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How to use coupons to save on college expenses

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Posted at 9:42 AM, Jul 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-30 15:01:38-04

When it comes to finances, college students are in a very challenging situation.

Most have minimal funds with which to work and limited knowledge with which to draw from. It's a tough combination to learn how to manage money for the first time on your own when you have very little of it.

Fortunately, coupons can help bridge that gap.

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By using coupons, most college students will be able to afford everything they need and even a few unnecessary things they might want. Read below to find out how couponing can save college students a significant amount of cash across a wide array of categories.

Food and groceries
One of the biggest adjustments for many students as they transition to college is figuring out how to keep themselves fed without spending a ton to do so. Usually that's been handled the student's parents, so it can be a rude awakening once they realize how expensive it is to buy food. The Froogal Stoodent detailed a few excellent strategies for how to eat less in college that when combined with the following couponing methods can yield massive savings.

Embrace stacking: Combining manufacturer coupons with store coupons and sales is called stacking and it's the best way to save big on groceries. It takes a little time, but can be a nice diversion from studying. Your best bet is to find a local supermarket or a big box store such as Target that allows stacking and shop there for all of your food. This will cost you much less than visiting the overpriced convenience store on campus. With the proliferation of mobile coupons and apps, you can now do a lot of your stacking right from your phone.

Buy in bulk: Obviously, the dorm rooms and group houses most college students live in are limited in space, so buying in bulk can be problematic, but it's still worth it for select items such as protein bars or fruit snacks that cost far more separately and whose packages don't take up that much room.

Download cash-back apps: Dealspotr highlighted its five best cash-back apps in a previous blog post, but there are plenty that you can use. Basically, the way most of them work is that whenever you buy a food or grocery product, you look for it in the app and if it's listed it will come with a cash-back rebate ranging from a quarter all the way up to a few dollars. You'll then upload a screenshot of the receipt into the app as proof of purchase and once you reach a minimum threshold (typically $20), the app company will mail you a check.

School supplies
Once college students start adding up the costs of computers, tablets, textbooks, backpacks, notebooks, etc. it quickly becomes mind-blowing. Coupons can once again come to the rescue, however. While many people think of coupons only in terms of groceries, they have far greater reach than that as you can see below.

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Shop online and use promo codes: If you aren't familiar with promo codes, they are essentially the online version of a coupon. Because stores can't take physical coupons online, they offer codes that you can enter when you complete your virtual checkout. Back to school season is one of the best times of year to find these coupon codes. It doesn't matter whether you are looking for electronics at a store like Best Buy, clothes at a store like Macy's or office supplies at a store like Staples, all of them are likely to have high value promo codes available for back to school.

Consider renting your textbook: The price of textbooks has skyrocketed over the past few years, significantly outpacing inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thankfully, there are a few outstanding rental sites that provide a much cheaper alternative. You can also use promo codes for these sites to save even more.

Take advantage of daily deal sites: Groupon and Living Social are excellent sources of savings for stuff like backpacks and furniture. They run vouchers for local stores that sell those items and also have discount merchandise available through their direct sale sections.

Clothes
College is traditionally the time when young adults really start to explore their own style. They are no longer saddled by their parents dictating what they wear or by high school dress codes. It's also the time they realize how quickly they can get into debt by splurging too much on fashion. This is where coupons can make a big difference.

Leverage department store coupons: The old standbys like Macy's, Lord & Taylor and JC Penney might not be as trendy as some other fast fashion stores, but they sell many of the same products and if you use their coupons, you can often get them for cheaper. While department store coupons are notorious for their lengthy terms and exclusions, once you get the hang of them, you can redeem them to save big bucks on clothing.

Flash sales are your friend: If you are a fashionable college student and don't know about sites like Gilt and RueLaLa, we suggest you familiarize yourself with those sites immediately. They offer top brand name merchandise at a huge discount through their flash sales. That $500 pair of shoes you've been dying for but unable to afford might be attainable at the $150 price point at Gilt. The one catch with these sites is that they only have items on sale for short periods of time and quickly sell out. Thus the term "flash sale".

Rent rather than own: No longer is it necessary to buy clothing for that big social outing you have coming up. Now, you can rent it for a fraction of the price via sites like Rent The Runway. This is an excellent alternative for those who desire a designer outfit, but don't have the means to buy it outright. Do bear in mind that you are responsible for returning it in decent condition, so some risk is involved.

Entertainment/Nightlife
Keeping track of going out expenses is one of the hardest things for a lot of college students. It's very easy to forget how much is being spent, especially when alcohol gets involved. Planning ahead and using coupons can solve a lot of those problems, though. See below.

Restaurant and bar coupons are everywhere: Competition for students is often intense at college town restaurants and bars and this leads to a proliferation of coupons or other types of discounts. You can find them just about anywhere ... the dorm bulletin board, the nearby lightpost, via text offer on your phone, on social media, you name it. Take advantage of these offers as they will noticeably cut your restaurant and bar expenses.

Capitalize on club and pub crawls: Cover charges are no fun, especially if you plan on visiting multiple spots in the same night. They don't have to be such a pain, though. Club and pub crawls have taken off as many companies have stepped in to solve the bar hopping cover charge inconvenience. There is generally an upfront fee that buys you quick and easy entrance to any of the establishments participating in the crawl.

Seek out student discounts: It can sometimes be tougher to find coupons or discounts to movies, shows or concerts than it is bars or restaurants. Not to fret, though. Theaters usually offer attractive student discounts. All you have to do is show them your college ID card and you'll likely get a nice bargain.

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