Clutter Begone: Couponing

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I started couponing this summer when our income was reduced while I wasn’t teaching. I never intended to become one of those extreme couponers. I don’t have the time, patience, or… patience. But I did want and need to do something to help us save what we could.

The first thing I did was register for a Target RedCard. Since I do all my grocery shopping and about 95% of any other shopping at Target, it just made sense to get their rewards card. There are two kinds of cards for Target. One is a Target credit card. Do what you need, but I try to avoid credit cards. I chose the debit card option instead. This is a debit card that is linked to your own checking account. Target then issues you a Target debit card that can only be used at Target, but is linked to your own account. Every time you use this debit card, you automatically save 5% on your purchase (which ends up being pretty good savings when you’re averaging a $115 grocery bill every week). It also gets you free shipping for online purchases, and it also gets you special Target coupons. I love this card because it has no fees, and it is just as simple and easy to use as my regular debit card. Plus, the savings are instant!

Most of my grocery savings, though, comes from good old fashioned coupons in the Sunday paper. We subscribe to the paper Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for the sole purpose of getting their coupons. We used a Groupon and got a year subscription for the weekend papers for something ridiculously cheap, like $15 or $20. I know a lot of people use websites like coupons.com and smartsource.com, but I don’t have that much time (or patience, I should say…). If you’ve got the time and patience, though, you can really up your savings using those tools, too.

Every Sunday afternoon, I sit down with the newspapers, my coupon organizer, and my scissors and get to work!

One of the things that I never knew what to do with were restaurant and other types of coupons that we get that are for things and services other than groceries. I’d always forget I clipped these because I shoved them in a drawer somewhere. Finally, I got smart and hung them on my fridge in a gallon sized Ziplock. I used a second Ziplock to store our take out menus, which are another part of our clutter problem in the kitchen. I hung them using magnetic chip clips. Now, these hang on our fridge where I am constantly reminded that they are there, but they aren’t cluttering up our counter tops. The chip clips make them easy to use, too, because I can take them down and dig through them and then just hang them up when I’m done.

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I used to have a small coupon organizer. The paper kind you find in the $1 bins and check out aisles of the grocery store. But I ended up couponing more than I thought I would, and so I needed an upgrade on my system. This weekend I found a much larger, yet still compact organizer for $4.95 at Office Depot. It is plastic, which makes it more durable. And it came with organizing tabs and more space.

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I labeled my tabs according to how my Target grocery store was laid out. I made a section for each aisle of the grocery store. That way, if I need to flip through my coupons while I’m shopping (which I try not to have to do, by the way…), then I can find what I need as I shop. My categories are: produce/bakery, canned goods/condiments, boxed meals/soup, pasta/Mexican/ethnic, baking/cooking, snacks/cookies, juice/drinks/sodas, paper goods/food storage, cleaning, laundry, cold/frozen foods, health/beauty, baby products, and miscellaneous.

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What I especially liked about this coupon sorter was that it had a small pocket in the front. I used this to hold all my supplies. I put my pen and scissors in there, along with extra labeling tabs for the dividers in case I need to change my tabs in the future. I also keep my grocery list and meal planning notepad in there, too. I used to keep this on the fridge, but the magnet broke off the back of the pad, so now I just carry it with my coupons.

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When I sit down to actually coupon, I have a specific process I’ve been using for the past few months. It’s quick and mindless, which is perfect for a Sunday afternoon. First, I collect miscellaneous coupons that come randomly in the mail or that Chris and I pick up throughout the week. I use to just throw these all over the kitchen, aiming the general direction of my coupon organizer. But now I have a file folder in my mail center where I keep them. I just throw everything in there throughout the week, and then on Sundays I go through that file first to clip and put those coupons away. I keep my coupon organizer in the same spot as my mail center to make this part quick and easy. Everything is in one spot.

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Next, I go through the weekly circulars that come in our newspaper. As I’m clipping, I only clip coupons that I know we will use. I used to clip them all, but it was a mess and I ended up having to clean out my coupons all the time. Now, I only clip for products we actually use or need. As I clip, I sort them into piles according to my coupon organizer (ex. cleaning products, produce/bakery, etc.). Then when I’ve gone through all my coupons, I can just toss each pile into the right slots in my organizer. I make sure to put my new coupons in the back of each section in my organizer so that things don’t expire before I can use them. I also make sure that I go through the coupons in the front of each section each week and toss any that have expired. All total, it probably takes me half an hour to 45 minutes to clip, sort, and clean out my coupons each week. Which is well worth the savings I get, which is anywhere from $20 to $40 a week on average.

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Couponing is one of those savings tools that can be as in depth and effective as you choose to make it. I know people who are extreme couponers that devote lots of time to their coupon system. I do just enough to save us some real money each week on our grocery list, and that’s about it. It was a lot more time intensive before I organized my process, though, I can tell you that. If you’re interested in couponing, I’d suggest getting a good system in place. It’ll save you a lot of time and maybe even some money in the long run!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my first in the “Clutter Begone” series on organizing household paperwork.

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