The first thing that you are going to need if you plan on being a serious couponer is a way to organize your coupons so that you can maximize your savings. I have found that organization is key and the best way that I have found to organize my coupons is in a coupon binder.
Gather What You Need
First you need to choose the binder that is right for you. Very quickly I decided that I need the largest zippered binder I can find, and so far that is a 4″ binder made by Case It. This appears to be the best choice for me because you can zip it up and you won’t lose your coupons, and because it will look much neater in your home, because I can promise you should keep it somewhere handy!
Next, you need to purchase at least 25 full page sheet protectors and a minimum of 50 nine (9) pocket baseball card holder sheets.This may seem like a lot but you would be surprised how fast you can fill these sheets up. I currently have approximately 50 full size sheets and 140 9-pocket sheets and most are totally full.
Some people choose to purchase dividers with tabs for each of their sections, but I find that these take up too much space in my binder, so I go with a product from 3M, called Post It! Tabs. They are removable and I can just move the tabs up and down the page as I choose. You just write your category right on the tab and they peel off and stick back on over and over and over. This is a much better way to go for me because I break my binder down into 50+ different categories and this eliminates 50+ sheets of heavy, cardstock paper that does nothing more than hold a tab, making the book that much heavier and thicker. Next, especially if you have chosen a binder that does not zipper, there are plastic pencil holders that you can get on the school supply aisle, usually for around $1 that go on the binder rings. These are good for holding scissors and a small calculator or any other small supplies you want to keep, such as extra Post It tabs.
Once you have gathered all of these things it’s time to put your book together….
Putting Your Binder Together
I am showing how I have my book put together to give you an idea of how I do things, but you should put your book together in the way that makes the most sense to you and helps you to make things as easy as possible for you.
Because I don’t use the divider sheets, I just put in one 9 pocket baseball card sheet for every category and then attach my category tabs. I keep all of the extras in the back and every time I fill a sheet, I just add another one behind it. The first page of my book is a 9 pocket baseball card protector and this is where I put all of my store loyalty cards. The cards usually come with small cards for your keyring and credit card size cards for your wallet. I keep them here on the first page so they are handy and easy to get to if I don’t have my keys available. This is also where I put gift cards. The following page is a full page sheet protector with a piece of paper on one side that says “File Me!” This is where I put the coupons that I need to file or re-file.
The next couple pages I also have full page sheet protectors. In each of these pockets I have a one page printout of the different store’s coupon policy on each side. There are 10 places here that accept coupons, so I have 5 sheet protectors. It is good to have all of the rules and policies at your fingertips should you encounter a problem at the checkout. If possible, print the store’s policy on that page, so that the store employees can see that it came straight from their site. Sometimes this saves time. Between the store policy pages, if the store has their own coupons or some sort of Catalinas that print when you make purchases such as ECBs from CVS, I also add in the 9 pocket sheets to hold all of that store specific money.
Setting Up Your Categories
After the store policies, I have my coupons in their various categories. Some people do this alphabetically or by category. I just put mine in to the binder in a way that makes the most sense to me. I start with another baseball card sheet for coupons for things that are totally free and another page for “must use coupons” such as coupons for things that items that I would buy even if it wasn’t on sale or coupons that I really want to use and the coupon expires soon. My next page is for “Other” which are things such as batteries or things that don’t usually have coupons and it would be a waste of space to add a whole sheet for.
This is followed by all non-food coupons and then that section is followed by all food coupons. Each of these two sections are separated by things that go together. For example, I have separate sheets for soap, deodorant, shampoo, shaving items, dental items, medication, first aid, etc. But all of those are together. All cleaning supplies, air fresheners, laundry supplies are separate pages, but they are together. In food I have separate pages for frozen meats, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen dinners, frozen desserts, etc. All of these are together in the food section.
When setting up your categories, you want to put them in an order that makes things as easy as possible for you. Many people get stumped on the categories that they want to put in their book, but you can break it down as small as possible or as large as you choose, and when you use the tabs like I have, you are only limited to the size of your binder and your book will evolve as you collect your coupons. Once you start sorting your coupons, it will sort of just come to you. I will be posting the list of my categories tomorrow for people that would like to look them over as a starting point.
As I mentioned, after the coupon category pages, I like to put all of the leftover 9 pocket and sheet protectors in the back so that I can add to my sections as needed. I used to put all my restaurant coupons in the back, but my binder just gets too big, so I now keep the restaurant coupons in a separate small binder that I keep in y car. I will discuss that binder in a later post.
Other Tips and Things to Keep in Your Binder
Once you have your book put together it is time to start sorting your coupons and putting them away in an organized manner. I put all of the coupons away at least once a week. While doing this, sometimes the coupons are too big to fit in the pockets. When this is the case, you can put them in full sized sheets, or you can fold them. I normally will fold mine, but when doing so I always make sure that I do not fold the barcode in any way, if possible. Why cause any more hassle than you have to at the check out? When I have to fold them so that I cannot tell what the coupon is any more, I may slide a piece of paper in front of it that says what the coupon is for, if it is a “Do Not Double” coupon and the expiration date but for the most part you can usually fold them so you can see what it is on one side and the terms on the other, so you just flip the page and peek. Whenever I am going through my book I am always on the lookout for coupons that have expired so that I can get them out of my binder so that mistakes are not made with expired coupons.
If you use the Case It binder that I use, there is also a zippered pocket on the outside that I use for storing more coupons that I just picked up, so that I have a place to keep them without actually opening the whole binder. There is also a zippered pocket on the inside where I store a calculator and my scissors as well as my extra Post It tabs, a pen and a small notepad for things that I need to remember, such as items that were sold out but will be back on a certain day. In addition, there is a section that is closed with a velcro strap on the right hand side of the binder on the inside. This is a small section with dividers to make five. In this section I keep the store ads for that week, as well as my lists for each store.
Now that you have an idea about organizing your coupons, it is time to start collecting as many as possible! Trust me, it is all about the number of coupons you have and the stockpile. You don’t have to have 180 boxes of cereal saved up. Just about a 3 month supply of everything and you will be able to significantly decrease your grocery bill. Later this week we will discuss different types of “store money,” like Catalinas. This is where a ton of savings can come in. By making a small upfront investment, you can end up spending that money over and over again getting tons of free products.
Do you use something other than the binder?? If so, what do you use and how well does it work for you? If you do use a binder, what kind of things do you have in yours that help you to make shopping easier? We are always looking for ideas and tips from other couponers!