Couponing 101: How to Reduce Your Cost of Living in College

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley
Cutting coupons

You’ve probably seen videos of “extreme couponers” painstakingly collecting coupons and taking their grocery shopping bill down from triple figures to $0. But whether you found these clips inspiring or downright ridiculous, you may have assumed that the practice belongs in the past or is too labor-intensive for the average person. If so, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Couponing is alive and kicking — and if you’re a student, there are additional discounts you can take advantage of.

In this guide, we’ll run through everything you need to know to get started, including:

  • Where to find coupons (including student-specific discounts)
  • Organizing coupons
  • Coupon stacking
  • Ethical couponing 

What are coupons?

If you’ve found your way to an article about couponing, chances are you have at least a basic idea of what coupons are, but let’s ensure we’re on the same page.

First of all, there are two main types of coupons: Store and manufacturer’s coupons. Store coupons must be used at certain retailers. For instance, a coupon may provide a discount on CocaCola, that only applies if you buy it at Walmart. Meanwhile, the manufacturer’s coupon equivalent would be issued by CocaCola and possible to use at most retailers (although there will generally be a list of which stores accept the coupon).

The kinds of discounts coupons provide may include:

  • A fixed amount discounted from a specific product
  • A percentage discount if you spend a certain amount
  • A free item if you buy certain products or spend a certain amount

What about extreme couponing?

The term “extreme couponing” refers to taking this practice further than most. Casual couponers use coupons for the purpose intended by the issuers — when they come across coupons, they’re incentivized to buy the relevant products.

Extreme couponers go out of their way to seek coupons out and use as many as possible. They may even combine coupons to maximize their savings through “coupon stacking” (more on how to do this shortly).

How to find coupons

Now we come to the golden question. How exactly do you find these magical coupons? All will be revealed.


Most of the commerce world has gone digital over the last decade, and coupons are no exception. Many retailers now release coupons directly onto their apps, send them to their mailing list, or post them on social media. It’s worth keeping tabs on the brands where you spend money regularly, such as grocery stores.

Fortunately, you can also check out dedicated websites that post databases or breakdowns of the best currently available coupons. This will save you from spending endless time trawling through hundreds of retailers’ websites or downloading dozens of apps you don’t need.

Some of the best sites for this include:

  • The Krazy Coupon Lady
  • Coupon Pro


Although digital has taken over in many ways, there are still physical coupons. Many are in the newspapers, especially Sunday newspapers. It’s also worth taking a quick flick through any flyers you receive in the mail to see if they include coupons.

If you want to go all-out with your couponing, you can also ask family and friends to save the ones they find for you. 

Trust us — once you know you’re looking for coupons, you’ll probably start seeing them everywhere.


If you’re a student, you’ll also have access to a goldmine of exclusive offers for those still in education. Many stores offer student discounts, from Apple to Target to J.Crew. There are also additional programs with deals for students, like the Groupon Select Student Program or Amazon Prime Student — but don’t get roped into buying something you wouldn’t otherwise. Finally, you may be able to stock up on freebies on campus (especially at the start of the academic year) or find coupons around campus or online.

These give you a headstart on the savings you can make through couponing. Just make sure you can combine student discounts with any other coupons.

Online stores often verify student status by asking you to provide an .edu email address or a copy of your proof of enrollment. Meanwhile, physical stores will ask for your student ID.

The importance of coupon stacking

We touched on coupon stacking briefly already. Combining multiple coupons together is often where the magic happens in the coupon world as it helps you snap up incredible discounts.

A lot of the benefits come into play when you can combine the two types of coupons together. Getting $1 off a packet of Froot Loops is great. Getting $1 off because of a Froot Loops promotion and another $1 off due to a Walmart coupon is excellent.

For bonus points, combine your coupon stacking with non-coupon discounts. There are often seasonal promotions for certain items at specific times of the year, or a store might reduce certain items periodically. You can also use cashback apps like Ibotta or Fetch.

How to organize your couponing 

Those who aren’t familiar with couponing often assume that the most difficult part of the exercise is finding the coupons. In fact, that award goes to staying on top of all the different coupons you’ve collected and figuring out how to put them to use. Here are some ideas to help you out.

Track expiration dates

The only thing worse than missing out on a discount by failing to use a coupon is missing out on a discount because that coupon expired.

It helps to keep a list of the dates your coupon expires so you can plan your upcoming shops around them. Remember to also note down where you can use each coupon and any terms or conditions to be aware of.

