Organizing Coupons

If you don’t have a good way to organize your coupons, you’ll probably give up on using them to save money.  A good system is critical to success!

There isn’t only one way to set up a good coupon organization system.  The bottom line is that you need a system that works for you.  After trial and error over a couple decades, I am going to share what I’ve settled on, with some options along the way, to tailor it to your needs.

File Whole Coupon Inserts

Eventually, you will have to cut the coupons you want, but you won’t cut them until you need them, if you use only this method.  You’ll save time filing a bunch of extra coupons and cleaning out each expired coupon later.

If you are able to leave your home with an organized plan, this method might be for you.  The biggest drawback is that you won’t have your extra coupons with you for those surprise deals you stumble on or the item you forgot to add to your list.  You might prefer the cutting method or a little of both if that bothers you.  (There’s more on how I do it below.)

The method is simple.  You write the date on the outside of each Sunday coupon insert, file the whole insert, and cut the coupons you want when you need them.

The lists we provide tell you which date and insert to get each coupon from.  (SS = Smart Source, RMN = Retail Me Not, P&G = Proctor & Gamble)  The shopping list feature (click a green plus sign to start list) even allows you to organize your coupons by insert so you can cut everything you need out of it, at one time.

If you want something that’s not on our lists, you can find your coupon by using our coupon database.  (It’s listed under “Coupons” on the menu bar, too.)

If you get more than one set of coupons, I suggest creating a collated insert.  I do that by preserving one outer cover and (front & back page still attached) to hold the other sheets inside.  I rip apart each page and stick identical sheets of coupons on top of each other.  When you need a coupon, you can cut more than one at at time.

You may get lucky and find these in the dollar section or at a dollar store.
They are large enough to fit whole inserts.
Or, an office supply store should have them.

There is also a wide selection on Amazon here.
Make sure you get one with enough dividers.
This cheap one, above, only has 6, but you could use two.
I like 12 dividers.

You can use a file box, plastic tote-type box, file drawer, larger divided envelope style holder, or really any method of keeping your coupons organized.  The exact way you do that is up to you.  I prefer to have a rotating system and not waste a file folder for each date, though that is an option.

I have a file box that I’ve labeled with “Week 1” through “Week 12.”  I have a sticky note on the inside of the box that tells me which date goes with which letter.  Something like:
Week 1 = 8/14
Week 2 = 8/21
Week 3 = 8/29  etc.

* If you get behind or get confused, the date is printed very small on the binding of each coupon insert.

Twelve slots have worked well for me.  When I’m running out of slots, I flip through the oldest inserts and toss the expired ones, occasionally cutting one or two that haven’t expired.  Clearing out the old ones frees up the slots for the next sets that are coming.  I either cross off, the previous date (when I’m feeling lazy) or make a new sticky note for my key.

Note:  I still suggest you have an envelope or some other way to transport the coupons you end up taking to the store.  You will also find that you will cut coupons you don’t end up using (out of stock, change mind, etc.).  You might want to put them in the same envelope you carry to the store.  Or, just be diligent about putting them back with the proper insert, so you can locate them the next time you want them.

If you find you’re cutting a lot and need a separate coupon organization system (beyond just one envelope), see below.  I cut a lot, but also keep the inserts filed, so I can go back and get anything I didn’t think I’d use, but end up discovering I want.

Cut & File Coupons

Before I file my whole Sunday coupon inserts, (as described above)  I cut out these coupons:

  • Coupons that are likely to be needed/wanted
    (Usual sales, products I often buy, high value coupons, etc.)
  • Chilled food that I use like deli meat, yogurt, and cheese
    (often marked down for quick sale and not a planned purchase)
  • Cosmetics
    (ads don’t show inclusions very well; good to have them all)

I cut these and file them, using the system below.

Honestly, I rarely have to go back to my whole inserts to cut coupons.  I cut more than I should, but that’s okay.  I have the extras available, if a good deal comes up.

If you don’t cut many, you will miss out on some clearance or other impromptu purchases, but it’s a small price to pay for all the time you save cutting, filing, and getting rid of coupons you don’t end up using.  You will have to decide which way works best for you.

I bought this set on Amazon.  It’s a 4-pk, so you can really break things down and get organized.  To me, that’s key.  Too much in one category drives me nuts, and I end up spending too much time digging to find coupons.  These each have 12 dividers, up to 13 slots, if you use the very back.

Sometimes, you can find similar envelopes in the dollar section at Target or somewhere else, but I didn’t want to hunt all over town.  I also liked the four different colors, which can’t always be found.  I can quickly figure out which folder is which, just by seeing the color.  Make sure you get one with 12 dividers, not fewer.  Many of the cheaper ones only have about 6 dividers.

