As a child, I was embarrassed to be seen with my mother when she used coupons. She tried to explain to me that coupons saved money, but I didn’t care. At that time, I believed that using coupons was an admission that you were poor, and poor was definitely not cool. (I was clearly a snob, a follower, and not very bright.)
I have obviously changed my stance on coupons now that my husband and I pay for everything. In the past seven years, I have actively used coupons, saving hundreds of dollars in that time. I shouldn’t have to explain here that coupons can save you money if you coupon regularly, even if you aren’t an extreme couponer.
I do find paper coupons to be clutter if you don’t organize them properly, however. My friend has five years of expired coupons in a drawer! Despite that she clips coupons, she rarely uses them simply because she hasn’t set up a good system for them. Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Fortunately, you can effectively organize coupons–and start saving more money!–in a couple of ways.
Method #1: Coupon Binders
One popular way to organize coupons is to use a coupon binder. A particularly good method for organizing a large number and great variety of coupons, a coupon binder keeps all of your coupons visible. However, in my opinion, a coupon binder is not convenient to carry with you wherever you go because it tends to be too big and bulky. Further, for me, because the binder actually sits in the cart, I found that I am more likely to leave it behind. In addition, if grouping your coupons in the binder other than by date, updating the binder each month can be slightly more time-consuming than using a coupon file. Finally, setting up a coupon binder is generally more expensive than using a coupon-size expanding file. Nonetheless, using a coupon binder is a good option for people who use quite a few coupons and need them visible at a glance.
What you need to create a coupon binder:
- A one-inch (or larger) binder. You can typically find these relatively inexpensively during back-to-school sales. They are also fairly cheap at Walmart. Or you can buy a pack of them at Amazon. The size of binder you need depends on how often you use coupons and how many you use at a time. A one-inch binder works for most people.
- Page protectors. These will hold larger coupons like those you receive in the mail from fast food places (so that you don’t have to cut them individually) or even the sheets of dry cleaning coupons you get in the mail. I also use these to hold ads and circulars.
- Coupon sheets. These hold coupons you typically receive in the Sunday newspaper from Proctor & Gamble and Red Plum. They also will hold printable coupons. (I tried using my husband’s old baseball card protectors but those were too small.)
- Labels or index dividers. These can help you properly organize your coupons into categories.
How to assemble a coupon binder:
- If you have expired coupons, purge those. While you can recycle them, you can also find entities online that will accept recently expired manufacturer’s coupons to distribute to military families overseas. (Military families can use expired manufacturer’s coupons for up to six months at commissaries overseas.) If you do send coupons to an organization such as Troopons, Coupon Cabin, or Overseas Coupon Program, you can still recycle store coupons, restaurant coupons, Internet coupons, and manufacturer’s coupons that expired more than six months ago. (Keep in mind that you do need to give some time for expired coupons to reach their final destination, so you may wish to recycle manufacturer’s coupons with expiration dates more than five months ago.)
- Separate your remaining coupons into categories. You might separate them into months of expiration. I separated mine into restaurant coupons, store coupons, and grocery coupons. Then I created subcategories. I grouped my restaurant coupons by restaurant, my store coupons by store, and my grocery coupons by food. I organized my grocery coupons in the following subcategories, in order based on their position in the grocery store I frequent most often:
- Marinades, sauces, and cooking oils
- Baking supplies (sugar, flour, etc.)
- Frozen foods
- Candy and gum
- After you’ve categorized your coupons, use your labels or dividers to divide your coupons into your categories. I placed labels right on my coupon sheets. You could use dividers.
- Place your coupons inside the sheets, and place the sheets inside your binder.
One note: Consider keeping an empty coupon sheet at the front of the binder for gathering coupons to give to the cashier or scan at self-checkout.
I used a coupon binder for six years and found it effective. A change in circumstances led me to use an expanding file instead.
Method #2: Coupon-Sized Expanding File
A few months ago, my husband and I missed some opportunities for using coupons because our big, bulky coupon binder was at home rather than in the car with us. Remembering to take the coupon binder on the weekly visit to the grocery store is easy; in contrast, remembering to grab the binder on the way to a medical procedure is a rare thing in this household, even though we’ve established that we generally eat out after emergency room visits and major procedures. After losing about $10 in savings, I spent less than $3 on a coupon-size expanding file on Amazon and moved my coupons from my coupon binder and into the file. The expanding file fits in my small, cross-body purse, ensuring that I always have it. Also, purchasing it was less expensive than setting up the coupon binder–and required less time, too. I can’t fit ads and circulars in it, but I typically have those on my KeyRing app anyway, so I haven’t found that to be an insurmountable problem.
Setting up an expanding file is easy; simply put the monthly tabs in their appropriate dividers; purge your expired coupons, and file the coupons in the appropriate categories. (I have mine filed by month.) You will have to clip sheets of coupons into individual coupons and fold some of the larger coupons to fit those into the file.
As an added benefit, as you place items in your cart at the grocery store, you can easily move the corresponding coupons to the front of the expanding file to make it easier to gather and hand to the cashier or scan into the self-checkout.
If you decide to use an expanding file to fit in your purse, make sure you measure it first!
Which is better: coupon binder or coupon-sized expanding file?
Whether one uses a coupon binder or expanding file is a matter of choice. I am not an extreme couponer and have relatively few coupons so I personally prefer the expanding file because it is easier to have with me at all times and is easier to maintain.
Some commercially available options:
If you’re looking to buy something that is generally ready to use, here are some ideas from Amazon.
Final Coupon Organizing Tips
Whatever method you choose for organizing your coupons, I have a few final tips:
- Label your binder or expanding file with your name and phone number just in case you leave it in a cart.
- After you check out at the store, place your receipt in your binder or file. I started doing so to protect my receipt until its entry in my financial spreadsheet and its upload to Ibotta, Checkout51, and Mobisave.
- If you coupon regularly, buy a great pair of scissors. I personally use a good pair of scissors and this Fiskars paper trimmer to make coupon-clipping a quick task.
- Set aside time regularly–weekly or monthly–to clip coupons, and use it wisely. Don’t clip coupons you’ll likely never use.
Let’s talk about it!
Do you coupon? What savings do you get from couponing: enough to buy an extra gallon of milk or enough to pay a bill? Do you use a coupon binder or expanding file or other organizer? Leave me a note in the comments below!
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