Couponing Basics | How to Organize Your Coupons

In last Wednesday’s Couponing Basics post, we talked about where to find the best coupons. If you have been working on gathering your coupons for the past week, you’ve probably got a pile of them overtaking your kitchen table by now.

I know – I’ve been there. It’s time to get organizing!

Today I want to teach you two of the most popular methods for organizing your coupons. But don’t worry, there are no right or wrong ways to get organized. If it works for you, it works!

The Coupon Binder

The Coupon Binder is one of the most popular ways to organize your coupons. The skeleton of the binder system is a binder – as big as you can get (at least three inches) – filled with those plastic baseball card sleeves, which are divided into categories by tab dividers.

The guts of the system are your coupons. You clip coupons every week and “file” them into the pockets of the sleeves. You also print out coupons, trim them down and (fold them to) fit them into the pockets.

To keep your binder current, you go through your sleeves every so often to purge any expired coupons, so your binder is always up-to-date.

The binder goes with you everytime you go shopping – which means not only will have all the coupons you need for advertised sales, but you will also have coupons to match with unadvertised sales and clearance items.

My blogging buddy Laurie did a great video tutorial about her coupon binder, which will give you more detailed information about how this system works in the “real world”.

Advantages of the Binder System
* It’s exhaustive – you will never be without your coupons so you won’t miss out on any saving opportunities.
* It’s secure – with the coupons tucked neatly inside the plastic pockets (and some even buy zipper binders), you don’t have to worry about dropping your envelope of coupons and having them scatter all over the store floor!

Disadvantage of the Binder System
* It’s exhausting – For some people (me!), keeping up with the clipping, filing and purging requires more time than they have in a week to dedicate to couponing. And if you don’t keep up with it, then your binder is incomplete and even out-of-date (expired coupons), which negates the benefits of the system.
* It’s more costly to start up – Buying a binder can be done on the cheap, but baseball card sleeves can be costly, especially if you have hundreds of coupons you want to file.

The No-Clip Coupon Organization Method

I have a confession: I am a coupon binder flunkie. When I first started couponing, I saw all these bloggers talking about their binders and I thought it was soooo amazing. I spent hours putting together my binder. And it was amazing.

Until the next week, when I had to clip more coupons and file them.

I quickly fell behind – both on filing new coupons and purging the expired ones. Soon my binder was a coupon wasteland, and I had to admit defeat.

That’s when I decided to adopt the No-Clip method. This is what works for me, so I wanted to tell you all about it.

I actually wrote a detailed No-Clip tutorial back in 2010, which included all sorts of pictures and wordy explanations. Feel free to read that in detail, but here’s the synopsis.

  • Get 12 file folders – label them with the names of the month if you want to be really organized
  • When you get your Sunday inserts, label them with the data and name of the insert (for eg.  Red Plum 1/1/12) and “file” them into the appropriate file (in this case, January).
  • That’s it – you are done interacting with your coupon inserts until it comes time to use them.

But how do you know when you need them?

Either you go looking for a coupon in my Coupon Database – in which case it will tell you what insert the coupon is in and what date that insert came out. (That’s why you want to label them with the date.)

Or you might know from the coupon match-ups on blogs like KOAB. For example, in this week’s CVS post, I told you about a deal on Colgate Sensitive toothpaste.

Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief Toothbrush 1ct. or Toothpaste 4 oz – $4.99, Get $2 ECBs, Limit 2
$1/1 Colgate Total Advanced, Optic White or Sensitive Pro-Relief, exp. 2/4/12 (SS 01/15/12)
$1.99 each after coupon & ECB

If I wanted to do this deal, I’d simply grab the 1/15/12 Smart Source – which would be in my January folder – clip the $1/1 coupon and refile the rest of the insert.

It takes only a few seconds, and I’m not overrun with guilt about not clipping, filing and purging coupons.

The only thing this system doesn’t work for is my printables. Right now, I keep those in a big basket next to my desk. I tend to wait until I need a coupon to print it – but I do make an exception for high value or rare coupons, which I know will disappear quickly.

Is it perfect? No, but then perfect is the enemy of good – or something like that!

Advantages of the No-Clip Coupon Organization System

  • Quick and easy- takes me less than 2 minutes a week to “file” my inserts
  • “Do-Able” – while the Binder is no doubt more exhaustive, I wasn’t keeping up with it, which meant it wasn’t working for me

Disadvantages of the No-Clip Coupon Organization System

  • You might miss out on the increased savings from an unadvertised sale, since you don’t have all your coupons with you at all times
  • Doesn’t really work for your printables or other coupons not from the inserts, as I mentioned above

Again, the best way to organize your coupons is the way that will work for you. If you have the time and attention to detail that a binder requires, you will enjoy huge savings. If you are willing to compromise a bit of savings for some earned time (at least that was the trade-off for me), the No-Clip System might be better.

Or maybe there’s another system out there that’s just perfect for you…

Tell me: How do you organize your coupons? Do you use a binder? The no-clip method? Something else entirely? Let’s talk coupon organization in the comments section!


  1. i do a hybrid – I look through the inserts when I get them and clip the coupons I think i’d use with or without a sale and put those in my binder. (and then I file the inserts by date)

    I also put high value printables in the binder… the binder goes in my bag that holds all my reusable shopping bags so it goes into the store each time….

