This week’s challenge is to organize coupons you’ve got stashed all over your home, in your purse, and waiting to be clipped.
Although I am going to give some practical guidance in the ins and outs of coupon organization below (and I am still learning all about couponing), honestly there are many ways to organize these little slips of paper. In fact, not only are there lots of methods but there are some die-hard advocates of each method who swear it’s the best and only workable system.
The truth is that many organizational systems will work, but which method will work best for you really depends on your goals for couponing, and your personality.
Therefore, this challenge also helps you think about these issues, so you can choose a manageable system for organizing and maintaining coupons that you can stick with. After all, what good are coupons if you can’t find them and use them before they expire?
Are you new here? The Organize Coupons Challenge is part of the 52 Week Home Organization Challenge. (Click the link to learn how to join us for free for future and past challenges if you aren’t already a regular reader).
Step 1: Consider What Kind Of Couponer You Are, Honestly
People vary in the degree of intensity in which they coupon, and your job in step 1 of this Challenge is to honestly figure out what kind of couponer you are from the extreme, to the sparing.
For example, I think we’ve all seen at least a few minutes of the TV show “Extreme Couponing” by now, right? Well, these ladies (and a couple of guys too) spend a lot of time couponing, from finding deals, matching coupons and sales, and organizing those coupons. That’s fine, but you don’t have to spend that much time if you don’t actually want to use a lot of these slips of paper.
To a certain extent when you use coupons you’re exchanging time for money. That’s because it takes time to find the right coupon at the right time, and use it to save some cash.
The goal of any organization system is to reduce the amount of time it takes you to find your coupons, thereby maximizing your money savings and time savings.
However, certain organizing systems will quickly make work for you that will just waste your time, since they’re too complex for the way you actually use coupons.
A good rule of thumb is that the fewer coupons you actually use, the simpler your system should be for organizing them.
Don’t spend more time on this Challenge than it’s worth to you. You should always see your time spent on organizing coupons as an investment, and never spend more time on it than you’re getting in return in savings.
Step 2: Remember You Can Save Money On Groceries And Other Items In Ways Other Than Coupons
Now that you’ve got the basic mindset down to best benefit you, please remember that couponing is not the only strategy for saving money on household essentials and food.
For example, meal planning, which we’ll discuss more in next week’s challenge, can be a big money saver.
In addition, when you compare grocery prices with a grocery price book you can save money just by getting things when they’re at their rock bottom low sales price, even without coupons.
Step 3: Decision Time – To Clip Or Not To Clip?
The first two steps in this Challenge were pretty easy, but step 3 is where you’ve got to make a big decision.
You’ve got to decide if, for your coupon organizing method, you will clip coupons, or you won’t.
What I’m referring to here is whether you’ll take the time, up front, to cut out all the coupons and file them in some organization system, or you’ll not clip any coupon until you plan to actually use it, and instead will just file the coupon inserts.
At first this step seems like a no-brainer. Clearly, you may think, it would be easiest to not clip any coupons unless you’ll actually need them, and to just file the inserts and be done.
Many people swear by this method of coupon organization, and call it the “no-clip system” or similar words to that effect. They’ve used it successfully for years, and you may like it too.
On the other hand, there are many coupon gurus who dislike this method, and will tell you in no uncertain terms not to do it this way, but instead to clip everything up front.
With such differing opinions it can be confusing which method to choose, so I’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of the coupon insert filing method below, so you can decide what’s right for you. Honestly, I think it has more to do with your goals for couponing and your personality which way you like to organize coupons, and that’s why there’s so much disagreement of whether to clip coupons, or not.
The Pros And Cons Of The Insert Filing Method To Organize Coupons
- You don’t clip any coupons you won’t use, so you never have to waste time clipping something that will later just get thrown away
- You won’t accidentally throw away a coupon that, at the time, you didn’t think you’d use but now discover an awesome deal where it could be used, and wish you had saved it
- You’ll spend more time right before a shopping trip getting ready, since you’ll have to retrieve and clip specific coupons at that time
- To the extent you also collect and use loose coupons, such as printablecoupons, blinkies, catalinas, peelies, etc., you’ll need to keep track of these coupons too, and since they aren’t in an insert you’ll have to create a separate organization system to organize coupons from these categories
- If you see an unadvertised deal or special in the store and want to combine it with a coupon you’ll have to retrieve and clip your coupons in the store itself, along with figuring out what insert the coupons are in, which can be a lot more hassle than doing it in the comfort of your home
- Since you don’t throw away the insert until every single coupon (or at least any of them you may want to use) has expired, you may hold onto some of these inserts for a very long time
If you choose to organize your coupons with the no clip method it’s pretty simple to do. You merely file the insert by date received (or issued), and then use a coupondatabase (see more in Step 4 below) to help you know what deals will work with those coupons, and pull them when needed.
