Sunday, June 7, 2009

Organization 101

(Before you read this post, make sure you've read up on all of the coupon vocabulary HERE so that you can understand all of the terms used and you don't get lost)

Alright, so you've started gathering coupons and now you will realize you need a place to keep all of these coupons! You aren't necessarily going to be using coupons from a particular week's insert for that week's shopping trip. Sometimes a particular week's sale will coincide with a coupon from one, two, maybe three or more months ago, so it is pertinent to keep all coupons and keep them organized in a way that helps you find a needed coupon quickly and easily. If you're getting more than one newspaper each week (which you should be getting one paper per member of your family, including babies, click HERE for more on multiple newspaper subscriptions and why you need them) then you will see how quickly all of those inserts can pile up! This post is changing a little, because when I originally started couponing, I decided that the "file-system" method (described below) was right for me. However, as time went on and I got more and more into the system and learning the ins and outs, I realized how beneficial and, for me, necessary, it was to switch to the "binder" method (described below) 

There is NO RIGHT WAY to organize your coupons! It is all about learning what fits your lifestyle, time-restraints, personality, etc. and just really finding what suits you best. I have decided to tell about a few of the different methods I have come across in the few months since I started. Hopefully it will give you a starting point from which to go. I will also give different variations of different methods and just any and all tidbits I can to give you as many options as possible. A lot of blog sites only describe the method they use, but I am going to try to give you a variety and also tell you exactly what I do myself.

**The first method, which is the one I started with, is the "file-system" or "box" method (or what I like to call, the "file-away-and-forget-it" method). This is the method I would recommend starting out with, when you are first giving couponing a try and are not yet sure if it is something you want to continue or how much you want to devote to it. I have had a number of people get super excited about couponing when they first hear about it, but after a week or two, the excitement wears off or they just realize that it's not something they are interested in or have time for or whatever the case may be. You don't want to jump right in and go gung-ho buying a bunch of stuff only to realize that couponing is just not for you. It is a great system for someone just starting out or even someone who is only wanting to cut their grocery spending down, but not devote a lot of time or energy to it. Remember, you can save up to 90% each week, but only if you're willing to put in all of the effort and time it takes! But even with only doing the bare minimum, you can still start saving up to 60% each week...that's still AWESOME! This file system method has some great advantages and disadvantages.

You will need a plastic milk crate and hanging files or an accordian file (look for one with tabs on top of the pockets for labeling purposes) to keep inserts filed by type: SmartSource (SS), RedPlum (RP), Proctor & Gamble (PG) and by month (except for PG because it only comes once a month). Each week when you receive your coupon inserts, date each packet by writing the date of the Sunday from which that insert came from (5/10, 5/17, 5/31, etc) and stick it in the appropriate file. That's it. Now, in a week, month, or whenever you need to find a particular insert to clip a particular coupon, it's super easy. Just go to that file and month, find that week's date and there ya go. I stored my crate in a hall closet and it was out of sight until I needed it to plan my trips.

Another thing you will want to do is print out the PYP list of coupons by insert date each week (click HERE and go to last page for most current week, working backward to oldest) and file that away in the corresponding month. That way you always know which coupons you have and which coupons are going to expire soon. No more forgetting about those coupons!


*Not time-consuming
*Easy on the pocket-book (doesn't cost much to get started)
*It's plain simple. 
*Great for the novice coupon shopper. 


*A big disadvantage would be that when it comes time to plan your weekly shopping trip, you have to lug the thing out and it can definitely take a while to clip all of those coupons you need. Having to get out each insert, line the pages up, clip your coupons (see my tip on cutting coupons from multiple inserts a ways down the post) then put your packets back together and put them back where they go. Then get the next insert for the next coupon and so on. It can almost be more time consuming than the "time-consuming" binder method! Lol. Not to mention that after all of that time you just spent clipping your coupons, when you get to the store that item is sometimes out of stock (which will happen frequently) and you have now just added to your "straggling" coupon pile.

