My Precious Pennies

I will be AWAY until late February as we do this moving thing...again.

Ginger from Attention Target Shoppers & Tricia from 1stopmom
will be holding down the fort in the meantime - thank you so much, ladies!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coupon Counselor: Coupon System

Thank you to everyone who left suggestions for future Coupon Counselor topics!  They were some great ideas, and I plan to address each and every one of your questions/concerns in a future installment of the Coupon Counselor.  Before I get to how I'm going to do that, I would like to announce the winner of the $600 in coupons.  By, the winner out of the eligible entries is site4teachersSite4teachers, you have 48 hours to claim your prize by replying to my email.  If you didn't win, don't worry, because I'm having ANOTHER giveaway this week. Stay tuned for all the details.

I read each and every single one of your topic proposals, and I have separated them into roughly 8 categories.  They are listed in the order that I will get to them, and I have it planned so we move from the broader topics (such as how to get your coupons and handle them) to how to work individual store programs. 
  • The Basics: This was the first installment of the Coupon Counselor.  You can read all the questions here.
  • Couponing Dictionary: You will need to refer back to this for definitions and abbreviations that I tend to use.  You can find the dictionary here.
  • Coupon Systems: an overview of the coupon systems out there, and how to find the one that works for you.
  • Prepping for coupons: how to efficiently plan (and carry out) your shopping trip to multiple stores
  • Couponing Techniques: we will go over the finer details of couponing, such as how to stack coupons, when to use them, when to buy certain items, and how to hand them over at check-out.
  • Troubleshooting Coupons: what to do when stores refuse coupons.
  • The CVS Handbook: how to work the ECB system
  • The WAGs Handbook: we'll cover the ESR rebates and register rewards
  • Miscellaneous: there were a few questions that just didn't really fit into a category, so every couple of lessons we'll take a break and just do a good old Q & A session.  I'll try to answer these miscellaneous questions then, as well as any that you may have.
Today, we will cover the many coupon systems out there.  The Basics post should give you a good idea on the many different methods of obtaining coupons, so if you missed it please catch up by reading it here.  Now that you have a respectable pile of coupons on hand, we are going to find out about the many different ways of organizing that pile so it becomes a full-fledged coupon system.

Before I start, please note that every person is different.  There is no "holy grail" of coupon systems - it's whatever works best for you.  I'm only one person and I have a rather limited experience with all of the coupon systems out there, so I would love to hear from people who are currently using different systems.  For this week's coupon giveaway, leave a comment with the coupon system that you currently use, and the system that you would like to try out and why.  Up for grabs is $125 in coupons.  Yes, it's considerably lower than last week's $600 jackpot prize, but I want this to be a learning experience for everyone involved, instead of a blind "gimme coupons now!" rush.  If you choose to enter, be sure to familiarize yourself with the giveaway rules.  The giveaway will end Monday 11/17. 

Now, let's get to the fun part and look at some coupon systems!

Coupon Box
Startup costs: $                            Personalization: High
Expansion possibilities: High          
Portability: Low

This is the system that I use right now.  I use small personal sized envelopes as containers, and then an index card cut into quarters length-wise as the dividers. Each "category" is color-coded, and each envelope contains brands or item types.  For example, purple is my toiletries/beauty category, and in that category there will be envelopes labeled "Crest", "Shampoo/Conditioner" or "L'Oreal".

The startup cost for the coupon box is negligible.  I used a shoebox, and I had the envelops and index cards lying around.  Even if you had to buy a box of envelops and a stack of index cards, you can easily get those for under a dollar each.  However, the coupon box is not the most portable system out there.  There is no lid to my box, so spillage is always a major concern.  Obviously, you can use something other than a shoebox that comes with a lid, but the idea of hauling a huge box into the store is not an appealing idea to most people.

The picture above is what my coupon box amounted to back in September when I started using this new system.  It has since expanded to double its original size.  Instead of reorganizing the whole thing, all that I've had to do was add in another envelope, write up a new tab, and find the corresponding highlighter color.  Took me all of a minute, if even that.  When I first started my coupon box, I didn't have that many "makeup" coupons, so I had one generic "makeup" envelope.  But as time passed, I had a lot more coupons for makeup and it was necessary to organize them by brand instead.  And if one day the makeup coupons just disappear off the face of the planet, I can simply remove those extra envelops and go back to my one generic "makeup" envelope.  I love that the coupon box is so flexible.

The coupon box is the best system for me right now in my current stage of coupon usage.  I am not looking for portability because with an infant in tow, making an instant sale/coupon match-up in the store is not high on my priority list.  Getting everything done before the inevitable meltdown is.  I plan all of my trips before I leave the house anyway. 

Accordion Folder
Startup costs: $ - $$                      Personalization: Medium
Expansion possibilities: Low          
Portability: High
I currently use a small accordion folder to organize my store coupons.  Like I mentioned above, I plan out all of my trips with a list, and I pull the corresponding coupons from my coupon box.  I have a tab for each store that I frequent, and my shopping list and coupons go into there.  I also keep any giftcards or store cards in there.  When I go to CVS or Walgreens, I don't even bother taking my wallet anymore.  In each section, I keep an index card labeled "register coupons".  The idea is the coupons for things in my cart go BEFORE the register coupons, so I'm transferring coupons as I shop.  When I get up to the register, I simply pull out my stack of "register coupons" instead of fumbling around trying to figure out what coupons I used and what I didn't use. 

