Reader Amanda mentioned in the comments last week that she has trouble keeping up with her coupons. I totally understand! I’ve tried and failed and tried again a number of different methods.
One of the most popular systems in the blogosphere is the three-ring binder. You can check out this video tutorial from Hip2Save to learn more, but the basic idea is that you sort coupons by category and then file them into a binder filled with those 12-slot baseball card sheet protectors.
I so wanted to be a binder coupon shopper when I first started couponing 2 years ago. I gave it the ole’ college try, but the truth is that it didn’t work for me. I just didn’t have the time to spend clipping, sorting and stuffing the coupons into their little slots every week. Fortunately I had bought the binder for a quarter at a garage sale and had pilfered the sheet protectors from my brother’s old baseball card collection. In other words, I didn’t lose any money in my failed first attempt at organizing coupons.
From that experience, though, I did gain a lot of insights into how to make couponing work for me. I learned that I am a little bit lazy, a lot bit over-taxed, and, really, just want this to be as easy as possible. Plus, I get a lot of coupons from printable sources or in the mail, and those didn’t fit nicely in the baseball card protectors — which greatly irritated the OCD side of my personality.
Futhermore, while I love to save money, I am far from a fanatic about getting every.single.deal. I mostly just check out local bloggers for their grocery deal match-ups, consult with my favorite CVS and Target bloggers for those match-ups, and then pick and choose the few deals that work for me and my schedule that week.
Given all that, I knew I needed a low-maintenance coupon organizing system. It took me a while to get all the pieces together, but I’ve finally figured out a system works for me. I’m sharing it today in hopes that it might help out a fellow kosher couponer!
The first part of my system is corralling my coupon inserts. I get one copy of the Sunday paper delivered to our house every week. Occasionally I pick up extra copies from my parents. In theory, you can get free copies by recycling bin-diving or by asking your local library, which usually just trashes the inserts anyway. However, I’ve never done either of these yet, so most weeks, I just have one set of the inserts. This means that I can’t do deals that require multiple copies of the same coupon, but I’m okay with that. Remember: This is a low-maintenance system!
I take the inserts out of the paper right away and mark the date on the top of the front page with a Sharpie. I do this for all three inserts: Red Plum, Smart Source and the monthly Proctor & Gamble. Then I quickly file these inserts by month into a legal size file accordian thingy (that’s the technical term), which I bought at Target for less than $5. I bought a cute one, because I’m worth it.
The reason I do it this way is because when you go to a coupon blogger for the match-ups to CVS, or your local grocery store, or wherever, they will tell you where to find a particular coupon by insert name and date. For example, here’s one of the CVS deals for this week (I’ve underlined the relevant part):
Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent 2/$7 Earn 2 ECBs Limit 2
Use $1/1 Arm & Hammer Power Gel Detergent
Use $1/2 Arm & Hammer Detergent or Softener, any
Use $3/2 Arm & Hammer Laundry 6/13/2020 SS Insert (exp 8/15/2010)
Get two for $2 or $1 each after $3/2 coupon
If I wanted to do this deal, the Smart Source (=SS) insert coupon will give me the best price, so I’d want to use that one. To find it, I would just open up my file folder, flip to the month of June, pull out the inserts to find the one from June 13th, and then find and clip the coupon. Then I’d shove everything back into the folder and go about my merry way.
All together, this takes me less than 45 seconds per week. When compared to the 45 minutes I was spending trying to clip and file the coupons, you can see why I prefer this method!
As for trashing expired coupons, I basically don’t bother. I just leave the inserts in their month slot for a full calendar year. I know that most coupons expire sooner than that, but for the few that don’t, I think it’s worth it to hold on to the insert until I’ve got a new set to replace them.
One of the trade-offs of my low maintenance system is that I don’t even really know what coupons are in the inserts. I just pull the ones I need for a particular deal and leave the rest at home. If there is an unadvertised sale, I can’t boost my savings by combining it with a coupon, as I would have been able to if I had carried the coupon binder with me everywhere.
Since this post is already over 900 words (yikes!), I will save the rest of my system for tomorrow…. Stay tuned for low-maintenance organizing of printable and mailed coupons, plus how I organize my coupons for my trips to the store.
In the meantime, what do you think of my file-them-away-and-forget-about-them method? Could it work for you? What system are you using these days?