Saturday, March 15, 2014

Keep coupons organized to maximize savings

One of the most challenging aspects of couponing is finding a way to organize your coupons so you can find them when you actually need them. Being organized when it comes to your coupons will save you a lot more money than being unorganized. Many new couponers simply give up couponing because they get frustrated with Price Compare organization. The good news is that there are some very effective and manageable ways to organize your coupons that will increase your grocery savings tremendously. There is no one method that works for everyone, but there are some methods that work better than others.

Common coupon organization methods include:

  • Accordion-style file
  • Envelope or Ziploc baggie in the purse
  • A lunchbox or shoebox with dividers
  • A plastic box made for index or recipe cards
  • The no-clip method
  • The binder method

Accordion-style organizers, envelopes and boxes

The organization methods that involve filing coupons one in front of the other have their benefits. The files, envelopes or small boxes are often small enough to put into your purse, and they are usually lightweight.

If you don't use many coupons, these types of methods may work very well for you.

The downside to these methods is that they make it very difficult to see what coupons you actually have. When you are in the store searching for a coupon, you will spend a lot of time flipping through each envelope or section and looking through each stack. It is very easy to let coupons expire with these types of methods because you can't see the coupons easily.

No-clip method

The no-clip method involves putting each coupon insert into a file each week by date. You do not cut out any coupons when the coupon inserts arrive. Then, when you see the deal lists with the dates of the specific inserts that coupons were in, you go to the different files, find the coupons and cut them out. You do this for every coupon you plan to use that was in the newspaper for the last few weeks.

Although it saves you tons of time on the front end, because you don't cut out any coupons until you see a sale to use them on, you spend much more time going back and forth to the same inserts over and over again for different sales.

Other negatives of using this system include not having a good way to file your printable coupons AND not being able to take advantage of any unadvertised sales. If you only bring to the store the coupons you cut out for your specific shopping trip, you don't get to use your coupons on all the other great deals that stores do not advertise in their flyers including clearance and sales that have continued from the previous week.

The binder method

The binder method, which is the method I use, involves filing coupons in baseball-card holders, dividing them by product type and storing them in a three-ring binder.

This method takes couponing to a new level of organization and allows you to find what you need, when you need it.

When I first started couponing over 15 years ago, I used a traditional accordion-style organizer. It worked for about a month, and I knew I needed another method. I was frustrated because it took me too long to find the coupons I needed when I was making my grocery list and when I was shopping in the store.

I discovered the binder method and have used it ever since.

I will say that the binder is bulky and certainly doesn't fit in my purse. I pretend that lugging it around is like weight lifting, and I am just burning a few extra calories while saving a lot more than a few extra bucks. Although the binder method is not for everyone, it is my favorite method and has worked beautifully for me for well over a decade.

Benefits of using the binder method:
  • A binder organizer can hold far more coupons than most accordion files, envelopes or recipe box organizers.
  • Each coupon and its value are visible, cutting down on the time it takes to find a coupon when you are looking over the sales ads or shopping at the store.
  • Expiration dates are easier to see, and you are less likely to let a valuable coupon expire.
  • You can quickly flip to the pages for the section of the store you are in and see all the coupons you have available. This is especially important if you run into an unexpected or unadvertised deal (which happens to me almost every time I shop).
  • The binders fit easily on the child seat section of the cart, so flipping through the pages as you walk through the aisles is simple.
  • Binder organizers are easily expandable. As your coupon inventory increases, add more coupon pages to your binder.
  • Many binders have pockets with room for your sales ads, calculator, pens and store reward cards.
  • Plus, you will look so cool with that big 'ole binder and people will be amazed by your awesome organization skills!

In reality, people do stop me in the store regularly to ask about my binder and how I have it set up. It's a great time to give a mini coupon class in the store. I am guessing that many of you who use the binder method experience this as well.

Create your own binder coupon organizer

You can easily make your own binder organizer with any three-ring binder (either zippered or not), baseball card pages (found in the trading card section of most big box stores) and tabbed dividers (found in the same big box stores or office stores).

I recommend labeling the tabbed dividers by product type so you can see all the coupons for a specific product in the same section. Here are the tabbed divider labels I use on my organizer:

You will need at least 24 baseball card pages, one for each tabbed divider section. Soon after you start using the binder method, you will probably want to add at least another 24 pages, if not more for some of the sections like dairy and frozen.

Pre-made coupon organizer insert sets

If you would rather purchase the pre-printed tabs and coupon insert pages instead of making them yourself, see my website for a pre-made set that fits in regular all three-ring binders.

What to cut

I use the binder method for 85 percent of my coupons. I cut out those coupons from the newspaper inserts that I know we will use and those coupons I am pretty sure we will use. I also cut out the coupons for products we don't use but I know I can get a good deal on the product to donate to the food bank. Then I leave the rest of the coupons uncut and file them by date in file folders. Every once in a while I end up finding a great deal on a coupon I did not think I would use and then I go back to the insert and cut it out. About once a month, I cut out the coupons I have not used and donate them to the military ( see for more information on US military overseas using expired coupons).

Tips to remember

File your new coupons every week so you don't end up with a backlog of coupons.

Bring your organizer with you to your child's extra curricular activities and file while they are in ballet, soccer, music lessons, etc. If you watch a favorite television show each week, that's a perfect time to be cutting and filing coupons.

Remove your expired coupons once a month and then send them to our U.S. military stationed overseas. They can use manufacturer coupons that are expired for up to six months at the commissaries on overseas bases. For more information on this wonderful opportunity to give back to our U.S military, see

Each time you go through the cycle of filing coupons and shopping with your organizer, you will become more efficient and save more and more money. Good luck organizing and remember: It's your money - spend it wisely!

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