*You will also need somewhere to put your individual coupons that don't come from inserts (IP's, blinkies, cats, etc) What I used to do was to sort them out into a couple of different categories, "non-food," "food," "catalinas" and put them in separate labeled ziploc baggies which I carried in a pencil pouch I bought at Office Max (above). That same pencil pouch is where I would carry a small pair of scissors (trust me, you never know when you'll wind up needing them and they come in handy!) and a pen. When you have a particular shopping trip you are going on you can use it to carry your grocery list and to put all of the coupons you will need for that trip in a separate baggy. That way those coupons never get mixed up with the other coupons you have stashed in there. This system is OK, but those baggies will keep getting more full and, thus, take up more room in your pouch and purse. Also, you will still run the risk of forgetting about some of the coupons that are in the ziploc baggies and when you need to find a particular coupon, it takes a bit of time to go through the whole pile. Another option would be to carry a small day planner sized binder or photo album (that will fit easily into your purse if need be) JUST for keeping those straggling coupons. You can usually find the small photo albums at the dollar store! Some of my friends use these albums for carrying coupons that they always want to have on them (such as diaper/baby coupons) because it fits easily into their purse and keeps the coupons organized but they don't necessarily want/need to bring ALL of their coupons with them like with the binder method.

You could also use a small accordian file type carrier (generally used for storing receipts) that would work great also.

Now that I no longer use the file-system method, I use the above black pouch for storing my restaurant and store coupons (such as Old Navy, JCPenney, etc) that I want to have on-hand in the car or in my purse when out and about. You never know when hunger will strike while you're out and you'll be glad you have your plethora of coupons to help save some money. Or you never know when you'll decide last minute to stop somewhere and wish you had that store coupon with you! Believe me, it will happen if it hasn't already!

**The second method is the envelope method. You can make an envelope for each category (such as baby, personal care, frozen, etc). Clip all the coupons you’ll use and store them in their corresponding envelopes so you’ll be able to find them easily. After all of your coupons are sorted within the envelopes, you can store the envelopes in any kind of container that works for you, such as a shoebox, recipe holder, etc. You could also label the envelopes by expiration date. Lots of different variations to this.

A variation of this would be to use an index card holder and sort clipped coupons in it. This could work as its own system or you could use this in combination with other systems to hold all of your straggling coupons. Look for one with tab dividers or make sure to buy some so that you can sort by category, brand name, etc.

**Another method is the one that is for the serious coupon shopper. The above mentioned methods work great for someone who only gets 1-2 papers per week. Once you become serious about coupon shopping, I would recommend starting this method within the first month of starting couponing so that you don't have months worth of inserts to go back and catch up with. I didn't make the switch to a coupon binder until I was about three months into it and it took FOREVER to get completely re-organized when switching from the file-system method. I had to go back through three months worth of inserts and cut and sort and file. Bleh!

Anywho...this is the method that is probably most commonly used by coupon shoppers (though there are LOTS of variations that I will go over in a minute) and has SOOO many advantages and a few disadvantages. It is definitely NOT for everyone, but if you are serious about this and want to take your savings to a new level, then this is the method for you! I will explain exactly how I made mine, including what I like about it and what I want to change and why, and I will also give you a few other variations I have gathered from various other blogs and sites.

I had SUCH a hard time figuring out exactly how I wanted to go about my coupon binder. After doing a lot of research I found that there were a lot more different ways to do it than I realized. Eventually I just had to buckle down and try it the way I thought would be best...

Alright, so...first things first...I bought a binder! (of course) The
most important thing for me, I realized, was having a handle. When I was tossing the idea back and forth of doing the binder, one of my biggest complaints was how on earth was I supposed to be able to carry that huge thing around while hauling two babies? Of course, my wonderful friend, Mandy, pointed out that I could just get one with a handle or strap. Duh! Why didn't I think of that? So...the first binder that I had already bought at Walmart (simply because it was so darn cute) was returned. It had no handle and, therefore, I decided it wasn't for me. I had to be practical and realize that I would need a manageable way to carry it. If you happen to not have kids, or at least don't have small kids that you need to carry or that need to sit in the seating part of the cart...a handle may not be so important to you. You may even find that a plain, plastic hard-cover 3-ring binder is sufficient for you (the kind we used in school). I see many people using that kind of binder. I just wanted something more sturdy and durable. Plus, I would imagine that if you were to ever drop the non-zippered could get ugly! I can just see hours and hours of hard work going down the drain as coupons fly out everywhere...yikes! Could be wrong...

