Thursday, April 2, 2015

How I Plan My Weekly Shopping Trip, Part Four: How I Organize My Coupons



Welcome to Part Four of this series about organizing my weekly shopping trip.  You can find the other parts written in the series here:

Part 1: The Back Story

Part 2: My Shopping List

Part 3: The Plan of Attack!

Today I am going to explain how I organize my coupons.

Google "coupon organization" and you will find all kinds of methods, each one more dazzling than the next.  I think that it's a very personal choice, how you choose to organize your coupons. There is no right or wrong way as long as it works for you!

Some people make do with these types of organizers. I picked
this one up at Target in their Dollar Spot for just a dollar, a couple
of years ago. However, it's way too small for me.
Personally, I have been using the same method for about 25 years.  I did change it for a few months a few years ago, when I thought using a binder would be soooo easy. So not true.  I spent so much time folding those coupons "just so" so they could be displayed in the little holders with the expiration date visible, etc. it was ridiculous. At one point, I was spending 8+ hours every Sunday clipping and sorting coupons.  Back then, I got 4 papers so 4 times the inserts.

I shake my head when I think of those days. I wasn't being frugal at all!  True, I had a lot of fun playing the coupon game, but it pushed me to spend money that I shouldn't have spent. I'm still trying to use up the stock of stuff (mostly toiletries and even make-up and I DON'T use make-up!) that I bought back then. I was addicted to savings and not in a good way.

One day I chucked my binder and went back to my current system.  I love it, it works for me and doesn't take me too much time.  Again, someone else might prefer to just file the whole inserts and clip the coupons they need as they go. That doesn't work for me, but it might for them. To each her own:) Also, I don't use insert coupons as much as printable coupons. I find that printable coupons are usually for higher values anyway.

My coupon organizer used to be, up until last year, a Rubbermaid cancelled check box. It had a handle and small dividers, and fit perfectly in the seat section of  the Publix cart.  Over the years I had dropped it several times and since it was made of hard plastic, it had broken in several places... and I had fixed it with duct tape. I didn't care, I loved that box... last year, though, the locking mechanism started to give me trouble and I knew it was time for a new organizer.  I tried going to cheap route and finding other inexpensive plastic containers that were similar, but I couldn't find anything.

My old coupon organizer
Finally I decided to splurge and buy myself a coupon organizer by Jenn after spotting one of her YouTube videos, I think.  I am not affiliated with her at all. Just a satisfied customer! This is a female veteran-owned business, based in Florida.

I bought the black organizer.  I won't lie: the organizer is bulky.  Greg jokes that I look like a pharmacy rep with that on my shoulder.  I feel vaguely self-conscious as I walk in a store with it slung on my shoulder along with my purse and my wad of reusable bags, but also, I don't really care :)

Yep, it's bulky, alright!
No fancy strap for me, no extra dividers. As it turns out, it was a good thing I didn't order them because I made my own with cardboard stock that I printed, laminated, and clipped.

This is my prototype on the left and the kind of insert that came
with the organizer on the right.  I eventually printed them
with the names of the categories on them prior to laminating
them.
Some people like bringing only the coupons that they know they will use. Not me. I like having all of my coupons with me, all of the time.  Sometimes I get lazy about filing the coupons that I have clipped and go shopping without them... and come across something in the clearance section at Target that I would have definitely bought had I brought that coupon that I left on the coffee table at home.  Arrgh!

I also like to print a lot of coupons. I don't get the paper. I either print coupons or (I should say "and") I get inserts from the donation pile at the library or get them in the mail with samples, sometimes.

