Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Coupon Organization

So those of you who know me are probably laughing right now at the thought of me talking about ANY kind of organizing. And it's true that my couponing system is much more efficient in theory than in practice. Still, at some point you, like me, will need to figure out a way to store your coupons, and a way to find them again. The more effort you put into the former, the less effort you will need for the latter.

My mom used to put all her coupons in a plain white envelope. Some extreme couponers keep theirs in large bankers boxes or plastic tubs. I tend to think that the two most sensible, least Crazy options are a coupon file, or a 3-ring binder. These are two very different approaches, and only you know which will work for you.

1) Coupon file: You can find these at any office supply store for about $2. They look just like an expandable file folder, but smaller. If you decide to go this route, you will also have to decide how you want to organize your clipped coupons. Usually, that's some combination of category (health & beauty, groceries, household), expiration date, and/or source.
Since this is the method I use, I can tell you how I do mine, although of course you should customize this to meet your needs. Mine are separated first by category, each in its own little section in the file.

  • Current shopping trip (coupons I plan on using that day)
  • Store coupons and rewards (RR, ECB, etc)
  • Grocery, non-perishable
  • Grocery, refrigerated and frozen
  • Health (OTC medication, dental care, deodorant, razors)
  • Beauty (hair care, lotion, makeup, skin care, soap)
  • Household (cleaning products, paper goods, etc)
  • Pet (cat food and litter)
  • Miscellaneous (includes restaurants)
And then within each section, I put them in order by expiration date. This makes it easy to purge coupons as they expire, and also helps me make sure I see coupons expiring soon so I don't forget to use them.  
Pros: Highly portable - you can always have your coupons with you. Easy to rotate coupons in and out. Can incorporate printable coupons into your filing system easily.
Cons: Takes a lot of time to clip and file coupons. Coupon file can get very bulky, especially if you have duplicates. 

2) Three-ring binders: This system requires less effort up front. All you need is a heavy duty binder and some of those plastic sleeves. Each week, file the entire coupon insert(s) into a new sleeve. You only clip coupons as you need them. 
A lot of the more experienced couponers use this system or a variation. If you have multiples of the same insert, they suggest merging them - lining up all the page 1s, then all the page 2s, etc, rather than keeping them separate. Again, you will have to organize the inserts in a way that makes sense to you. You can put all the RedPlums in one section, the SmartSources in another, etc. Or you can file them strictly by date. You'll also have to take into account how you want to file internet printables, coupons from inside product, etc. 
Pros: No advance clipping - you don't throw away any coupons, and you don't clip what you don't need. Easy to find as long as your matchup lists the coupon source. 
Cons: Bulky - most of your coupons stay at home, which gives you less flexibility in the store. Harder to filter out expired coupons or know when it's safe to toss an insert. (Maven of Savin' has a good article on How to determine what coupon inserts are expired.) Even if you know what insert a coupon came from, you will still have to page through the whole insert looking for it. 

Finding Your Coupons
Regardless of which system you use, there's no way you can keep track of every coupon you have and where it's filed by memory alone. 
Here's my secret: a coupon database. You all thought I was pulling all those matchups out of my head, didn't you? The truth is that I would be completely lost without a database. I used to make my own in Excel, until I realized there were some already out there ready to use. 
Maven of Savin and Common Sense With Money use a common shared database that is very popular with a lot of other coupon bloggers. Deal Seeking Mom has her own version, so does Hot Coupon World. You can search by product (Schick or razors), source date, or expiration date. The lovely thing about them is that they include internet printables in addition to inserts - coupons you might not have even known about otherwise!
Now, none of these is perfect. Because of regional variations, I have found gaps and different values in all of these databases where their info differs from the coupons available in CT. Sometimes printables are no longer available or are expired, but still show up in the database. But a coupon database makes it possible to get your hands on any coupon already in your file, plus printable coupons from all across the web, in a matter of minutes. However you end up filing your coupons, when it comes to retrieving them you're going to need a good database. 

Getting Your Coupons From Your File Into The Store
As you've probably figured out, the time to dig out the coupon you want is not when you're standing in line ready to pay. You do not want to be "that person." Put together your list and get your coupons ready before you go. You'll need to print any internet coupons, anyway. As I write out my shopping list, I will usually make a note of which items I have coupons for, just as a double check to myself. After I go through the store and find all my items, but before I go to pay, I pull out the stack and go through it once more, setting aside any coupons for items I didn't end up getting. As I'm shopping, if I see something I missed or an unadvertised sale, I will go through my coupon file right away (this is why I like being able to bring the whole collection with me) and pull out the coupon - otherwise I will either forget to grab it entirely, or I will remember at the last second and become "that person" at the register. That way I can hand the cashier a nice little stack and hopefully forestall any eye-rolling.

So what do you guys think? Do you have a method that works for you, or are you still experimenting? Any tips or tricks? Questions, comments? 


  1. I do the mini expandable file thing. My categories are: diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, H&BC, Retail (clothing mostly, but this is kind of a catch all category). My file is really small, which makes me go through it a lot, but that keeps me on top of things. Also, this was kind of luck, but the closure broke, so I was using a hairband around it to keep it closed, and now when I go shopping, I plan the trip and coupons out beforehand, and slip them under the band so they are right out there and ready go. Unless of course, Jack decides to pull one out and chew on it :/

  2. I never thought of that! I use a hairband too, but mine's because I have so many coupons that the snap literally won't close. Sliding stuff out from under the elastic would probably be so much easier than fumbling to get things out of the pocket when I'm juggling purse, wallet, basket of stuff, and coupons. :-)