For most seasoned coupon-cutters, using coupons to manage a meal plan and save money is common knowledge. However, if you are a student or recent college graduate who has just moved away from home, figuring out how to cook and buy groceries for yourself can be enough of a hurdle, without throwing coupon management into it. Clipping coupons can seem like a waste of time and a huge hassle. It also never feels awesome to hold up the grocery line while rummaging in your bag in an attempt to save a few cents. There is a way, though, to make using coupons easy and pain-free; there are even sites such as Coupon Makeover to help you get started. Also, not only can coupons help you save money, they can totally help you streamline your meals and life.
One of the best things to do if you are newly living on your own is to create a food budget. Figure out how much money you have available to spend on food every month. Make sure and subtract a small amount for eating out and snacks, like grabbing a coffee or getting popcorn at the movies. This way, you have your fun expenses built-in and won’t be tempted to use your grocery money on your coffee fix. Once you have an allotted amount to spend on groceries every month, divide that number by four and you have your weekly grocery budget.
So how do coupons factor in to this? There are a number of ways you can use coupons and your grocery budget together in order to save yourself money and hassle. Once you have a grocery budget, the best way to make sure you stay within the budget it to make a meal plan. This will allow you to figure out exactly what you need to buy at the store every week, so you don’t over-purchase. Plan out the main meals that you will prepare for the upcoming week. You don’t need to plan out breakfast or lunch, necessarily, but planning dinner is a huge help because it typically demands the most preparation and ingredients. Also, if you plan well, you can simply eat your leftovers from the previous dinner for lunch the next day.
Preparing your meal plan is where coupons really come in to the picture. Check in your local paper for the grocery coupon section, and see what the best deals are. Use the best prices to determine the meals that you will prepare for that week. If there is a huge sale on ground beef, plan to make burgers or spaghetti for dinner a couple nights that week. If blueberries are in season and on sale, add some to your list to eat with your breakfast, rather than your usual choice of strawberries. You can also look online for creative new ways to use different ingredients that are on sale. Try searching for recipes tailored to a student budget on sites like Epicurious.com, the Frugal Law Student or the blog posts at Cheap Eats. Find the best deals you can on healthy food that you would like to eat, and you will save up enough to splurge on things that are not necessarily within your budget, like ice cream or chips.
Another great way to use coupons and simplify your shopping experience is to stick mainly to one supermarket. Many coupon-cutters go where the best deals are, but that can be a little overwhelming when you’re just starting out. Pick up your chosen grocery store’s coupon book, and make your meal plans around that. Even if you don’t get the best deal in town, you will definitely save money in the long run.
Cutting coupons never seems like fun, but with a little effort, they can actually save you money, help you stick to a meal budget, and free you up to purchase the fun stuff that you may otherwise not have been able to afford.
Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs for accreditedonlinecolleges.com. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez @gmail.com.