Saturday, March 7, 2009

Boot Camp: Getting Organized

Now that you've begun to gather your coupon stash, you'll need a plan for organizing all those coupons!

There are two basic systems that you can choose from when organizing your coupons: The Envelope System or the Whole Insert System.

The Envelope System

When using the Envelope System, you will clip all coupons that you gather and sort them into envelopes labeled by category. To get started, gather a stack of envelopes and a marker and label each envelope with a category.  When I made my envelopes, I used an index card turned sideways for my label, and taped it to the inside of the envelope so that it looks like this:

Here are the categories that I use in my coupon box:

Baby Items
Canned Goods
Cereal & Breakfast
Cleaning Supplies
Frozen Foods
Household Items
Paper Goods
Pasta & Sauce
Salad Stuff
Soap & Shampoo
Teeth Care

You may find that other categories work better for you. The point is for you to be able to able to find a coupon when you need it, so choose your categories according to what is intuitive for you. 

Once you've created your labeled envelopes, clip your coupons and sort them into the appropriate envelopes. Place the envelopes in a small plastic shoe box or other box that you can carry easily when you go to the store.

A couple of helpful hints for using the Envelope System:

• Clip and sort every coupon that comes in an insert or in the mail, etc. There have been many times that I thought "I will never use this product." And I tossed the coupon. I was regretting it a month later when that item went on sale as a money-maker, and I didn't have the coupon to do the deal. Even items you don't need can help you purchase the items you do need if it is a money-maker with a coupon. So save every coupon.

• Organize coupons by brand within each envelope. For example, if you have 8 coupons for Domino sugar in your baking envelope, keep all those 8 Domino coupons together inside the envelope. This helps you to easily know how many coupons you have of a particular branded item when a sale or deal arises.

• One key to keeping your coupon box organized is to regularly purge your box of expired coupons. You may want to do this each week when you clip and add your new coupons to each envelope, or you may want to set aside a dedicated time once or twice a month to clear out expired coupons from your box.

For all you visual learners out there, here's a picture of my coupon box in action. As you can see, my box is really a little too small, so I'm going to need to find something larger soon. I think I might switch out my current box for a plastic Sterilite shoe box. But for now, this is what I am using:

* Another way to implement this system is to use a large three-ring binder with plastic pocket pages, similar to the type you would store baseball cards in. Instead of organizing your coupons into envelopes, you would just slide your clipped coupons into the individual pockets. You might choose to label each plastic page as one of the categories listed above.

Whole Insert System

Coupon "inserts" are the 8 1/2" by 11" booklets of coupons that come in your Sunday newspaper each week. There are generally three companies that produce these inserts: Red Plum, Smart Source and P&G Brand Saver.

If you want to use the Whole Insert System, you will not clip coupons out of your inserts until you know you are going to need them. Instead, you will leave your inserts intact and organize them by type (Red Plum, Smart Source, P&G) and date. Then, when you need a specific coupon, you will pull the insert, clip the coupon you need, and return the insert to the file. 

Here's how to get started using the Whole Insert System:

You'll need a large filing system, like an expandable file or large file folders and a file box. As you collect your inserts each week, use a permanent marker to write the date on the front of the insert. This is imperative if you are going to use this system- it will allow you to go back to a specific insert to find a specific coupon. 

You will need to dedicate a couple of your large folders for loose and miscellaneous coupons that are from sources other than the inserts: home mailings, product packaging, Internet-printed coupons, etc. You might want to create a few subcategories in small envelopes within these files so that you can find a specific coupon without having to go through all of them individually.

To purge expired coupons when using this system, you will wait until all of the coupons in an insert are expired, and then you will toss or recycle the insert.

When using the Whole Insert System, coupon databases like the one at A Full Cup and Hot Coupon World will become your friend. You can use these databases to tell you which insert to look in for a particular coupon. If you've date-labeled your inserts and have them organized well, you will be able to go right to the correct insert, find the coupon and clip it.

Virtually all of the frugal blogs that post weekly deals with coupon match-ups will list the specific insert and date where you can specific coupon you'll need for that week's deals, so this makes it much easier to use this system than it would have been in the past.

My Choice?

The Envelope System. I've actually tried both of these systems, and the envelope system works best for me. Yes, you spend a little bit more time clipping coupons, but you only have to deal with each insert once, instead of returning to it over and over again. And I found that my loose, non-insert coupons were hard to organize in conjunction with the Whole Insert System, and I never really knew what coupons I had in there.

Use whichever system works best for you, or create your own system! The most important thing is that your coupons are organized enough so that you know what you have, and you know where to find it when you need it. If you've got those two things in place, you've got a system that works for you.


  1. I have tried all 3 of these systems as well and find that the envelope system really works the best for knowing what you have and being able to go straight to it. I keep mine in the Sterilite plastic box. I also have an envelope for each store, such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and ONF (a natural foods store in a nearby city). When visiting some stores I actually put my list for that store, along with the specific coupons, in the envelope for that store and then take only that envelope in with me, so I'm not lugging the whole box. However, I've found at Walgreens it is nice to have all those extras with you because you just never know what in store clearance items or other sale items you will stumble upon! :0)

  2. This is excellent advice. You rock!!!