Step 4: Choose A Method To Organize Coupons That Will Work For You And Set Up Your Coupon Organizing System
Once you’ve chosen to clip, or not clip, only part of the work is done. Now you’ve got to finish the details of choosing a method to organize coupons that works for you, and set up your system.
Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up your coupon organizing system:
- Your system must be portable, because it is important to be able to take it into stores with you. It is inevitable that you’ll discover unadvertised sales, or otherwise wish you’d brought a coupon with you for use that you left at home if you don’t bring in the entire coupon organizer.
- Put your name, address and phone number in your coupon organizing system. Since you’re going to carry this thing around with you into stores there is a chance you may lose it, by leaving it in the shopping cart for example. Many strangers or store managers will be kind and return it to you, if you’ve put your contact information in it.
- Remember, no decision you make in this Challenge is set in stone. If you find your organizational method doesn’t work well for you, for whatever reason, or you decide to either step up or step back your couponing efforts, you can easily switch to a new method to organize coupons. Keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.
If You’ve Decided To File Inserts You Should Also Choose A Coupon Database To Consult
As I mentioned above, if you’ve decided to file inserts you really need to use a coupon database to help you match deals to coupons, and alert you to what coupons should be used in what weeks. This will help you know which coupons to pull, since you can easily forget what’s in there without assistance.
Frankly, even if you clip your coupons these companies which help you match coupons and sales can be a big help and time saver for you, so you may want to look into one.
An example of a coupon database is The Grocery Game. If you’re interested in trying it out, they have a four week free trial so you can see if you’ll like it, and to determine whether it’s helpful to you.
If You’re Clipping Coupons You Need To Categorize Your Coupons To Find Them More Easily
If you decide to clip coupons, no matter which option you choose below, they both require you to categorize yourcoupons. The reason is that once you clip all those little pieces of paper you’re just left with big stacks that you can’t find anything easily.
Option 1: Organize Coupons In A Coupon Binder
Here’s where I lay out the two main organizational methods for clipped coupons, so you can choose which one will work best for you. They are the coupon binder ad the coupon box or wallet.
Many people use a coupon binder to organize coupons. To make one, create tabs for each of your main coupon categories (see above) and dividers for your subcategories (if needed), and place them in a large, sturdy three ring binder.
Place the coupons in special divider plastic sleeves, such as for baseball cards, or those shown below designed for coupons. Then, carry your binder with you on all your shopping trips and flip to the right page to retrieve coupons as needed.
Option 2: Organize Coupons In Coupon Wallet Or Coupon Box
The other option for organizing clipped coupons is to place them in a coupon wallet or coupon box. Basically, all of these types of coupon organizer systems are portable filing cabinets for your coupons where, instead of retrieving coupons by flipping pages in a binder you thumb through the tabs and find the coupons where you filed them.
Here’s one of the best explanations of how to organize coupons using a coupon box or wallet I’ve found.
I’ve embedded the video of Carrie Isaac’s explanation below because sometimes “seeing” how someone does it makes a lot more sense than me explaining it in writing.
By the way, Carrie is the author of a great course which is now sold by Crystal from Money Saving Mom, called Grocery University which is an audio course about how to use coupons effectively to actually lower your grocery bill. You can click the link to read my review here on the site of this course. (I’ve taken it myself, and definitely learned some good things!)
To the right is a small expandable file coupon wallet, which is perfect for someone who does not clip many coupons, and therefore does not need to have lots of categories. It is small and light weight, so it is easily portable and not too unwieldy.
Step 5: Feeding And Maintaining Your Coupon Organization System
You’ve got to regularly add new coupons and cull old expired coupons from your organizational system, or it will quickly become useless and outdated.
Therefore, the fifth step in the Organize Coupons Challenge is to get in the habit of adding new coupons to your organizational system about once a week. In addition, since many coupons expire at the end of the month get in the habit around the beginning of the month of combing through your coupons to remove all the expired ones.
Remember, you can do these steps while watching TV or listening to music, or if your kids are old enough you can enlist their help in these tasks and make couponing a family affair!
(Please note that you can donate your expired coupons to military families living overseas, if you’re interested.)
In addition, coupons generally follow cycles, similar to sales cycles, so even if you didn’t get a chance to use a particular coupon before it expired don’t feel bad (or make a special trip just to use it). Instead, be patient and a similar coupon will most likely come back around again.
Thanks again for joining me on week 7 of our 52 week home organization challenge! I hope that you will continue to join me, and I can’t wait to hear how these challenges are helping you!