I bought the accordion folder at Target for $1, so my startup cost was relatively low.  And since it's so small, it is highly portable.  It fits into my purse (if I choose to bring one), and if not, my baby's fine with me sticking it in her carseat.  She thinks it's fun to chew on.  She wouldn't be happy if I tried to put my coupon box in there with her though.  However, the expansion possibilities for an accordion folder is rather low.  You can't create more sections than there are.  You can, however, personalize those individual sections to a degree with index cards and separate dividers. 

There are MANY different sizes of accordion folders out there - I've seen ones that will hold up to 100 legal-sized documents.  Obviously the price and functionality of these bigger accordion files will be different.

Coupon binder/album
Startup costs: $ - $$$$                  Personalization: High
Expansion possibilities: High         
Portability: Medium

The coupon binder/album is often the coupon system of choice, simply because it's highly flexible.  Ultimately, it boils down to how much you're willing to spend.  You can use a cheap 4x6 photo album or go all out and buy baseball card inserts, 4x6 picture inserts, business card inserts, and whatever-else inserts for your different sized coupons.  Then you can buy either cheap dividers (or make your own with post-it notes), or you can go all out and get different sets of alphabetized dividers.  You can even get a set of numbered dividers to organize your coupons by expiration date.  Obviously your cost would depend on what you decide to do.

When I first started couponing, I used a simple 4x6 photo album that I bought from the Dollar Tree.  I used post-it notes to define categories, but there was really no rhyme or reason to where the categories were placed.  It worked for the first couple of months when I didn't have a lot of coupons, but then it got harder and harder to find what I was looking for.  It was simply find an empty page, and throw the coupon in there.  I then tried to revamp the album by alphabetizing it, but the problem was every-time I wanted to reorganize it, I had to literally take everything out and start from scratch.  It just wasn't working for me, which is when I decided to go to the coupon box.

Then there are those who use the coupon binder in a clipless system.  They generally file the insert away under the newspaper date, and only clip the coupons that they need.  You can also file weekly ads and rebates in your binder, so it becomes the "go-to" spot for all of your shopping needs.

As far as portability, it really depends on what you're willing to put up with.  As the mother of a small infant, there is no possible way that I can take the carseat and a binder.  She wouldn't be happy if I tried to put the binder in the car seat with her.  However, if you do your shopping alone, then a binder is more than reasonable to carry with you.

Expansion possibilities also depend on what type of coupon binder/album system you end up going with.  If you get a 4x6 album like I did, then your expansion possibilities are non-existent.  You have x amount of pages to work with, and that's it.  You can't reshuffle the pages, or add in more.  BUT, if you get an binder-like album, or just use a binder, you can reshuffle as you like, and when you want to expand all you have to do is add in more inserts.  But don't forget that inserts take money, so keep that in mind.

There are other coupon systems out there, and then there are even specialized coupon organizers that you can buy.  I have chosen to just highlight the three most frequently used coupon systems that are out there.  I'm interested to hear back from you on which coupon system you currently use, and the system that you would like to try out and why.

Come back next week for another installment of the Coupon Counselor, where we'll cover how to prepare to shop with your now-organized coupons!


Momma @ said...

I had to put my own system together when I started. I bought 3 or 4 different coupon systems and none of them were right for our family. I'm giving a way the E-Book instructions for my Coupon System right now on my blog, or you can buy one already put together.

Thanks for the great series. I'm really enjoying it so far.

Maria said...

I am currently using (2) accordian folders. A large one where I store my coupon inserts by date and a small one that I carry in my purse with coupons I use often.

I would love to try the coupon box.

Nicole said...

I use the accordion folder system. I have one folder for food and another for non-food. The downside to this system is that it doesn't have room to expand, thus I had to upgrade to two folders a few months ago. I would really like to try the coupon binder method, but am waiting to find a folder I really like and is user friendly.

Amber R said...

I currently use the couponizer and an accordian folder to put duplicates in. I have considered trying the box method, only using a box that has a hinged lid that can snap closed. I can just see a whole box of coupons on the floor of the store because one of the kids decided to throw it. :)

Heather said...

I am a visual person so the coupon binder with the baseball card holders works the best for me. I have it divided up into catagories that I can easily get to what I need.

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Cara said...

I am a couponing newbie and I am still getting used to storage and organizing ideas. Currently, I am using an envelope system. I have not found a box the right size for my coupon stash - so I ended up recycling a cardboard box. The box was the perfect size- it was from a package of 6 Cup O' Noodles soup. I would eventually like switch to the binder system with the trading card protectors. Everyone has such great ideas !!

Melissa said...

I am currently using the accordian folder but I don't like that it's so stuffed all of the time. I try to plan out shopping trips and pull coupons ahead of time and put them in a vinyl pencil bag for sticking in the diaper bag. I would love to try out the coupon binder/album. Since I rarely take my accordian folder in with me anyways, this would be nice. Thanks

Melissa said...

I am currently using the accordian folder but I don't like that it's so stuffed all of the time. I try to plan out shopping trips and pull coupons ahead of time and put them in a vinyl pencil bag for sticking in the diaper bag. I would love to try out the coupon binder/album. Since I rarely take my accordian folder in with me anyways, this would be nice. Thanks

Amy L. said...

I would be really interested in knowing how you have categorized your coupons- both color-coding and tab names for each envelope. I currently use 2 small accordion files and have my coupons alphabetized. It is working so far, but I have only been couponing since the beginning of October, so we'll see.

Janelle said...

I use the coupon box, but am considering attempting a binder type of system. I dislike having to pull out an entire category of coupons to look for a certain one, but changing systems seems so complicated! :)

Erin said...

I just use envelopes clipped together with a binder clip for now. Infinite expansion, but a box would help corral them!

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