The rubber closure will probably lose its elasticity.  You may be able to wrap it around the entire envelope, at some point.  If that doesn’t work or it snaps, you can cut it off and attach a piece of Velcro/fasteners to each corner.  Other holders also end up failing in some way, even more expensive ones.  This is a cheap/simple option, if the holders are still in good shape.

I don’t bother putting the provided stickers on the tabs.  They don’t stay attached for long.  Use a permanent marker and write directly onto the plastic tabs.  You may need to re-write them later, but it’s easier than fighting labels that continually fall off.  I’ll warn you that it’s a challenge to write neatly.  If you’re a perfectionist, breathe deeply and press on!  Mine look like a first grader wrote the back row, but that’s okay.

Put your name and phone number on each holder.  I used to tape a nicely written and cut paper on the inside, but it will probably fall off, eventually.   I’ve resorted to a permanent marker.  It does the job.  There is a good chance that you will leave them somewhere.  Unfortunately, I am speaking from experience.

Here’s how you can set up your coupons, if you have four envelopes.  If you want to use fewer, you can combine categories and just use this as a guideline.


Envelope #1 ~ Dining, Retail & Fun

I always have one organizer for coupons like restaurants, department stores, & entertainment.  I leave them in my car, so I always have them handy when I’m out, unless I’m in the wrong vehicle.  Ughhh!  Plan ahead, if you ever switch vehicles.

Combine or expand categories, to tailor it to your needs.  If you always eat at Culver’s, have a separate category for those coupons.  If you don’t have many movie related items, put them in with “Fun.”  If you have a bunch of Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons, make a category just for them.

Here are some suggested slots, with room for you to add in something that works for you . . .

I put food first.  I prefer it being separated from non-food vs having it all alphabetical.

Casual (Dining)
Sweet (ice cream/yogurt places, doughnuts…)
Fast (Food)
Formal (Dining)
Fun (bowling, skating, zoo…)
(can grab out coupons for all stores, if I am going)
Service (car wash, haircuts…)
Parenthesis are for your clarification; bold/shorter is used for writing on tabs

Envelope #2 ~ Non-Chilled Food

Beverages (non-chilled)
Breakfast (cereal, bars, syrup, pancake mix; fruit snacks — because they’re stocked here, not because they’re breakfast)
  — Can break down into “Cereal” & “Bars/Snacks” if use a lot.  Put syrup or pancakes in either, or make another general “Breakfast” (not much left or common; maybe add peanut butter, if it’s usually in this aisle at your store.)  Personally, I did “Cereal” and “Bars +” — knowing all but cereal, if it’s in the breakfast aisle, goes in “Bars.”
Canned & Packaged
Rice/Pasta (includes sauce)
Snacks (chips, crackers, cookies, peanuts; not candy/gum)
** For space issues, I only write the first listed, on the tab, when two are listed above.  It’s not 100% descriptive, but I know what goes there.

Envelope #3 ~ Cold Food & Store Slots

Dairy (+ misc. refrigerated)
Dessert (frozen sweets; ice cream, novelties, pies)
~~ I label this “Dessert” so it fits better, but only frozen items go here, not candy or other sweets.
Frozen (non-sweet)
Meat (bacon, lunch meat, hot dogs, seafood)
Produce (refrigerated dressing, Driscoll’s coupons)
Specific Store(s) (***see note below)
~~ Albertsons, Bashas’, Fry’s, Safeway, Sprouts (add, subtract or combine based on where you shop)

In the very back of this envelope (with grocery stores in it), I have a reminder for myself.  “Get Raincheck!” is written on a piece of cardstock.  Before this, I can’t tell you how many times I left a store without a raincheck.  When I find the shelf bare, I pull that out and put it with my pile of other coupons.  When I hand the stack to the cashier, I’m reminded to ask for a raincheck.  Or, they can discover it and look at my funny, if I bury it and forget.  Both methods mean I don’t forget to ask for one!

Envelope #4 ~ Non-Food

I can grab just this one, when I know I’m going into a drugstore or somewhere else and won’t be buying food.

