College Couponing 101: How to Hack Savings While at School

Written by

Emily Helwig
College Couponing 101: How to Hack Savings While at School

College should be one of the hardest, but most exciting times in your life. But between the textbooks, food, and tuition alone, it can also be the most expensive. 

The good news? Student discounts are everywhere, if you know where to look.

Over the years, we've been asking scholarly savers about their couponing tips for college students in our Couponing in College Scholarship Contest. From downloading apps to subscribing to your local newspaper (that's right, the paper), we received some amazing, money saving tips - some that can even earn you rewards just for being in class. 

We’d like to congratulate our most recent scholarship winner, Jaqueline Rojas Robles from the University of Illinois at Chicago! Her essay "Saving Money in College through the Power of Couponing" offers 12 resources for anyone in college looking to save money - everything from signing up for email blasts to using an app that rewards you for actually studying (for once). Gabriel will receive our $2,000 scholarship award and will be listed on Dealspotr’s Scholarship page in our winner’s circle. Congratulations Jaqueline! See past winners and keep up to date on our latest scholarship here.

So how can you save money in college? 

We've received so many amazing submissions from college students around the nation, and we’ve compiled their most helpful and unique couponing tips here. 

Enroll in textbook rewards programs to earn money off your book purchases has a rewards program that allows you to get points in simple ways such as by signing up, renting textbooks, and referring friends. You have to buy books anyways so why not enroll in rewards programs like the ones eCampus offers to make the best out of it?

Submitted by Jaqueline Rojas Robles from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Use the Pocket Points app to earn rewards just for being in class

By Jove, if you haven’t heard of Pocket Points, download the app immediately! The concept is very simple: don’t use your phone whilst in class! By not using your phone (and having the app open), you’ll be gaining points that you can use for coupons on any affiliated store in your area. Personally, I’ve used Pocket Points on digital coupons for free ice cream, discounts on clothes, longboards, and a pretty awesome “buy one get one free” deal for headphones. If you happen to have a cheap throwaway phone, even better!

Read more tips by Gabriel Rios from the University of Central Florida in Couponing in College + Money Saving Pro Tips

Download the Hooked App for localized restaurant deals

My favorite practical app on my phone, which I have used for two years now, is the Hooked app. This app is built with the purpose of showing food deals on and near a college campus, when location is enabled on your smartphone. Restaurants and businesses partner with Hooked to bring incredibly considerate deals on food for college students. Many times, Hooked will have events in which food is literally free for a period of time at certain businesses. Food is an essential part of life, and it does not need to be expensive or difficult. Hooked allows students to quickly find deals on and around campus, making the process of eating and paying for it less stressful.

Submitted by Sarah Salahuddin from Indiana University.

You can get food deals via the Hooked App. Simply download it from the app store, set your location, and restaurants around you will show special promotions. Order your food and show the deal on the app and you’ve just saved a few bucks. From half off, buy one get one free, to free nuggets with any purchase, the possibilities are endless. Not to mention, there are sometimes free food deals so you have the possibility of not spending a dime on your next breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

Submitted by Kaitlin Samuels from Clemson University.

Always look for student discounts

Pretty much everywhere offers a student discount. Where Spotify and Amazon offer discounts on their premium memberships, places like American Airlines offer special trips for participating schools. If you have a favorite subscription - whether it’s to the New Yorker or the local gym - find out if they have a student discount! Your status as a student is a card that screams “I’m broke!” to the world, and more often than not, your favorite companies have an answer to your call.

Read more tips by Lily Taylor from Stanford University in Pinching Pennies in College: Don’t Discount This!

Use a budgeting app to track your spending

It’s easy to have the mission to save, but how can you save if you don’t know where the money is going? If you want to start your life as a frugal college student you have to understand what you’re spending on and from there cut out non-necessities. That's where my trusty friend, Mint the app comes in! Mint connects itself to your bank account, allowing you to see your spending automatically. You can also create specific budgets for things like going out with friends, food, clothing and whatever else you want. Mint also has a pretty cool feature that allows you to never charge more than you can pay on credit card if it’s your first one. 

Read more tips by Thomas Heslop from Howard University in From Lincoln to Benjamin: A College Guide On Being Frugal.

Use restaurant apps (like the one for McDonald's) to get exclusive promo codes and deals

I use the McDonald's app on my phone when I treat myself every now and then. McDonald's offers free fries, an extra sundae, beverage or sandwich after purchasing with a minimum price or when the company has special promotions. All I do is when I go to McDonald's, I hand the cashier my mobile coupon through the app and this reduces my overall cost for my occasional treat.

Submitted by Liselle Schmitt from Miami Dade College - Medical Campus.

Go old-fashioned & check the newspaper

The first item I purchased when I moved off-campus was a subscription to the local paper (through a discount received on Groupon). Not only does the paper provide me with the local store ads and sales, but also the ads for the big box stores... Your student paper can also be a valuable resource. Local businesses commonly advertise and offer special deals to students. There are often fast-food flyers quickly stuffed inside for the student always on the go. Place the fast food coupons in your vehicle glove box; it makes for a quick, easy, and cheap snack while out on errands or a bite to eat after a movie with friends. Your friends may think you are crazy at first, but when you start to save them money on a meal they will quickly thank you.

