Different minds work differently, and there are as many forms of coupon organization as there are people to use them. If you are interested in how I do it, this is how my system works.
I have a plastic file folder holder tub, the kind that has a lid, and hanging file folders fit in it. Each file folder is tabbed with a category of food or product – “Paper Products”, “Frozen”, “Cheese and Dairy”, “Butter and Spreads”, “Hair Care”, etc. If you use this system, the tabs can be whatever categories you will find most frequently – you might have “Baby Products”, “Vitamins”, “Digestive Care”, or other specific categories if there is any particular thing you search for a lot.
The reason I use a tub and not a file drawer is because coupons can be all different sizes, some are on slick paper, and they tend to slide around a lot and fall out of the file folders. With a tub, they’ll still be inside the tub so I can pick it up and move it around and not have coupons all over the floor, or have coupons slide out of the folders and be lost in the bottom of a drawer I can’t see. The tub is sort of transparent, so I can see if a wayward coupon has tried to make an escape.
I cut all the coupons and file them. Lots of people don’t do this – they find it too time-consuming. I understand that. Lots of people just file the entire coupon insert, and only cut the coupons when they need them for shopping. I don’t do that for my own reasons, which may or may not work for anyone else. First, when I’m about to go shopping, I just want to grab them and go, not fiddle with flipping through inserts and cutting. Second, I find if they are all cut, I have a much easier time matching up multiples and paperclipping them together – so I can get extras of really good deals. Sometimes you want to buy two or four of an item that is at a super deal, and that’s harder to know what you have if they aren’t cut and pinned together. Third, if they are cut and filed together, the combination deals jump out at me and I can paperclip those together. Such as, matching store coupons with competitors coupons, or matching “buy this with this” when it is two separate products. Fourth, it’s easier for me to cull the expired ones if they are all cut already – if you flip through an insert, you’ll see that the expiration dates vary greatly. They can be anything from 7 to 90 days from the date the insert was issued. Which means, if you hang onto your inserts, you are hanging onto a lot of bulk waiting for the last one to expire.
Once filed, I go through the store sale flyers and make lists of what’s on sale and what I’d like to buy. Then, I pull the coupons from the file folders and match them by store. I carry them in pencil pouches (the kind with a three-ring binder cutout on the sides) with clear fronts, one pouch for each store. I have different colored pouches so I can just grab the pouch I need when I go into that store – for example, black is Bi-Lo, pink is Publix, red is Rite-Aid.
Towards the end of the month, like yesterday and today, I go through the entire file and remove the expired coupons. Since I’m also very confident I’m not going coupon shopping in the next several days, I’m throwing out everything that expired already or will expire on the 30th of this month. It is seriously cutting down on the bulk in the file tub. Like I’ve mentioned before, each coupon site puts out a large amount around the first of the month, so I like to have as clean a file system as possible for the first to roll around and fill up again. It’s discouraging to see a great deal, hunt a coupon, and find it expired.
Following this system is an average of 10 hours a week.
The exception is raincheck deals. Those permanently stay in the pencil pouches sorted by store, so I can match and paperclip the relevant coupons to them as I get the coupons. That way, those deals are always handy, since they are not dependent on the sales flyer for timing.
I’ve tried other methods – binder was my second choice, it just got so bulky and complicated due to the varied sizes of coupons and that all coupons are printed differently, so it was not always easy to read the offer and expiration dates easily and I found I was just fumbling too much. Clip-free methods work for many people, but I didn’t get along with that method at all.
And of course, waiting until something goes on sale to print the coupons does not work. Printable coupons have a limit, and as soon as they reach that limit, they remove the coupon. That means, by the time you want it, it might be too late. That’s why I print them when they are available, cut and file them, then WAIT until the right time to use them, so I’ll have them when I need them instead of trying to hunt them down and risk not having them at all.