That said, my first binder was this, above, basic, yet very funtional, Case-It zipper binder (with handle and removable strap, mind you) at King's for $4.99! It doesn't have all of the pockets and doo-dads that some of the fancier binders I see others using have, but it seems to have everything you need, especially for that price! Though, I can tell you that it wasn't long before I had to switch to something bigger. This was only a 1 1/2" ring, and my sleeves were quickly starting to fall out, but I couldn't complain for $4.99, at least to get me started! It does have an accordion file in a pocket that separates from the whole binder if you want to slim it down a little. If you are a smaller family of two or three, this is all you would need! For me, who has a family of 5 and gets 6 newspapers every week, I needed to upgrade to a 3" ring. If you have a larger family, do yourself a favor and just get a 3". Lol. It's worth the extra couple bucks. My newer binder is basically the same, just a larger ring, It has an accordion file on the front, but it does not detach.

I use the accordion file for storing my extra card holders/sheet protectors/etc and for storing coupons that I have cut out but that need to be sorted and put away. Sometimes, if I don't even get a chance to cut out my coupons on Sunday, I will put the whole insert in there until I get a chance to do it.

There are also pockets inside for me to store a small calculator (which I just use my phone, but you could put one in there if you wanted), scissors, pen, and paper.

Next, it was deciding how I wanted to arrange the inside of my binder. I bought a few different sleeves and pockets at various places and ultimately decided what worked best for me and returned the ones that didn't.

I bought these 8-tab dividers (left) at Walmart for $.97 (I bought three) and the 30ct 9-pocket baseball card holders at Target (right) for $4.99 (they have a package of 35 at Walmart for $5.77) and bought three of these as well.

Now the fun part. You will have to decide how you want to categorize your coupons within your binder. I use my tab dividers to separate them into the following categories, including examples of what coupons you might find in each category:

*Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, eggs, etc)
*Frozen (pizza, frozen meals, ice cream, frozen meat)
*Baby (diapers, wipes, lotions, etc.)
*Snacks (granola bars, fruit snacks, chips, bagged snacks, crackers)
*Breakfast (cereal, pancake mix, syrup)
*Beverages (soda, juice, creamer, coffee, water)
*Condiments (mayo, mustard, salad dressings, pickles, marinades, seasonings, salsa, peanut butter, jelly, etc)
*Grains (pasta, rice, etc)
*Meat (lunchmeat, refrigerated meat entrees such as Hormel or Tyson, pepperoni, hotdogs)
*Baking/Desserts (oil, nuts, candy, cake/brownie mix, frosting, pudding mix, etc.)
*Canned (soup, fruit, vegetables, anything you'd find in the canned food aisle)
*Food Misc. (The only things I've put in here so far is produce and salad coupons, as I don't think they need their own category since they don't come around very often. I'm sure there's plenty of other things I'll come across that will fall into this category)
*Home (Smell-good stuff such as Glade, Airwick, Febreeze, Oust, cleaning supplies, glass cleaner, kitchen supplies, laundry supplies, etc)
*Paper (paper plates/bowls/cups/towels, toilet paper, Ziploc/Hefty bags and containers, facial tissue)
*Office Supplies (batteries, writing utensils, tape/mailing products, etc)
*Personal Care (feminine care, oral care, deodorant/body spray, shave needs, lotion)
*Soap (dishsoap, handsoap, bodywash, face wash)
*Hair Care
*Health (OTC medicine, first-aid, eye drops, vitamins, sunscreen, bugspray)

You could also use these Post-It sticky tabs to stick right on the edge of your card holders/album refill pages.
I chose the above categories because that is what I felt worked best for me. There are plenty of other categories you could come up with and again, there's no right or wrong way. Just do what makes sense to you. There are times when I am not sure where a certain coupon should go, especially if it fits well in two different categories. In that case I usually put it with the stuff that would be found in the same aisle at the store.