Read more tips by Erling Anderson from Eastern Washington University in Your Mission: College Coupon Savings.

Make sure your coupons are organized

After you have all of your coupons, you need to sort them. Make sure to keep them organized, because losing a coupon is pretty much just like throwing money away. You can organize your coupons by using envelopes and paper clips. If you want to be a little more advanced you can use a coupon binder. This way, you can carry your binder to the store and it is easier to sort through all of them.

Read more tips by Hannah Heinz from the North Dakota State College of Science in her article here.

"Deal share" in person - split BOGO deals with a friend

Deal sharing is something that a lot of people overlook. Have you ever had a time where there is a really good BOGO sale but you only want one? This is where deal sharing comes in handy. If you only want one you and a friend can split the price of the BOGO. For example if jeans are buy one get one half off and the jeans cost $40 you can each pay $30 for one pair of jeans rather than buying two pairs for $60. This way you don’t get tricked into buying unnecessary things. This also works for food deals. Another way to save with a friend is to send each other invite codes for apps and loyalty programs because usually they will reward you for signing up and your friend for inviting you.

Read more tips by Lindsey Randleiu from Indiana University in Couponing in College.

Instead of going out to eat, track student activities that offer free food

It is not always easy to keep track of how much is spent, especially when hanging out with friends and going out to eat. An alternative to this is to attend student activities that offer food. Many school activities are free, so you and your friends can save some money by attending. However, if you are going out, there are plenty of places to eat or hang out that have student discounts, so plan ahead of time.

Read more tips by Erika Wang from the University of the Pacific in Couponing in College: Tips to Save Money as a Student.

If you do go out to eat, use a coupon or a punch card

I also almost never go out to eat without a coupon. My favorite restaurants that have great coupon deals are Chick-fil-A, Flame Broiler, frozen yogurt shops, or Souplantation. Restaurants like these often have stamp cards or other rewards programs to encourage people to come back more often. Every time you buy something you get a stamp and after a certain number of stamps, you get a free item. I have an entire section in my wallet dedicated to stamp cards.

Read more tips byAnnabella Cusimano from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in Save Money. Live Better. College.

Use thrifting apps to buy discounted items, & make money on your unwanted things

A more unconventional way of finding great deals is to find slightly used items from thrifts app such as ThredUp. ThredUp sells lightly used items from great retailers at a far lower markdown than any other store. You can also use this to sell the clothes that you do not wear anymore and make extra cash!

Another way to do this is to browse through eBay, as eBay allows for people to auction their unwanted items. Sometimes you can even land an item for under $1! Other websites such as provide all sorts of items at a ridiculously low price. Deals like these happen very often on websites like these so saving money is easier than ever before.

Submitted by Sara Brenner from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Check if your school offers free software for students

A lot of students use specialty computer programs in their curriculum, and these aren't always cheap. Your school may offer a discount or free software that you need for class, from Final Draft to Photoshop. 

Many schools offer programs such as Microsoft Office 365 for free as students of the university. Be sure to check what your school offers you to help you as a students. Get educated and use your resources!

Read more tips byRana Shepherd from Hampton University in Couponing For College Survival.

Use cash back apps like Ibotta

Ibotta is better than coupons. After downloading the app, you can unlock cash rewards on products and services by completing simple tasks like watching a short advertisement. Then, after buying your products at the specified location, Ibotta puts those cash rewards right into your bank account! Similar to couponing, Ibotta gives you discounts on products and services. The difference is, those discounts come back to you in cash, a much more rewarding format for college students! To top it off, Ibotta gives you cash back at over 500,000 locations such as movie theaters, grocery stores and gas stations!

Read more tips by Bryce Vehrs from Northwest University in Money-Saving Strategies: Coupons for College Students

Use grocery store-specific apps

If there are two words that will bring college students running its “free food." Grocery store apps therefore should be an essential part of every college students’ phone. Grocery stores typically have their weekly and/or monthly coupons, which are available to all shoppers, on the app. Frequently they also have specific or special coupons available to those who are part of the loyalty program. You simply add these coupons to your loyalty card on the app, so when you swipe your loyalty card at the register your discounts are applied. Then you get the joy of watching the amount of money you’re spending on food (one of the biggest monthly expenses) drop. 

Read more tips by Emily Adams from Clemson University in Couponing in College

Try sending your favorite companies a snail mail request for coupons

There is a list of companies that will send you coupons if you mail them a request. These companies encourage people to try their products, which is why they will send you a pile or sometimes a booklet of coupons.

Submitted by Danielle Martinez from Maryville University of St. Louis.

Stick to buying only the essentials

What are wants and what are needs? Don’t get these things confused! Stay organized and know what you need to save money. You need food to survive, but you want that Nintendo Switch and those games that cost $60 apiece (speaking from actual experience, oops). Needless to say, there’s nothing wrong with having goals and saving money up to reach them. Make a list and stick to it. Think a grocery list that will extend to clothing, textbooks, food, etc. To follow, you can organize what sales are available or plan out when to spend your hard earned money.

Read more tips by Violet Pope from Loyola University Chicago in Don’t Fear Saving Your Own Money.

Keep up to date on the next scholarship contest here:

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This guide was published on May 24, 2017, and last modified on May 24, 2017.

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