So how do you organize and store your coupons? There are 3 main ways people do it: the insert method, the envelope method and the binder method.
The easiest way to store them is the insert method. Whenever you get the coupons from your Sunday paper (or print them out from the Internet) you write the date on the top and file the whole thing away in a filing box or drawer. Whenever you need a coupon, you simply go to the filing box, pull out the insert you need and cut out the coupon. When the coupons expire just toss the entire page. To help those who use this method, most coupon match ups will list the date the coupon came out, so you can quickly find the coupon. The upside to this method is that it is very low maintenance. File them away as you get them, only cut what you need and go. The down side is that you may have inserts for a very long time (since some coupons have a long expiration date, like the recent Listerine coupons that don't expire until the end of the year) and if you find a great deal while you are at the store, you won't have your coupons with you.
The envelope method is a mid-grade way to store your coupons. It has some features of both systems which can make it ideal if you a getting into couponing and are trying to score the best deals all the time. With the envelope system, you simply cut out the coupons each week and file them in an envelope sorted by type. For example, you may have an envelope just for personal hygiene and another for paper goods. The little coupon dividers sold at the grocery and craft stores work well with this method too. The upside to this method is that it is less labor intensive than the binder method while still allowing you to take your coupons to store if you find a great deal. The downside is that it is more labor intensive that the insert method and if you get a lot of coupons (like I have) then you may find yourself standing in the middle of the grocery store searching for the right coupon (or if you have one) for awhile. I've done it before and with kids, it's never a fun game to play.
The binder method is probably the biggest challenge but also the best method if you are really serious about couponing. Here's a picture of mine.
Yes, my crazed lady is on the front cover. I use a 3 ring binder that is 1 1/2 inches thick and full of card holders. You can get a 3 ring binder from almost any major store, including your supercenters and office supply stores. The card holders are originally designed for baseball (or card games, if you are a geek like me). I've been told you can get them at your local supercenters, in the area they have baseball and Pokemon cards, but I never saw them at mine. I ended up going to a local gaming shop who had them for really cheap. If your supercenter doesn't carry them, you can order them online or search for a shop that carries cards like Magic: The Gathering and other card-RPG style games (gosh my geekiness is showing!). If you live in San Diego (or Northeast Ohio) email me here and I'll happily give you a place to get them. Check out what they look like with coupons in them:
The binder method is the more organized way of storing your coupons, but its also the most labor intensive. You will need to cut the coupons, then sort them into the correct areas and then put them away. It also is the easiest when you get to the store. If, for example, I find that Dove has a great sale that wasn't in the ad, I can simply flip to the section of my binder with Dove products, pull out the the coupon and have it on hand when I check out.
My way of doing things has given me 41 categories, but most people don't break it down quite so much. Basically, figure out what categories work for you (for example, I need a category for kid coupons but not for pets. You may be the exact opposite!) and sort the coupons by category. I also suggest keeping a category list at the beginning of your binder, so you'll be able to quickly flip to the right area. I also have a card page set up to hold the coupons for the various stores I go to. That way if I have a store specific coupons (and my ECBs) I don't have to hunt them down. Also, if I look at the coupon match ups and know what I'm going to buy, I can pull the coupons out right away and store them together instead of trying to pull them out later.
The upside of the binder method is that you can get to your coupons quickly and easily. The down side is that it takes a lot more time, especially if you have a lot of coupons to sort!
My suggestion is to pick a method, try it out and if it doesn't work well for you, then try another. It's up to you, as long as you store them somehow!
There will be a Part 5, in case you are wondering. Part 5: How to Get the Best Deals with Your Coupons!