Make shopping lists

Writing a shopping list helps with your budgeting skills since it ensures you’re limiting your spending to the essentials, but it can also aid your search for the right coupons. Instead of looking for random coupons and planning your shops around that (which is what marketing teams want you to do), reverse-engineer the process by seeking coupons that match the items you need.

Use a binder or envelope

If you’re planning on saving physical coupons, you’ll need some kind of system to keep all the coupons you save. Stuffing everything into your wallet and trying to sift through them when you’re at the checkout probably won’t make you the most popular person.

Instead, consider dedicating different envelopes to different coupon “themes” (e.g., toiletries and groceries) or using a binder with separators for different categories. It will save more time than you invest upfront.

Record what you use

Stockpiling can be a great way to save money, but only if you actually get through everything before it expires. Track how long it takes to go through key items, such as a bottle of shampoo or a box of cereal, and buy accordingly.

You can use a simple notes app on your phone or Excel sheet.

Top tips for couponing 

Now you know the basics, it’s time to take things to the next level. Below are our top tips for ensuring you can maximize your discounts (and avoid some common pitfalls).

Meal prepping

One of the greatest challenges with couponing is that the coupons available may not be for the products you need the most right now — or even products you can use before they go out of date.

One of the best ways to get around this is to meal prep: Create multiple meals in advance and store the rest away. You can even put them in the freezer to maximize their life. 

Found a way to get your hands on ground beef for next to nothing? Make ten meals’ worth of chili and add most of it to the freezer in different containers. This is great for students, as it can ensure you have plenty of meals ready for busy study seasons.

Browser extension apps

If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of keeping track of so many different coupons, browser extension apps could be your cheat codes to success. Instead of seeking coupons out, you just need to do your online shop as usual, and your browser app will let you know when coupons are available.

This is a great option for anyone low on time who still wants to save money.

Honey is one of the biggest extensions of this kind, and it’s free to use.

Terms and conditions

We’re all guilty of occasionally agreeing to terms and conditions we haven’t read before downloading a new app. But when it comes to couponing, failing to check the fine print is the most common way people get caught out. For instance, the terms and conditions may state that you need to spend a certain amount for a discount to apply, or that you can’t combine it with other coupons.

You may also get caught out by limits on how many coupons you can use in a transaction or how many items you can buy.

Sometimes, individual stores have their own terms and conditions. A retailer could limit the discount you can get by using a coupon multiple times (for instance, saying you can only obtain a maximum discount of $2 by using a coupon offering $1 off a given product). Or, they may require you to join a loyalty program for coupons to apply.

Couponing legally

There are times when the discounts you’re obtaining through couponing are so impressive that you feel they should be illegal. For the most part, snapping up a great deal isn’t against the law — but it’s also possible to fall into illegal territory, even by accident. Here’s how to make sure you remain a law-abiding citizen while couponing.

Avoiding coupon fraud

Some people are so desperate to save money that they create fake coupons to boost their savings. You might scoff and think you’d never resort to these measures — but it’s possible to attempt it by accident by trying to use a fake coupon you find online. Always pay some attention to the source you’re getting your coupons from instead of trusting anything you find on social media or blogs.

You also shouldn’t use coupons that were intended for somebody else or distribute a coupon to people it isn’t intended for. For instance, sending your student discount codes to your non-student family and friends might seem like a nice gesture, but it’s technically fraud and should be avoided.

Another example of coupon fraud is using coupons for the wrong items. Some people think it’s smart to trick cashiers or take advantage of self-scan machines to use coupons for the wrong items. Obviously, this isn’t something you should partake in.

Ethical coupon usage 

Avoiding fraud is a black-and-white issue for the most part, but there are also areas where you’ll have to use your own ethical judgment to make the right call.

You might have found the best-ever deal on an item, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should clear out the shelves. Leave something for all the other savvy shoppers!

Going too far with couponing could also mean that stores incur excessive costs. You might not feel particularly sympathetic if you’re couponing at Target, but you might want to restrain yourself a little at local businesses. Just because a new café opened across the road from you and promised to give all customers a free cake on its opening day, it doesn’t mean you should turn up twenty times in different disguises.

3, 2, 1… Get Couponing 

Everyone should be a couponer. By simply dedicating a few minutes a day to browsing an online database for the hottest coupons on the web and organizing your shopping trips, you can get in the habit of saving some serious money. Just make sure that you’re ethical about your couponing practice, read the fine print, and remember to check out student deals.

For more student-specific tips about how to save money and improve your finances, make sure you keep up to date with Frugal Student. We post regular tips about financial management for those in education, covering everything from student loans to personal development.

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