Some of the coupons I printed today.
Every Sunday morning, I print coupons from:
  • Coupons.com (via Swagbucks (referral link), to earn the 10 SB per redeemed coupon, Just do a Swagbucks search for "Swagbucks coupons", it'll take you right to the appropriate page)
  • Smartsource
  • Redplum
  • Target
  • I check the CVS coupon page... I keep scrolling down for coupons with the CVS logo. Sometimes they have CVS store coupons there.
  • I also clip digital coupons on the Publix digital coupons site and the Walgreens coupons website.
I might also print coupons throughout the week if they're "brick" coupons (those links appear on various couponing sites or in email newsletters that I receive from manufacturers) or if I'm printing extra coupons from those same sites from my son's computer. You can usually print 2 copies of a coupon (make sure each copy has its own coupon-specific bar code... it is ILLEGAL to copy coupons and you could go to jail if you do this. Seriously, don't do this!) by waiting for the coupon to print once and then holding the back button on your browser and going back to the first page where the coupon first popped up (it will generates a different bar code from the first coupon you printed). Sometimes only 1 print is available, though. Today, I printed a BOGO coupon for Snicker's bars and I was able to print it 5 times!

I print most coupons on my laser printer, as toner is way cheaper than ink. I use paper reams that I got for free or just 1 cent after coupon and rebate from Staples (I have quite a stash of those). I also reuse half sheets that didn't have anything printed on them to print single coupons. I use the manual feed slot for those.

Usually I clip the coupons on Monday while I exercise on my recumbent bike; it slows down my exercise pace but saves me times as well.

I try to file them in my organizer while I watch a TV program on Monday nights.

I have lots of coupon categories and even sub-categories. Again, this is a personal choice. I have been using these categories for a long time (25+ years) so, to me, it's second nature. You might prefer other categories. For instance, I no longer have baby product categories since my youngest child is now a teen. But you might want a  baby food category or a diapers category... whatever helps you find your coupons in a pinch. After all, the ultimate goal of coupon organization is time management. You don't want to waste too much time looking for a coupon (and for me, I don't want to waste too much time organizing my coupons).

I use the left side of my organizer for 2 main sections:


  • The front left section is for food coupons (any Publix store coupons and Target store coupons for national brands, AND manufacturer coupons).  

  • The back left section is for all non-food coupons (beauty, health, cleaning, feminine products, pet products, miscellaneous). Again, I file both Publix store coupons and Target store coupons for national brands only and manufacturer coupons in that section.
The white blocks in the back are styrofoam blocks from some packaging
that I received. They help hold the coupons tight (otherwise, there
would be too much room and they would slip under the dividers and
it would be messy) and they're very light.
I use the right side of my organizer as such:

  • The front ride side is for my Store-specific categories.  I have a small laminated "folder" for Publix, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Target, Save A Lot and also Gas Stations/Transportation, Clothing/Craft Stores.  This is where I keep coupons specific to that store/category only and also where I put the coupons that I am planning on using during the next shopping trip.  So all my CVS coupons go in the CVS folder along with any ECBs.  As I get ready for my shopping trip. I pull the coupons that I plan on using at CVSS and add them to the CVS folder, at the very front. Same with other stores.   Some folders have 2 categories in them because I get very few of those coupons or rewards. Still, I don't want to go hunting for them when it's time to use them!
    I keep all Racetrac receipts with a survey reward code on them, as well as Murphy USA printed freebie coupons in the Gas Stations/Transportation as well as coupons for oil changes, for instance.



  • The back right side is for restaurant and entertainment coupons as well as printed rebate forms.
    All my printed Dunkin' Donuts rewards go there as well as the Valpak coupons that I receive in the mail for area restaurants where we might eat. 99% of the time we don't use those coupons but it's nice to have them "just in case".

I also keep a few things in the front pocket of the organizer: pens, a pair of scissors, a small stapler and a few produce bags since I keep on reusing the same ones over and over again.


Back when I had a ton of coupons to file, I would sit on my carpet and make a pile for each category of coupons. Then I would add them to the appropriate slots in my organizer.

Nowadays, I don't have as many and I like filing them while I "watch" TV so I just file them one at a time.

Each organizer category gets the store coupons for that category filed in the very front of the section. AFTER the store coupons, I put all the manufacturer coupons (printable, insert coupons, coupon from boxes, catalinas, blinkies, etc...) AFTER the store coupons.