Within all of those main categories, I file my coupons in each section with other like coupons. For example, in the "Health" section, I have all of the eye drop coupons together, all of the cold/flu medicine together, all of the first-aid coupons together, all of the pain medicine coupons together, and so on. In the "Baby" section I categorize by brand, so all of my Huggies coupons are together, all of my Pampers coupons are together, etc.

I have also seen coupons categorized alphabetically (using the alphabetical tab dividers) by brand name, or by layout of the store you shop at. 

I also bought these photo album refill pages (left) because they have the bigger pockets (they have ones with two, three or four photo slots, I bought the ones with three) for the coupons that are too big to fit in the little card holder slots. I bought three of these at Walmart for $2.00/ea. I also am going to use my 10ct sheet protectors I got at Walgreens a couple of weeks ago for $.33 (right). You can get these cheap just about anywhere.

I use the sheet protectors for a couple of different things. I use one labeled for each store I shop at (Albies, Wags, Freddies, RiteAid, Target, etc). I carry store specific coupons in them, such as RR's and cats, plus I put the weekly ad in it so that I can always have that with me for reference or for price-matching at Walmart for the items that store is out of. I also keep two sheet protectors in the back for keeping track of all of my rebates info. One is for rebates are already submitted for with things such as copies of all papers/receipts/POP/etc. The other is for rebate forms that I have not submitted for with envelopes that are already labeled and stamped but are awaiting additional items. This lets me easily keep track of all of that stuff in one easy place that I won't forget about.

There really are LOTS of different options for coupon holder pages, such as 4-pocket, 6-pocket, 8-pocket, horizontal or vertical, etc. You will find many more options at an office-supply store or even a craft supply store than you will at regular supermarkets like Walmart and Target. Usually a combination of different sizes will work best.

Here is what my pages look like with the coupons in them.

The smallest coupons I put at the top of the page and the longer ones I put at the bottom so that if they are longer than the card holder slot, they just kind of overlap the coupon above it. If they are super long, I just fold them a little bit. As long as I can see all of my coupons easily, I'm happy with it. I try to fold them in a way so that the expiration date is visible, but that's not always possible. Any coupons that are too big to fit into the card slots sometimes just need a little extra trimming or folding to make them fit. If they are super big and won't fit even after trimming, they can go in one of the album refill pages. I try to only use these as a last resort, as, of course, you can fit way more coupons in the card holders and therefore you won't have to buy as many sets.

The album refill pages are great for IP's, too. I can usually fit two in one slot to maxamize the room. Usually, though, I just fold the IP's in half and put them in the regular baseball card slots.

You'll notice in the above photo that the album refill pages I bought are a bit bigger than the tab dividers and cardholders and hang out over the dividers. I did not like this. I just trimmed them down and used a three-hole punch to make new holes. It fits much better now, I just haven't taken a new picture.

So, all-in-all, I spent about $30 to get my coupon binder started. I did wind up having to buy a bigger binder eventually, which I spent $20 on at OfficeMax. I didn't realize how expensive it would be! I can hardly complain, though, as I know how much I'm saving and this is only an initial I can reap the benefits! I easily save $30 in ONE shopping trip, so you will quickly get that money back. 

Another idea of something to add to your binder that I got from that I haven't done personally, but plan to do, is to get a 3-pocket (horizontal) sheet protector and label each of the three sections with "This Week," "Refile," and "Check-out." This page goes at the front of your coupon binder. As you are making your shopping list each week and pull the coupons you will need, put them in the "this week" section. As you are shopping, as soon as you put an item in your cart, you take the coupon from the binder or the "this week" section and put it in the "check-out" pocket. If you have coupons already pulled and put with your shopping list for a particular trip, but they are out-of-stock (can't tell you how many times this has happened to me) you can put those coupons in the "refile" section until you get home and can put them back where they go. This would be especially helpful, as I tend to just shove the coupons in my purse in haste and they get all crumpled or forgotten. This section is also great for tearpad or blinkie coupons you find at the store so that you can file them when you get home.

