So I began very simply: I got an accordion folder off of Amazon for about $10. It has 12 slots. Each week I get two copies of the newspaper and put the coupon inserts into one slot. The following week I put the coupon inserts into the next slot. After 12 weeks your box is full. Pull out the coupons from the original slot. Most of them have expired by now but cut out any coupons you really want that are still good. Recycle the rest and use that slot for next week's coupons. I bought one similar to this:
Then I got a small accordion file to take with me shopping. It holds all of my already-cut-out coupons sorted by category (baby stuff, canned goods, bread, produce, etc.) and all of my store loyalty cards.
Here's mine. I really like it because it has a velcro strap to loop around the shopping cart handle, which keeps it open so you can see what's in there and dig around with only one hand.
So let's say Ronzoni pasta is on sale B1G1 for $2.00. They tell you there's a coupon from the May 5th paper in the RedPlum insert for $0.50 off when you buy one. You have two of these coupons. Bi-Lo doubles coupons up to $0.60 so that makes this coupon worth $1 instead of only $0.50. You buy two pastas for a total of $2.00, use your two coupons, and get $2 off. Voila! It was FREE. God bless couponing. You can print coupons for free from various web sites like Coupons.com too. You get to print two of each coupon per computer, so if you have two laptops and a desktop at your house you can legally print six of the same coupon. When Tide Pods have a coupon for $2 off you can bet your keister that I print out six of 'em!
Here's the problem - I'm lazy and/or disorganized when I go shopping. I always have my small folder of clipped coupons but I never bring the giant accordion file with me, so half the time I'm in the store and see a great deal but I don't have the appropriate coupons with me. This really puts me in a bad mood. I'm serious! If I have to pay $3 for spaghetti sauce when I know I could have gotten four of them for a quarter each it really ticks me off. I know, I need to get a life.
Enter the coupon binder. It's a 3-ring binder that you fill with clear plastic sleeves to organize all your coupons. You take it with you to the store and never forget a coupon again. Yes, you kind of look like a dork. I'm ok with that. When I get to the check stand and my total rings up before coupons at $150, and then it comes down to $89, I embrace my inner dork! I bought mine at Staples for $15 but this is very similar to what I got.
However, you spend a LOT of time up front clipping coupons. And you don't want to clip every coupon, just the ones you know you'll use. Even only clipping the ones I wanted from two sets of inserts took me well over an hour. I did it during nap time and still wasn't done when the baby woke up.
So I came up with my own version of the coupon binder. It's kind of a hybrid method and so far it's working out very well. Here's the gist of it:
1) Buy some 3 pocket currency holder sleeves and baseball card sleeves. Each week print online coupons and clip ONLY the ones you plan to use right away. Put them into these sleeves in your binder.
2) Buy clear sheet protectors and put the whole coupon inserts into them. I usually put the SmartSource inserts in one and the RedPlum in another one, and Proctor & Gamble in a third for each week. Put them in the binder.
3) Get some tabbed dividers and separate the clipped coupons into categories. There are a ton of web sites that have free downloads to print. KrazyCouponLady and CouponingToDisney are two that I like. Print out the categories to organize your binder if you like.
4) Here's the most important part - MAKE A SHOPPING LIST BEFORE YOU GO TO THE STORE! It seems pretty obvious but this was my hardest challenge. I made a quick list of what I wanted to get but didn't bother to make sure I had all the coupons with me before I left the house. Then I got to the store with Baby #2, who is NOT a good shopper and can't keep his hands to himself, I'd get flustered because he's screaming like a banshee, I can't find the coupons I need, get mad at myself for not being more prepared, and go check out without having saved as much as I wanted.
Sooooooo, be sure to have your shopping list prepared before you go.
But if you hate clipping coupons, or you fall off the wagon, here's the best trick I've learned. EVERYTHING in the store has a lowest price. Have you noticed how Captain Crunch will be $2.50 one week, $3.50, the next, and $4 the next? Most grocery stores around here have a 6-8 week cycle. So if Captain Crunch is priced at $2/box this week it will probably be that price again in 6-8 weeks. You'll have to pay attention for two months and go to the store every week. When you notice the best price you've ever seen on something you already buy, write down the date and price. Buy enough of that item to last 6-8 weeks. So maybe instead of buying 1 or 2 boxes of Captain Crunch you buy 10. If you have coupons, then you really score! But if not you'll still save a ton of money this way.
I have periods where I'm all about couponing, and phases where I get burned out and can't be bothered. But I try to never buy anything unless it's at its lowest price, or on sale at least 40% off. As long as I do that I don't need a coupon.