Store coupon in front, manufacturer coupons in back.
It makes it easier to figure out if I might be able to
stack a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon
for even better deals!
Store coupons:

There are 2 main stores where I use store coupons: Target and Publix. My Publix accepts Target store coupons but Target won't accept Publix coupons.

So, if a Target store coupon is for a national brand, I will file that coupon in the appropriate category. For instance: a Target store coupon for a bottle of Ken's salad dressing will go in the Salad Dressings category. However, a Target store coupon for a bottle of Market Pantry pasta sauce won't go in the Pasta Sauce category, but will be filed in the Target coupons category.  Usually my Target folder has a lot of coupons in it because I print several copies of the store coupons.



I used to shop almost exclusively at Publix, which is why I file the Publix store coupons with the main coupon categories.  Now that I don't shop there as much, I could conceivably put them all in the Publix folder, but: say that I am at CVS and I see a sale on cereal and I look through my cereal category for appropriate coupons... I might spot a Publix or Target store coupon that would make it a better deal at Publix.  Whereas if I had put that store coupon in the Publix folder, I would only see it when I look at the Publix folder. Makes sense? Well it does to me, lol!  Again, you need to design a system that works for YOU within the confines of the stores where you shop, their coupon acceptance policy, as well as your own preferences.

Here is the breakdown of the categories that I use (note: I have a lot of categories simply because I used to have so many coupons that it was better for me to have lots of smaller categories than larger ones or I'd be flipping through coupons constantly when I was in the store. Nowadays, I use fewer coupons but I'm so used to these categories that I rarely even think, my fingers do the walking!)

FOOD ITEMS:
  • Baking
  • Beverages - Hot
  • Beverages - Cold
  • Bread
  • Breakfast - Cereals
  • Breakfast - Frozen
  • Breakfast - Other
  • Canned - Sweet
  • Canned - Salty
  • Dairy - Butter
  • Dairy - Cheese
  • Dairy - Yogurts
  • Dairy - Others - Fresh
  • Frozen - Sweet
  • Frozen - Salty
  • Helpers
  • Meat - Cold Cuts
  • Meat - To Cook
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Snacks - Sweet
    • Gum
    • Fruit Cups/Jello
    • Cookies/Granola bars
    • Candy
  • Snacks - Salty
    • Crakers
    • Chips
    • Nuts
  • Sauces - Sweet
    • Jams/Fruit spreads
    • Syrups/Toppings
    • Sweeteners
  • Sauces - Salty
    • Sauces - Peanut Butter
    • Sauces - Pasta
    • Sauces - Salad Dressings
    • Sauces - Salsa
    • Sauces - Other

NON-FOOD ITEMS:
  • Beauty - Cosmetics
  • Beauty - Deodorants
  • Beauty - Haircare
  • Beauty - Soap
  • Beauty - Dental
  • Beauty - Misc
  • Cleaning - Bathroom
  • Cleaning - Kitchen
  • Cleaning - Laundry
  • Cleaning - Misc
  • Drugs - Head, coughs
  • Drugs - Stomach
  • Drugs - Misc
  • Feminine Products
  • Pets
  • Miscellaneous
STORE COUPONS
  • Target
  • Publix
  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart
  • Save A Lot
  • Staples
  • Gas Stations/Transportation
  • Clothing/Sports/Beauty
  • Home Improvement
BACK RIGHT SECTION
  • Restaurants
  • Entertainment
  • Rebates
At the end of the month, I settled with my coupon organizer in front of the TV and I go through each category separately and throw away the expired coupons. This would work better if coupons only expired at the end of the month though. I really wish they would :)

So this is the system that works for ME.  My categories might not make sense to you.  Yours would probably be different since they should be reflective of the kinds of foods you buy for your family. You want to design them so they save you time, not make it harder for you to find what you're looking for when you're in a busy store (and maybe with a toddler pulling at your sleeve too!).

How do you organize your coupons?

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