Monday, November 14, 2011

Ok, now I have my coupons, what do I do with them?

Now you have a pile of coupons staring you in the face. What is the best way to organize them so that you will use them effectively and save yourself money? The jury is really out on one best method for every person. I can tell you from experience that not using any organization method of any kind is rather useless. For a long time, I would clip coupons and lose them. Or I would clip coupons and forget about them, leave them at home, leave them in my purse, and they would expire unused. In order to save money, you need to come up with a method of organization that keeps your coupons on hand and easy to find. That entails both a portable and easy to understand system. There are more than a few out there.

The Binder Method

Sarah and I both use the binder method of organization. This method requires finding or purchasing some type of three ring binder, I got my lovely binder with shoulder strap, multiple zippers, and carrying handle when they were on clearance after back to school season. It was an upgrade from the first, still perfectly serviceable binder that Sarah gave me for my birthday, but hey, I save money all week long so I can splurge $7 here or there right?

After you have clipped your coupons, you will need collector's card holders or other type of sectioned sheeting, I don't know of any other type, really, but I am sure there are some out there. Using these sheets and a pack or three of tabbed inserts, you will begin to sort your coupons into categories and fit them into the card holders.

The sorting method is really up to you. I tried to think of general categories, such as Beverages, Snacks, Dairy, Meat, Toiletries, etc and went from there. Invariably, you will find that you missed some crucial category, when I first made my binder, I completely forgot to put a Baby category. I had nowhere to put all of my diaper coupons! The advantage with the binder method is that you can easily add categories or rearrange categories, you can add more sheets for the categories that need it, for instance, if you sort your toiletries into one category, it will be huge. This flexibility also comes in handy when the seasons change, for instance, in the summer, I had a bulging condiments category as barbecue sauces and salad dressings were on sale, now that we are well into autumn, my canned goods section is in need of expansion but my condiment section has dwindled down to one page.

With this method, you will need to cut, sort, and file coupons every week. Getting behind can be disastrous and will end up seeming like a herculean task. Sarah and I both experienced this recently. I had to have help to get my coupons sorted this weekend, they were that out of control! (Hey! I'm not a professional!) I've found the best way to do this is to clear a large spot, the floor or the kitchen table both work well for me, then  clip your coupons, sorting them into piles as you cut them. Once you've clipped all of the coupons you have for the week, move them into their sections in your binder, scanning expiration dates on the coupons you already have as you put the new in. I am sure there are more organized methods, there are probably people out there that sort coupons by expiration date and are in alphabetical order, I haven't seen a need for this as of yet and I feel like I am doing just fine.

With this method it will be easy to flip through your coupons, both in the store and when you are planning your shopping missions.  As the binder is portable, you can keep it in the car and with you in the event that you need to run in for one small item or you run across unexpected clearance items for which you also happen to have a coupon. (Score!) Another advantage of the binder is the ability to store extra items. I use the pockets to store my discount cards, a pair of scissors, a pen, and paper for lists and notes. I used the accordion file in the binder to hold store coupon policies and ads. There are other methods that couponers are using effectively but for me, this method has been my most successful yet.

The Accordion File Method

In my past, less successful attempts at couponing, I did employ the file method of organizing coupons. Like, the binder method, you sort your coupons into categories and then you fit them loose into the correct slot in the accordion file. I found this method to be marginally effective. It was hard for me to search through the entire category for a coupon when I needed it, I much prefer to see my coupons all laid out in front of me on a page. One of the major advantages of this method is that it is cheap, you can get a file at most any dollar store and you are on your way. I'd love to hear from readers who utilize this method effectively!

The Envelope Method

I have seen this method in action in the grocery store and I honestly felt a bad for the lady. It works for her though, and that is what counts. She stopped and chatted with me for a moment about my binder and in the end decided that she'd been going with the envelopes too long to stop. It is the same principle as the file method except that for each file slot, you have an envelope. You flip through the stack of envelopes and then through the enclosed coupons. The envelops are usually carried in a shoe box or plastic box of some sort. This is also a relatively cheap method to get started, you can use items you already have on hand.

Failed Methods I have Tried 

Throughout the years, as a poor college student to where I am now as a young mom, I have attempted and given up on couponing at various points. I believe wholeheartedly that the lack of portable and efficient organization method was one of the major contributing factors to my failure. One of the methods I tried, was simply walking into the store with a stack of clipped coupons. Disaster ensued. Flipping through them all was tedious and slippery, they fell out all over the place, I didn't save much money at all.  I also tried slipping all of my coupons into a 4x6 photo album (I had a lot of photo albums.) This actually seems like the precursor to the method I have now. I was trying for something easy to flip through where I could look at my coupons at a glance. The downside was, there are only so many pages and many many coupons. I do still use a photo album to hold recipes.

Regardless of the method you choose, you need to remember to choose one that is efficient for you and portable. If you aren't going to utilize the method, there is no point in exerting the effort. You only save money when you get those coupons to the store and get your deals. And in our next installment, we'll be discussing just that! 

1 comment:

  1. I considered my sisters pregnancy official when I ad the baby category to my binder.