Monday, April 18, 2011

STEP 3: Organizing the Coupon Craziness!

This is not the most fun but once you settle in, couponing can become a breeze. There are quite a few organizing methods available. Before we go into what you're going to tote them in, let's talk about how you want to organize them.

Here are the methods generally speaking:
  1. By Category - ie. Dairy, Meat, Canned Goods, Cereals, Etc.
  2. By Isle - you'll need your stores guide found on the cart if they have them or cheat and snap a photo of it with your camera phone like I do! :)
  3. By Expiration date - self explanatory
  4. By insert and by date - organized by the date the insert was distributed and then by the insert type (SS, RP, PG)
  5. Alphabetically by Brand
I've done a few different ways and I'll spout off a few pro's and cons about each:
  1. Category - If you're not brand specific and simply need to find a deal on shampoo, this is fine. If you're strategizing your ads and coupons to the T then you may find yourself searching through categories too much for too long.
  2. Isle - This to me is more of a secondary organization that would come in handy after you have your deals and coupons picked out. But again, like the categories, if you're simply in need of a product found in Isle 10 of your store then you'll quickly be able to go to it.
  3. Expiration - I get that we want to use coupons up before they expire but how you're going to find a coupon on the spot for Hunt's Tomato Sauce on clearance (just an example) without knowing IF there's coupon and WHEN the coupon expires is beyond me.
  4. Insert and Date - This was working quite well for me. I simply binder-clipped my inserts together by date and filed them in a big box. When the time came to find a coupon for a sale, it states the required information and you go to it and clip them out. HOWEVER, you will likely hold on to expired coupons much longer than needed and it's a bulk pile!
  5. Alphabetically - I started this way and I'm going back to this. Filing alphabetically by brand makes the most sense to me although it requires more work. If I need bread, I'm going to go to the section, find the best priced bread, and look up the brand to see if there's a corresponding coupon. Done deal. Sales are never on a general product category like "shampoo" it's always a specific brand of shampoo offering the deal. So this way, although you have more up front work, I believe you save the most time in this method.
That all being said, what makes sense to me, DOES NOT have to make sense to you! :) It's YOUR coupons and YOUR coupon organization. Do what you feel most comfortable with!

First, decide on whether you want to carry your coupons into the store or not. Why would you do that? Stores regularly have unannounced sales and there are always clearances. You can easily miss out on a huge deal because your coupons were left home.

On the other hand, you can also veer off a list more easily if you have your money saving deals in hand and could potentially buy an item for not so great a deal simply because it sounded tasty at the time and you happened to have a coupon for it and purchased it even without it being on sale. So you decide! :)

Next, here are some methods of containing your coupons:
  • Coupon Organizers - Us serious savers like to laugh at these. You've all seen these mini-wallet sized organizers made of a plastic like material the has an elastic band you pull around the whole thing. You can find these anywhere from the dollar store to office supply stores. They are about the size of a wallet and have dividers in them to label as you will. They can roughly hold 100 or so coupons comfortably. How serious do you think you'll be?
  • Envelopes - If you're just starting out and you're not sure if you'll be able to keep it up, you can simply use a box of envelopes. Label the envelopes in one of the above methods, pop them back in the box, and voila! You have a mini organizer.
  • Accordion Files - These are found at office supply stores and are intended for file use. They are large enough to hold inserts or cut coupons (may be too deep for cutting) and they can be labeled in a number of ways.
  • Index Card/Recipe Box - These are cute and fun and come in a number of different sizes. You can easily find dividers for them and if you remain on the smaller scale, you can still take these into the store. My biggest problem with these was that if you drop the sucker... you will cry! Unless you invest in a solid lock and key system, those coupons are all over and all out of order. Also, because the files have play room, small coupons can easily shift around and even slip under the dividers and other coupons.
  • Photo Albums and Binders - This is probably the hottest method. Photo albums come with 3x5 or 4x6 pockets making them 'ready to use'. Binders allow purchasing of different sized pocket inserts allowing a combination of sizes to be used. However, as great as this is... you'll be doing a lot of cutting to make them fit! Some couponers separate edibles from non-edibles using one binder for each and then utilizing the above noted methods.
  • Insert Boxes/Files - If cutting coupons every Sunday for an hour seems like a headache, you can always go to the Insert box. Simply bunch the like inserts together and file them by date. You can stack them in a box or get as organized as a file cabinet with hanging folders to support your inserts. Con - They get heavy QUICK. Depending on how many inserts you plan on keeping on hand, these can add up very quickly. I purchase 6 every week and 3 months worth probably weighed around 25 pounds. You will not be toting these around and you will certainly not be taking them into the store. Also, insert paper itself is very thin. If you go in and out a couple of times a week, you're bound to rip them. And lastly, you will likely end up hanging on to expired coupons for way longer than needed because you're not able to go through the inserts as quickly as some of the other methods, the expired coupon may be on the same sheet as other valid coupons, and very few sites offer notices of when whole inserts expire although you can count on P&G to expire every month.
Personally, I was on the insert box but recently converted to a binder with alphabetical filing. I plan to simply put A brands under A but in no certain order and so on and so forth to see if that works for me. If not... back to the box. :)  UPDATE: It took me two weeks to fully convert my coupon inserts into a binder. So far, It's not bad at all! I'm kinda liking it. Not only are coupons 'ready-to-use' but it only weighs a few pounds and zippers closed. I think I'm on the binder train now.... permanently.

So there you have it! Methods to file them and methods to contain them. You can mix and match how you'd like. There is no right or wrong way. Everyone has their own method or methods in organizing. The only must is that you ORGANIZE! :)