This week, I'm happy to answer another question from a reader like you who is learning to super-coupon:
Q: "In reading your column, I've not seen how to organize my coupons. In one of your early columns, you suggested keeping the entire booklet of coupons together. So I do. But then when I'm shopping I don't know what I have. If we don't clip the coupons out and categorize them, how do we know what we have on hand?"
A: Thankfully, using coupons is easier than it's ever been. Much of that is due to the method that I use, which I call a "clipless" system because you clip less! I only cut the coupons I need for each week's trip. All of the other coupons stay in the insert, where they are easy to find when I'm planning my next shopping trip.
In the past, in order to match coupons to sales, people would cut absolutely every coupon they received in their newspaper inserts and carry them all around, usually in a big binder or box. This method, though, is the reason many people give up on using coupons. It's incredibly time-consuming and tedious. Most of us want to save money without investing hours in cutting and sorting little pieces of paper each week.
Here's how I organize and use my coupons. When my coupons arrive in the newspaper each week, I take all of the inserts and write the date on the front. Then, I store them in an expandable file. These are inexpensive and can be found at any department or office-supply store. I use one pocket for each month and a typical accordion file can hold six months' worth of coupons or more.
When I'm ready to plan my shopping trips and cut the coupons I'll need, I head to the Internet. There are many coupon Web sites that help you match coupons to sales. On my Web site, www.supercouponing.com, I've got a free coupon lookup utility that's very easy to use! You type either the name of the product you'd like to find coupons for (such as "Kellogg's") or a general category of product ("dog food," for example) and the coupon lookup returns a list of all of the coupons currently in your inserts along with the values, purchase requirements and expiration dates. This database also delivers information about exactly where to find your coupon. When your inserts arrive, perhaps you've noticed each one has a name at the top, such as Procter & Gamble or SmartSource. The database will tell you the name and date of the insert that contains the coupon you're looking for. At that point, you simply pull that insert out of your file, cut the coupon you need and return the insert to the file for use another day.
This is a quick, easy system to use. You'll be surprised how quickly you can plan your shopping trips with it. On an average trip, you might use 10 to 15 coupons. Wouldn't you rather just cut those few rather than the 40 or more that arrive in the inserts each week? Using the "clipless" method, you're only cutting what you need - and if you don't need a coupon, you're not spending time or energy cutting it out or carrying it around.
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Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her Web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.