busy interstate during rush hour. People cut in front of me without looking. Others stopped in the middle of the walkway without reason and some were impatient and swerved around me.

To keep calm and to make grocery shopping as enjoyable as possible, I put on my headphones and turned on my iPod. Music makes almost anything more enjoyable and it helped block out all the other noise and people around me so I could concentrate on the coupons.

Down the aisles I went, with my coupons and list balanced on the baby seat of the cart. I double, triple and quadruple-checked every item I put in my cart to make sure that the coupon would be valid at the checkout.

One tip I picked up from the TV show was that you should try and buy the smallest amount allowed by the coupon because then the amount saved makes a greater impact. I also learned that beauty and hygiene products tend to have larger coupons because these items tend to cost the most.

Some items on my list were makeup, shampoo, hairspray, razors, cheese, yogurt, cereal and soda. Every item I had in my cart had a coupon and all of the items were brand-name products. I veered toward the checkout with certainty that I would be successful.  

The cashier scanned the items and I waited, watching the total climb to more than $100 in just a few short minutes. My total before tax and coupons was $113.85. After my 22 coupons were scanned, my total before tax was $80.22.

My coupons saved me $33.63 and some of my biggest savings were from a free can of TRESemmé hairspray, a free pack of razors and also free mascara and eye shadow. Looking at my receipt when I got home, some things didn’t save me as much as I hoped, such as the $0.40 off a six-pack of Yoplait yogurt.

Another thing to keep in mind when shopping at Wal-Mart is that it will match almost any competitor’s advertised price, so doing your research before you shop there could be worth your while.

It should also be factored in that my coupon excursion was done in a modest manner, and not to the same extreme as reality TV depicts. It’s unlikely I would even be able to coupon to that level because I live in a three-bedroom apartment, and doubt my roommates would appreciate the living room being overtaken by a mass supply of toothpaste or canned soup. I also don’t have the hours in the week or organization to extreme coupon. Still, the moral of the story is that taking an hour to sort through the Sunday paper and plan out a grocery trip ahead of time will help save you a good amount of money every trip. And it’s worth it. I saved more than $30 in one trip. That is a tank of gas in my car, or more likely, a night out at the bar.

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