University Faculty Member Helps Students Stretch Budgets with Couponing

Virginia Beach, Va. - Buy one, get one free, double coupon, product cycles…the language and techniques of couponing are as familiar to Melissa West as the English skills she teaches in her composition classes at ECPI University’s Medical Careers Institute (MCI) in Newport News.  Her passion for helping MCI’s students achieve their goals led her to establish a school coupon club and a Facebook page aimed at making their budgets go farther.  The club, which meets every Tuesday, also has a Facebook page filled with money-saving tips: www.facebook.com/groups/254659754554773/.

“Eighty percent of the students in our courses here at MCI are women and most of them do the shopping for their households,” said West.  “Many have children.  The goal of the club and the Facebook information is to show them how to use coupons to stretch their dollars as much as possible.”

The techniques West teaches are realistic and manageable for her students’ busy, on-the-go schedules, rather than what’s known as extreme couponing.  Even so, students have learned how to save up to 50-percent on their monthly grocery bills. Among West’s insights:

  • Grocery items usually go on sale every three to four months, so in taking advantage of special offers, stockpile enough for sixteen weeks of use.
  • If you like a certain brand but can’t find coupons for its products, write to the manufacturer to ask for them. Companies see coupons as a way to build a relationship with customers, so they will probably respond.
  • Coupons can make healthy eating more affordable.  Shoppers do not realize that coupons are often available for fresh meat, soy milk, and other nutritious foods.
  • You don’t need to clip coupons to keep them organized.  West saves newspaper inserts whole. She visits internet databases that list all available coupons by date and finds them in the inserts when she wants to use them.

The coupon club and Facebook page stemmed from a conversation at the end of one of West’s English composition classes.   “We were discussing where the students wanted to go in their lives,” West said. “A grocery store insert happened to be lying on a table in the classroom.  It was a Wednesday and we started talking about needing to get to that store because it was the only day of the week it doubled one-dollar coupons.  It related to what we were discussing because handling one’s budget is so important to the future.”  As the conversation evolved, West realized that besides helping her students with the writing techniques they needed for professional success, she could assist them in better managing their household finances through couponing techniques.

West honed her coupon skills as one of five children in a military family; her mother relied on couponing to make the household budget go as far as possible.  Now herself the mom of a 14-month-old, West uses coupons to purchase diapers for as little as a dollar a package and to acquire items to contribute to the local foodbank. “It’s important to me to share what I’ve learned about couponing to help others, especially now when saving every dollar matters even more than ever,” she said.

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