The Best Way to Organize Coupons

Stephanie Nelson, the Savings Mom, responds to a question about the best way to sort and store coupons.

Question: What do you find is the best way to sort and store your coupons? Is there a source you know to make your own coupon organizer, or one commercially made you would recommend? I'd like to have one that gives me more options of sorting them in smaller categories (more than the 13 pockets in the accordion one I have), but yet is easy and not so bulky to carry in and out of stores. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. -- Debbie, Miami, Fla..

Saving Mom Says: There are many different ways to organize coupons and no one method works for everyone. Most light coupon users find that the small check organizer with 13 sections that you have is adequate, and you can find these for $3 to $5 in office supply stores and in grocery and drugstores. However, heavy coupon users (like you) generally outgrow these organizers quickly.

The commercially available coupon organizers I have seen do not offer more room than your accordion organizer -- even though they sell for $20 or more. In fact, they hold even fewer coupons than the inexpensive check organizer I use. Even if you had a larger coupon organizer than the one you have, by the time you cut out all the coupons, you end up not using most of them, so you have to sort out all the expired coupons on a regular basis.

Cutting out and organizing many coupons weekly can be very time consuming for the average shopper. I have personally tried many methods over the 12 years I've been a heavy coupon user, and the system that has taken the least amount of time with maximum savings is using the Virtual Coupon Organizer (VCO) found at www.savingsmom.com.

To use the Virtual Coupon Organizer, save the entire coupon circular and write the date on the front each week. Then you view the Virtual Coupon Organizer as you plan your shopping list each week. When you find a coupon that matches what you need to buy, the Virtual Coupon Organizer will tell you the date the coupon came out and which circular included it. You find the circular and cut out what you need. This is analogous to using the online catalog system at the library to find a specific book quickly. It will only take you a few minutes to find and cut out the coupons you need each week.

You can save the circulars each week in files, and keep them in a hanging file box or in a larger accordion file. You can also keep them in a plastic storage container, slightly larger than a shoebox, lying flat in order of date.

Because many sale items are not advertised, you may discover great deals while shopping but will not have your coupon circular filing system with you. To avoid missing deals like these, I suggest you cut the coupons you know you would use and keep them in your smaller organizer to take to the store, and keep the rest of the circular in your file at home. That is what I do and I manage to save thousands of dollars a year without investing hours a week -- that's not a bad return on your time!

If you would prefer continuing to cut out all of the coupons each week, you may find that getting another check organizer would solve your capacity problem, adding 13 more sections without having to graduate to a huge coupon box, which can be very bulky when shopping. One organizer could be for food coupons, and one could be for non-food coupons to keep it simple.

If that still does not provide enough room for you, the least expensive coupon organization system for heavy coupon users is to get a shoebox and several letter-sized white envelopes. Create your own category names (breaking them down into several to make it easy to find coupons) and label the envelopes. Alphabetize the envelopes in the box, and take it shopping with you. This should offer you plenty of room at no cost.

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