Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to be a Couponer : Lesson 3 - How do I organize all these coupons!

For those readers, just joining me, please read lesson 1 and 2 before this one.

Ok, hopefully by now, you have loads of coupons. Well, now you need a system to organize those coupons. If you can't find your coupon for a sale, it does you no good.
There are many ways to sort coupons and you might have to test drive a few methods until you get what works best for you.  As is true for most things, no one way works for everyone (shoot, one way alone doesn't even work for me!  I use a mix of these methods!)

A few of the deciding factors in your method of organization are:
How much time do you really have to clip and sort?
How many inserts do you get a week?
Do you have a smart phone? (more explanation on this later)
How much couponing do you want to do?

If you only get 1 insert a week and a few scattered coupons here and there, then the binder method, mixed with possibly the envelope method is probably best for you.  If you get upwards of 10 or more inserts, you might want to do the filing method mixed with the envelope method.  Let me explain each method and you will really need to decide what is easiest on you.

Folders with inserts

You can use a filing cabinet, an empty drawer, a pile on a desk, or as I have a bankers box. I personally use the bankers box because I got it FREE out of a recycle bin. My pocket folders were also free salvage!
With this method, you basically take your Whole insert and place it in a folder with other whole inserts for the same week.  Depending on how many like inserts you get, you could have as many as 5 folders for the week(this past weekend had 5 inserts!)  Some couponers write in marker on the cover the date of the insert.  Others(like myself) just write the date on the folder I put it in.  I put the date the insert was in the Sunday paper and what insert it is (SS, RP, P&G or GM).  If the inserts are thin, I sometimes combine two types (GM in same folder as RP)
Depending on time constraints, I most often go one step further and decollate  my inserts (put like pages together, this makes it easier when I go to pull a coupon and when I am pulling out expired pages)
This method really works well if you get 10 or more like inserts.
With this method however, it certainly helps to have a smart phone or internet access in the event you stumble upon a hidden sale, clearance or going out of business sale! (more on this later)
With this method, you few the ads(or blogs) and clip what you need and go.  This method works GREAT with the envelope method or accordion file.

Accordion file/Envelope method

 The accordion file can be a purse size like this(my husband bought this for me when I FIRST started couponing, lol)  You can have each section "house" the coupons for a particular store. Or
The envelope method.  The upper picture is basically just a paper envelope for each store, with the coupons inside for deals that week.  This one works real well since you can write your shopping list directly ON the envelope.  Also, envelopes like this are FREE.  Think junk mail, credit card applications, bills come with return envelopes(if you use online bill pay, save this for this method), your bank has envelopes at the drive thru etc.  When it gets too cluttered or worn out, chuck it in the recycle bin and grab a new one.
Or, the bottom pic shows my revised "envelope method"  I have a zipper pouch for each BIG store I shop with my coupons, loyalty cards, lists, coupon policy etc, all tucked inside (I got these zipper pouches FREE from a Sunsilk trial size money maker deal at CVS about 4 years ago!) 

With any of these 3 pictured ways, you most likely will need to clean out the envelopes weekly and refill those coupons you ended up not using for easy access later.
I also suggest if you use this method and shop several "similar" policy stores, have a generic envelope for those coupons on items you know will be free somewhere.
Ex:  Both Randalls(Safeway) and Kroger in my area double up to .50 and triple up to .35.  I know if I get a .35 Softsoap coupon, eventually ONE of those stores is gonna net me free Softsoap.  I keep these coupons in the misc. envelope so they are clipped and ready when I stumble upon that deal, unadvertised or not.

Binder Method
Those of you that watched Extreme Couponers got several glimples of those coupon binders! I used to be 100% binder method, but that takes a lot of time and devotion to clipping, sorting, filing, and maintaining. Don't get me wrong, I still use a binder, but I use it for the tearpads, blinkies, and clipped coupons.
If I clip a coupon for a deal that I am not able to take advantage of, rather than refile in the folders with full inserts, I sort them into a binder. (this is actually a picture of one of my binders)
Most couponers that use the binder method use either baseball card inserts(can be purchased at most Walmarts, Toys R Us, or baseball card stores), photo sleeves or CD sleeves or a combination of the three.
You will need to sort your binder into categories that make sense for you:
Some shoppers like to sort by aisle if they are partial to a particular store, some alphabetical(I could never make that one work), and some by just general category (deodorant, toothpaste, cleaning supplies, breakfast aisle, etc)
I sort by category and have a zippered pencil holders in each binder for the larger coupons or tearpads that just don't fit well in the baseball card sleeves.  You can start out with just a run of the mill binder, but if you choose to stick with the binder method, I suggest you get a zippered binder with a shoulder strap. (I have the Case-It brand I got on 90% off clearance at CVS after back to school sale)

There are TONS of products out on the market too that you might see advertised on blogs and online as the ultimate couponer tool.  I recommend you hold off purchasing any of these products until you find a system that truly works for you.  Don't waste your money on the hype!  You are here to save money, not spend it and I guarantee once you start couponing and stick with it, you will find what works for you and most likely find it at 90% off!!!!

Hopefully now that I have you prepared to shop your stores, you have your coupons and you have them organized, I can finally show you HOW to put all these tools to use!  Stay tuned for Lesson #4


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