Coupons 101 – Organizing

This is Part 2 of my coupon series. You can read the first part Coupons 101 – Getting Coupons here.

The next thing you’ll need is a way to organize the coupons. I use a 3-ring binder. It’s nice and portable, and can be customized to whatever extent that you like. You can view my coupon binder here. My friends Tammy and Annie use boxes for theirs. Some people don’t even clip their coupons ahead of time – they file the inserts by date and look coupons up that way.

There are several ways to organize the coupons. Some do it alphabetically (Scott toilet paper under S), some do it by category (all toilet paper coupons under paper goods or toilet paper or bathroom or whatever). I tried alphabetically, but it didn’t work well for me. By category works better for me because I can compare prices between brands easier – especially if it’s between brands I don’t usually buy. The important thing is that you find a system that works for you. I’m to the point right now where I actually need to subdivide my categories more. Some of my categories are too broad and things need to be broken down further.

It really doesn’t matter how you start. All you need is a way to know what coupons you have so you’re not flipping through fistfuls of coupons in the store. For me, that’s a notebook. For others, it’s a box. Whatever works for YOU is important. Otherwise you won’t use it and it ends up being a waste.

You’ll also need some sort of system for taking coupons into the store. Will you carry your binder or box (or bag, etc) into the store every trip? I do bring my binder, but when I have specific coupons to use, I use a two envelope system. All the coupons I want to use on a specific trip go into a business-size envelope. As I put each item into my cart, I take the corresponding coupon and put it into a letter envelope that’s inside the larger envelope. That way I can see exactly how many coupons I’m using and what I may have forgotten. This works especially well if your store limits the number of coupons you use. Harris Teeter around here will periodically triple coupons, but only 20 per customer per day. Using the two envelopes helps me stick to the 20-coupon limit without any surprises at the checkout lane.

Another thing to consider is the expiration date. Each of the pages in my binder has three pockets in it. The bottom two pockets I use to organize coupons. The top pocket gets all the coupons in that category that will expire that month or early next month. It makes it a lot easier to toss expired coupons. It also helps you use older coupons before newer ones, especially if they’re for the same amount. Even if you don’t file your expiring soon coupons separately, you will need to go through your coupons periodically to weed out expired ones.