  2. I have a coupon file, which is a little bigger than an envelope, but sturdier. It came with cardboard thickness dividers (and i actually got it for free from a newspaper points system that i didn’t even know i had) The benefit is the same as the binder, I always have all my coupons with me, but it is WAY smaller. The negative is that since it is relatively small, I can sometimes lose coupons in the sections. I try to separate out the coupons I plan on using before I go to the store, that way I only have to dig through the envelope for the extra coupons I realize that I need.
    I also try to highlight the coupons that are “buy 2” because I hate grabbing one item off the shelf and then realizing at the checkout that I can’t use my coupon.

  3. As I started couponing more, I came to dislike the accordion file I was using, so I recently started using a binder. It has taken some getting used to, but I like having everything with me at all times. I tend to be brand loyal so I have found that I can get away with a 1-1 1/2″ binder. I can’t imagine schlepping around a 3″ one!
    I keep my Whole Foods coupons separate from everything else in the back of the binder since I usually have at least 6 for any particular item (following Mara’s advice regarding case discounts). I do put a sticky note on the front of the pocket if I happen to have a manufacturer’s coupon to stack with it so I don’t forget to use both (for example, last week or the week before they had Celestial seasonsings tea on sale and I was able to stack coupons for out of pocket of .50/box!).
    I will also put a sticky note on a pocket if a good coupon is about to expire; this (hopefully) reminds me to check ads for that particular item so I don’t let a good coupon go to waste.

  4. I used to use the binder, and I really liked it but I had a few problems:
    1) Like you said, it was very time consuming.

    2) I’d feel I had to clip EVERYTHING I might POSSIBLY want. Most coupons, especially makeup and beauty coupons, I’ll only use if I find out there’s a great deal, and I felt I had to cut everything in case a deal showed up.

    3) The binder was totally unrealistic for my shopping trips with my 1 1/2 year old.

    I basically do Mara’s system, then I organize into envelopes for each store. In theory, as soon as I see a deal at a store (or a coupon for something I need that week and I know where it’s cheapest), it goes in the envelope and I don’t have to think about it for the trip. I keep getting stuck, though, because I almost never feel I have enough savings to justify a trip, so I wind up spending way too long looking at blogs and deals and then just burn out and wait till the next week. I think my system is flawed! (Help!)

    One thing I do think helps, though, is organizing printables by date. That way, if it’s something I really want, I’m less likely to let it expire. If I find out there’s a deal, so I hunt a little.

    • OH! One other thing! Could you talk about how you organize your coupons once you do clip? You mentioned small accordion files? Also, what do you do with coupons you wind up not using on a trip?

      • There are small accordion files at Target in the dollar section at the front of the store & the come in fun colors. That’s where I organize the coupons that I’ve clipped/printed. If I don’t use a coupon than I refile it into the section it came from (baby, snacks, dairy, etc.).

  5. I have a small accordion file and divide coupons into sections (ex: cleansers, food, diapers, baby items, clothing, etc…) then before a shopping trip I try to put all the coupons I need in the front. This system is working for us now mostly because I’m not (yet) into clipping as many coupons as the rest of you seem to have. I’m still a couponer in progress.

  6. I use accordion files. (I get them in the dollar section at the front of Target!) I use a big one for filing my inserts by date and a smaller one for organizing the coupons by type (baby, cleaning supplies, diary, snacks, etc.) that I’ve clipped or printed. I go through the inserts when they come in and clip the coupons that I am most likely to use and then file the rest of the insert. Then I use the blogs and coupon databases to deal match and create my shopping trip lists. I either pull the coupons to the front section of the small file and keep them with my list or just write on the list that I have a coupon so that I remember to use it. About once a month or so I go through all the clipped ones and throw out any that have expired.

    • I recently replaced my smaller file b/c it ripped and one of my kids saw it in the garbage and she pulled it out b/c she knows that’s where I keep my coupons and I probably wouldn’t want to have thrown it away!
      My girls also use an old smaller accordion file that I no longer use to keep their own “coupons” under their doll stroller just like I tend to put mine under my stroller when I walk to the market, CVS or RiteAid.

  7. I also have the accordion file folder from Target. It has a great front pocket where I put the coupons I’ve collected for a specific deal, also usually with a piece of paper where I outline what I want to buy.
    This is where I keep all my printable coupons, organized by food q (expiring this month), food q with longer exp dates, then diff sections for health-beauty, home supplies and a special Target section.
    Also keep a little spot for the store-specific coupons and all the extra bucks, kinda mixed together cause there are so many stores….
    For the circulars, I do the no-cut method but lots of times find myself in a store a little frustrated cause I know there’s a great coupon out there but don’t have it with me! Maybe I’ll go the hybrid method too….
    Usually clean out once a week and look over what there’s a coupon for.
    Also I very liberally print out all the coupons I think I MIGHT use online cause find that when there’s a deal and matchups come out, the coupons I need run out of prints!

  8. When I used a binder — when I lived in America, land of coupons — I paid my daughters $1/hr to put the coupons in the pockets for me. Money well spent. 🙂

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