Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Couponing Basics...Setting Up Shop
If you ask different couponers how they organize their coupons, you may get several different answers. The one answer you certainly will not get is one of those small plastic or cardboard divider folders...you know the ones that you can get for only a couple of dollars. These are great for someone who just wants to save a couple of cents on each shopping trip but for the serious couponer, i just doesn't come close to being enough. Some people don't bother clipping. Instead, they file the coupon fyers by date in file folders. That works for some but in my opionion, that is not conducive to saving on last minute items that you may run across. I prefer to have them clipped and ready at a moment's notice. The biggest trick with the method that I use is to never get behind. The initial set up can take a bit of time, especially if you have already started stocking up on coupons. If you get far behind, it will be like starting all over and will take hours of your time. Here is what I do:
I use a 3 ring zipper binder. While the zipper binders are more expensive than the regular ones, drop a regular one once and you will wish you had invested in the zipper binder. Also, the zipper binders tend to have a few pockets in the front. I use the pockets for current week coupons that I either need to file or have just pulled for use this week. I also store paper clips, scissors, and "stray" coupons. (Coupons for things like magazines or whatever that are good for a single specific issue, restaurant coupons, etc are, to me, not usually worth filing so I stash them there).
Next, I use a couple of different types of dividers. Dividers are important because this is the heart of your organization. The better divided and sorted your coupons are, the easier it will be to locate specific ones. First, I took larger tab dividers and marked off my major sections: Health and Beauty, Household, Food, Stores & Restaurants. I then found smaller divider tabs to divide out the major sections. For example, under the Health and Beauty tab, I have such sections as: Shaving, Deodorant, Hair Care, Meds/First Aid. I have a total of 10 subsections in Heath and Beauty. The Household tab has such subsections as Paper Products and Cleaning. Under Food, I have 3 subsections of Freezer, Fridge and Canned Goods (Non Perishable). Then within each of those areas I have sections like, Meat, Snacks, etc. The refrigerator section is not broken down too far because in most supermarkets, the refrigerator area is relatively small so to me it is not worth really breaking them down. You may feel different about this. My best advice in terms of dividing is to periodically (at least initially when you are starting out) review your tabs and see if it is working for you based on your stores as well as the coupons you get and keep. Under the Stores tab, I have a tab for each of my most commonly used stores so that I have a place to put all of those register coupons (you know the ones you get that print out at supermarkets at the end of your order...btw, those are usually referred to as Catalinas). I also put any other store coupons that that store may put out in there. When I was in Virginia I used to get Bed Bath and Beyond coupons all the tme...for the most part I didn't shop there on a regular basis but when I did, I sure wanted a coupon available so I would stick them in there...no matter how many I got because they take multiple coupons in one order. They alow you to use one of those 20% off coupons for each item you buy and many of the stores actually take the expired ones so I always kept a good stock of them. Here in Alabama,I don't get many of them...actually haven't received any in the 3 months that I have been here so no need for a tab anymore. Under the Restaurants tab, I stash long term restaurant coupons. You know how when you order a pizza, there is often a sheet of coupons on top that are good like forever...I put it there. If it is a short expiration date, I generally stash it toward the front of my book or in my wallet.
Now that you have your book and it is all divided out, you need something to put your coupons in. I, and many others, use the plastic trading card sleeves. Each sleeve has 9 slots. I put one type of coupon in each slot so that when I open the section, I can see everything that I have without digging too hard. In general I don't want to have to pull everything out of the slots to see if I have a coupon. When I first read about this method, I was like "This is crazy!" After only a short time, I quickly realized that ultimately this was a huge timesaver and prevented me from missing expiration dates. I will stacklike coupons in the same section...even if they have different expiration dates. I am very careful though to stack the closest expiration dates on top. Try to clip your coupons close to the line so that they will fit with the least amount of folding. If you have to fold them, do your best to be sure the product and expiration date show. Do not do front and back with these...simply use these one sided. In the stores and restaurants tabs, you may want to use the sheet protectors instead so that you can stash large coupons like the Bed Bath and Beyond coupons. That totally depends on your preference.
The last thing I want to cover for now is where to get the sleeves. These are regular, baseball or collector card sleeves. You can get them online or at a shop that sells collector cards. I have also seen them at stores like Kmart and Walmart (I have seen them near the front of the stores where they stock the Pokemon cards or whatever the latest card is lol). Initially I thought, oh I only need 20...wrong! If I were you I would buy a pack of 50 or 100. In general, you will get a much better deal buying a larger pack and you will use them! I currently have 85 plastic sleeves in mine and really could use a few more. While you may start out small, as I did, if you continue to coupon religiously, your collection will expand so do yourself a favor and save the money by buying a larger pack if you can.
Check out the pictures of my setup (above) and feel free to comment or ask questions as needed. I'll be more than happy to help! If you have a general or specific question about couponing, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My plan is to do daily posts providing you with the basics that will save you lots of money but if you would like to see a specific subject addressed, please email me and I will do my best to accomodate! Hope this info helped! :)