Baby/Pet (also include food, though this is in “Non-Food”; can put in misc. or skip, if not needed)
Cleaning (laundry, dishwashing, bathroom, fresheners)
Healthcare (medicine, vitamins, Band-aids)
Paper & Plastics (tp, Kleenex, paper towels, food storage)
Personal Care (feminine products, make-up, lotion, razors, oral care)
~~ If you leave out Baby/Pet (or put those in Misc) & don’t use all specific stores, break down this category more and put remaining in “Personal Care” (if don’t use all listed).
~~~ Body (lotion, deodorant, razors)
~~~ Face (make-up, facial cleanser/moisturizer)
~~~ Feminine
~~~ Hair
~~~ Oral Care
Specific Store(s)
(***see note below)
~~ Target, CVS, Walgreens (if you shop these stores)
~~ One can be put in the very back, without a tab or left open for non-filed coupons or whatever/nothing.

I don’t have a baby anymore, but have a dog.  Here’s what I did (alphabetical, except end):
Body, Cleaning, Face, Feminine, Hair, Health, Oral, Paper (plastics), Pet, Misc, CVS, Target

** “Specific Store” is where I put rainchecks, store coupons, and coupons I know I’ll want to use at that store and not forget. If I’m pulling coupons to get ready to shop, I’ll put them there so they’re waiting when I get to that store. When/if I print out my shopping list, I also put it there.

I like having a slot for most stores, but you can conserve space.  If you have a favorite store, make one for that and combine the rest, or put them all together.  It’s very flexible!

** For space issues, I only write the first listed, on the tab, when two are listed above.  It’s not 100% descriptive, but I know what goes there.

Just to touch on other systems … some like a binder with baseball card sleeves.  I had a similar pre-made (smaller) system that required me to slide things into plastic and I hated it.  Getting the coupons in and out slowed me down too much.  Some people love binders, but I don’t like the large size or pain of stuffing coupons into the right slot.  It’s very flexible, since you can take pages in and out, so there is an advantage to that.  Minimally, you’ll look pretty serious and official!

There are also many more expensive coupon systems (like above) you can purchase, but I have never found one I thought was worth the money.  Most of them have either too many or too few dividers/pre-made tabs; are too big or too small; are too hard to get coupons in and out; not sturdy enough …  nothing has made me more happy than making my own.  However, I’m sure Google or Amazon can come to the rescue if you want to go one of those routes.  You’ll definitely look more stylish with some, and you’ll save enough to pay for it soon, right?

Maintaining Coupons

With all the methods for organizing your coupons, you’ll probably still need a way to maintain an envelope, box, or binder that holds the coupons you cut. (I don’t have an easy way to do a binder since I’ve never used one and they’re set up differently.) The method below is what I do with my envelope, but it would also work for a box.

Once you have your coupon holder figured out, you’ll need to maintain it to keep you from going insane!  This is hard to explain in writing, but it’s quite simple, so stick with me . . .

I always file new coupons in the back of each section, not paying any attention to the expiration date.  Every month I do something to clear old ones out.  I alternate months, only because I don’t want to invest the time it takes to do it well each month.  One month is easy, the next one takes awhile.

On the first month, I clean out each section by pulling out all expired ones.  Next, I pull all the current month’s coupons to the front and the next month’s coupons behind it. I don’t worry about specific dates, just the month.  After those two months, I put everything else all scrambled up behind them.  (Don’t waste your time arranging them since by the time two months pass they will no longer be in order due to the new coupons you keep putting behind.)

The next month it’s easier.  I just pull out all the ones in front of each section, that have expired.  I don’t get all the expired coupons since some have been filed in the back or get messed up along the way.  I call it close enough and can close my envelope again.  This helps reduce the number of coupons I have to sift through to find what I’m looking through, with minimal effort.

I rarely do this right at the perfect end of the month, though that would be ideal. I wait until I have “car time.”  (No, not while I’m driving!) I wait until my husband is driving us somewhere.  This is also the time I file most of my coupons, unless I get behind.  I don’t watch much TV, but that would be another great time to do it. You could also hire your kids! I haven’t tried that, but might in the future.

Of course, if you have a system that makes more sense or if you want to invest more time each month to keep them more current — all the better!

A good setup is crucial, so find one that you think you’ll like and test it out!

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2 Comments on Organizing Coupons

  1. hello im new at this and need help. i live in hidden valley and have four girls and would appriciate it sooooo much if you had a class on how to and if you need more people to go i will get more and help you with anything you need help with. i hope this goes thru and gets to you.

    1. It got to me. That’s the good news. The bad new is that I don’t have a coupon class planned. :( I used to do them, but I just had to cut something from my life and that’s one thing that had to go. I may do it again, but I don’t have any planned now. Life is still much too full and I just can’t give up other priorities I have in life, as much as I’m tempted sometimes. I love teaching and helping people learn to save.

      Thankfully, I can do it with this website. We try to make everything we post as user friendly as possible, but there are some basics you’ll need to learn. If you read the top menu bar of the website and the bottom of each list (including some links that lead you to more information), you will learn most everything.

      We’re also here to help. We answer all emails that come through to us and try to watch the Facebook page carefully, and do the same. Plus, there are other readers over on Facebook who jump in and help also.

      So, ask any questions you have, under the appropriate list or place you’re confused .. either on the website or on the Facebook page. We’ll help you figure it out.

      Hope you learn quickly and can start saving a bunch soon!

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