A student’s guide to saving money

University students have a reputation for being up to their ears in debt. Sure, we’d like to save money, but tuition and textbooks don’t come cheap and beer doesn’t pay for itself.

But what if I told you there was a simple way to drastically reduce your spending with almost no extra effort on your part? If you live in constant dread of the day you’ll have to start paying back your OSAP loans, read on.

I am speaking of the humble coupon, that ubiquitous but often overlooked staple of our economy. Some are clipped, some are printed, and some are peeled off, but all coupons share a single purpose: to save you money.

I can’t remember when I started to use them (or when I started liking to use them), but as a seasoned bargain hunter, coupons are to me as nicotine is to a smoker. I actually get excited when a new one appears on Save.ca (which I check every day).

I am constantly on the lookout for ways to combine a coupon with a great sale in order to get an amazing deal. And I enjoy the challenge of finding the best store at which to use a coupon before it expires.

Allow me to illustrate how much fun coupons can be with an example.

Let’s say I have a coupon that expires in a month for $2 off a box of Post Honey Bunches of Oats. I could use it right away, but then I would have to pay at least $2.49 for the box of cereal because it’s not on sale anywhere this week.

So I wait and hope that within the next few weeks it will go on for $1.99 or less (which it often does) at one of the grocery stores in the area. But when the month is nearly up and the price of the cereal still hasn’t dipped below $4.49 anywhere in town, I am forced to make a difficult decision: do I use the coupon and pay the $2.49, even though I can sometimes buy this cereal for less without a coupon?

Or do I throw out what would have been a ticket to free cereal if only its expiration date was pushed back a week or two?

Naturally, conundrums such as this occur all the time.

Of course, if you want to use a coupon that’s worth more than the actual item you’re buying, you have to pick your cashier wisely. The young, green ones usually don’t think twice about letting you use whatever coupon you put in their hands. But the older ones, who’ve had years of experience with crafty customers trying to see what they can get away with, will often give you trouble if you try to pull this trick on them.

Once I was at a No Frills store where boxes of Catelli Healthy Harvest pasta were being sold for $0.99 each. I noticed that several packages of spaghetti sported peel-off coupons that said “Save $1 now” on this product.

No way, I thought.

Half-expecting to find out that this was too good to be true, I grabbed two boxes and made my way to the checkout. The cashier, a sweet-tempered teenage girl who obviously had not an inkling of my evil plan to essentially steal 750g of spaghetti, rang through my three-pound bag of pears and the two boxes of pasta without noticing the coupons.

“$4.47,” she said.

Sheepishly, I pointed out the stickers. “Um, I don’t suppose I could use –”

“Oh yeah, sure,” she returned brightly, looking at the boxes and seeing what I was referring to.

She immediately deducted $2 from my bill, apparently oblivious to the fact that she was now charging me only for the pears.

I casually handed her the $2.47, placed my groceries into my shopping bag, and exited the store in a calm and collected manner as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

I walked home giddy with delight over my conquest and swelling with pride in myself for being such a savvy shopper. It occurred to me almost immediately that I should have bought more than two boxes, but I had not wanted to press my luck. I’m not that much of a daredevil.

This is only one of several instances in which I have used coupons to get free groceries. Within the past year I have gotten a free two-litre box of Chapman’s ice cream, a free four-roll pack of Majesta toilet paper, and a free 35g Toblerone bar.

Okay, so coupons may not be your idea of a get-rich-quick scheme, but you might be surprised how quickly your savings add up once you start clipping. And the more money you save on groceries, the more you have for, you know, important things.