The other thing she adds to her binder, which I want to add to mine, is a cardholder sheet at the front that holds her store loyalty cards (such as your preferred card, Fred Meyer Rewards card, etc) and gift cards. No more digging through your purse to find them! Very convenient.
From there, it was finding a way to cut all of my coupons. I was SOOO dreading this part. It's one thing to cut the one to three inserts we generally get in the paper every's quite another to have to go back and cut out almost THREE MONTHS worth of inserts (from 6+ papers each mind you!). I knew this wasn't going to be I had to find a way to make it as simple as possible. For a quick and easy way to cut and file your coupons, click HERE.

Every Sunday I repeat the coupon-clipping process with the 1-4 inserts we get. It takes me about 30 mins to an hour from start to finish, depending on how many inserts we get and how big they are (and how well-behaved my children are being) and again, I usually do not get to do it all at once so I break it up into two parts. This task is not as daunting as it seems! I was really hesitant about the binder method at first, because it seemed like it would take SOOOO much time to do each week. In reality, it's fairly quick and painless. Plus, the major advantage to this method is that having clipped all of the coupons sure makes planning for a shopping trip SOOO easy! I simply pull the coupons I need and take as many as I need off of the staple and voila! Ready to go! It is also nice to be in a store, see an item on clearance, and when you know you have a coupon for that particular item, you have it right there with you in your binder.

One of the disadvantages, however, is that this binder can get pretty big and hauling it into the store with you might not be feasible, especially when you have to have small children in the cart. I, myself, do not always carry my binder into the store with me. If I happen to be shopping without the kids, then yes, I do. If I'm at Walmart, yes I do because you never know what you will find there and at what price. On a regular day on a regular shopping trip at Albies with all of the kids, I do not take it in with me. In that case I would gather all the coupons I need for that trip and put it in my sheet protector labeled "Albies" and just take that in with me. If I happen to see a clearance item, I can always go back to the car and get the coupon (yes, I do ALWAYS have it in the car with me, at least) Lately I've been fortunate enough to leave the kids at home when I shop, so I am able to take it in with me most times.

The last thing that I do to complete my coupon binder is when PYP puts out the Idaho list of coupons by insert date (HERE) (go to the last page for the current week), I print out the list and keep them in a sheet protector (just use your mouse to highlight the list you want, right-click, and choose "print selection". I do this because when PinchingYourPennies puts out the weekly printable shopping list, or when blog sites put up their match-ups, they sometimes list coupons that Idaho does not get or coupons for amounts that vary from ours. I like to know quickly what I have without having to flip to each section of my binder. I can just look at the week listed, check the list and know right away. A quick glance also gives me all of the expiration dates so I know which coupons are nearing expiration or that have expired and need to be pulled from the coupon binder and tossed.

There ya go! That's how I do MY coupon binder. One of the variations I will mention here is one used by KrazyCouponLady (HERE). She does not clip every coupon. She kind of does a combination of the file system and binder method. She sorts every insert by page, then staples all like pages together, writes the date on the insert page, then she files that whole complete page in a sheet protector. She files them by week with the printed PYP list of coupons as her title page. Her reasoning for doing this is that coupon shoppers generally throw away 50% or more of their coupons, so she does not want to waste time clipping coupons she will not use. You do not have to spend the time every Sunday to clip all of your coupons and sort and file them. Instead, you take your binder into the store with you and she clips them as she shops. To me...with having three kids...this would just be impossible! But, if you have no kids, or generally get to shop without them, this might be a great option for you.

 Another method that kind of combines the file-system and binder methods would be to file the entire insert by week in a binder. To me that seems like it would make for a HUGE binder! Maybe I'm wrong...

Hopefully this will give you lots of different ideas and will help you in creating a system all your own that works for you. If you have any great tips or ideas you'd be willing to share, please leave a comment on this post! We'd love to hear them!
Now, you can go HERE to learn how to use GrocerySmarts and start putting these coupons to use!

1 comment:

  1. nice and very long post. but very informational!!.. Funny cuz mom and i decided to make the switch to the after you of course, you just know every coupon you have.. i love how you mention when just starting out to use the file system.. i couldn't agree more. the file system was great starting out.. but now my file box is so full i can't get any more in there.
    anyways. great post, very helpful, im excited to get my coupon binder put together!!..


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