You've seen them in the store. Some of them have binders that fill the entire shopping cart seat. Others juggle a series of envelopes. Still others keep a series of accordion files.
They're coupon shoppers, and they're an organized bunch.
With blogs, smart phones and printable coupons, organization strategies go beyond simply clipping a few slips of paper. Here are some tips from a group of local shoppers.
The binder method
Donna Lorence, of Hampton, uses one of the most popular methods among serious coupon shoppers — the binder method.
This system incorporates a three-ringed binder and plastic baseball card sleeves. In its most simple format, coupons are clipped and stored in the card slips, picture facing forward.
"If I get behind, and it does happen, I have these folders in the back that I can put that week's worth of coupons into for matchups until I get the time to cut them out and file them," Lorence says.
Lorence organizes her binder by product category and then by store layout. She also keeps a separate section for Target store coupons and a section at the front of her binder for coupons that will result in a free item. Others organize their binder alphabetically by product brand.
Tracy Leota, of Gloucester, also uses the binder method, but organizes her binder with four different sized sleeves, which she purchased at Staples and a local comic book store.
She uses the different sizes of sleeves — nine-pocket sleeves, six-pocket sleeves, four-pocket sleeves and three-pocket sleeves — to sort different categories of items and separate coupons for specific stores. The different sleeve sizes allow Leota to put coupons in slips without folding them.
"I slide the coupon into which ever pocket fits best, there is no folding," she says. "You can clearly see expiration date and the terms of the coupon, too."
As she matches her coupons to sales ads, she takes her coupons out of her binder and puts them in an envelope marked with the store's name. She takes the envelopes into the store, but she always has her binder with her, as well.
Proponents of the binder method argue that they have missed too many unadvertised sales by not bringing the entire coupon collection to the store.
The insert method
Though the binder method is the more traditional coupon clipping route, many shoppers are turning to the latest trend in organization — keeping your inserts whole.
Andrea Cipcic, of Portsmouth, keeps her inserts in an accordion file by date, using one file folder for each major company — Red Plum, SmartSource and Proctor & Gamble. Most blogs clue in their readers on weekly sales and coupon match ups by referring to insert dates, making this method more technology friendly.
"I don't clip my coupons until I am planning a shopping trip," Cipcic says. "Once they are clipped, I use baseball card pages in a binder, so that I can easily see all of my coupons while I am shopping."
Most shoppers mark the date on the front of the insert when they file them. But, if you forget to mark the publish date, look on the far left side of the insert's front page. There, in tiny print, you'll find the publication date.
"When I first started I would clip the coupons and take them into the store in an envelope or a Ziploc bag, but I found myself standing in the aisles at the grocery store with a handful of coupons trying to find the one I wanted," Cipcic says. That is when she began supplementing the insert method with the popular baseball card slips.
Locally, websites such as afrugalchick.com, momondealz.com and thecouponchallenge.com match up sales at regional grocery stores with locally available coupons.
Though this strategy is a huge timesaver, there are a few drawbacks. First, since you don't have all of your coupons with you, you may miss some matchups on clearance or unadvertised items. Also, if you sign up for individual coupons, print out a lot of coupons from the Internet, or have leftover coupons from previous shopping trips, you will have to devise a secondary method for organizing those slips of paper.
The envelope method
The envelope method is a tried and true system for some coupon shoppers. Sandy Ryczak, of Williamsburg, has used coupons for 25 years, and she likes to keep it simple.
She uses small envelopes to store her coupons, organizing them by categories. She also has an envelope for coupons that are near their expiration date, coupons to be used during her current shopping trip and a discard envelope to hold the coupons that she needs to re-file.
"I will not cut a coupon out that requires me to buy two products to use it," she adds.
Savvy Shopper method
I use a combination of all three systems, though, admittedly, my method is more of a shortcut than a true organizational strategy.
My system is closest to the insert method, though I don't even use folders to store my coupons. My inserts sit stacked on a table in our recreational room, waiting for my next shopping trip. The individual coupons I receive are thrown on the pile, as well.
When it's time to plan, I make a list of the sales items and the coupons that match. I include the final sale price on my list, so I can calculate my out of pocket expenses. The list goes inside a junk mail envelope — something I usually find right before I run out the door — along with my coupons.
I always throw in a few extra high-value coupons in the envelope just in case I come across a good deal.
What didn't work
Most local shoppers agree that high-dollar coupon organization systems simply aren't worth the money.
Leota tried a coupon wallet before she settled on the binder method, but dumped it simply because it couldn't handle the number of coupons she was clipping.
Some shoppers bring their entire insert collection with them to the store and try to clip coupons while they are shopping. Most abandon that method, because of the inconvenience and frustration of handling paper without a substantial work space.
In Hampton Roads, coupon shoppers can expect to save 60 to 65 percent on their overall grocery bill by using coupons. If your organization method is yielding a comparable savings, it's a success.
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