Frugal Friday: Coupon Organizing

As a person just starting out in the coupon game, you may find your “stash” of clipped coupons or circulars isn’t too hard to manage.  Now fast forward a few weeks, with accumulated circulars (sometimes from multiple copies of the newspaper), coupons that accompanied your free samples, and the ones inside the cardboard packaging of those granola bars you just bought…also on coupon.  You’ll quickly find that you need some method or sort of organization to make this venture easier.  Walking down the grocery store aisle and frantically digging for that ONE coupon may not be working so smoothly from here on out.

I organize, simply.  For $12.99, I picked up a 13-file expanding according file folder at Staples.  The coupons are stored in a corresponding file, organized by category, as how many of our local drug stores, grocery stores, and large retailers are:

Pantry (salad dressing, boxed rices and pastas, condiments, snack items, etc.)

Refrigerated (deli meats, cheeses, dairy products, eggs, and juices)

Frozen (entrees, vegetables, fruits, and desserts)

Household (batteries, housewares, paper products)

Cleaning Products (including laundry detergents and softeners, sponges, and dishwasher detergents)

Baby (diapers, wipes, bath products, and formula)

Personal Care (body wash, soaps, deodorants)

Oral Care (toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, whiteners, lip balms)

Beauty (makeup, facial cleansers, shampoo, conditioner, and hair styling products)

Pharmacy (medications and first aid)

Store Deals (store specific coupons including store coupons, rebates, extra care bucks, and register rewards)

When I go coupon shopping, I will check out the store deals before hand and place those in a separate envelope along with my shopping list, and any register rewards or gift certificates I may have for that particular store.  I will also take with me the entire accordion file with coupons.  At this size, it isn’t too bulky, and can even fit inside my purse.  If I see and unadvertised sale or an item on clearance, I have all my coupons there with me and ready to use.

How I organize may not be the best way you find to organize your coupons.  You can sort coupons in several ways, by expiration date, by brand name, by product name or by product category.  But there are several different organizational methods, so one is sure to work for you.

1. A shoebox-sized container with envelopes or dividers labeled by aisle, product type or item category.

2. A 3-ring binder with clear sheet protectors or trading card protector inserts.

3. A notecard box.

4. A pre-made coupon organizer with pre-set tabs or dividers available online.

Here’s some tools you can utilize to get you started on your own coupon organization method:

Printable Coupon Binder Pages

Printable Shopping List

Step-by-step on How To Create a Coupon Binder

Printable Coupon Binder Cover & Divider Pages

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Frugal Friday: My 5 Rules For Being Frugal

Happy Frugal Friday!  Beginning today, and continuing every week to come, I will be posting a new article on My Frugal Ways- how I personally increase my savings and decrease my spending.  Let’s start with my top rules on spending and saving, whether it be my weekly store spending, eating out, or online spending.

  1. Always check a store’s policies.  The coupon, return and exchange policies vary by each store.  Before considering using your coupons or returning an item, make sure to check with a store team member or on the store’s website for their policies.  For example, one store may accept only one coupon (store or manufacturer) per item.  This could mean a difference of paying half price for an item or paying absolutely nothing.  I recently discovered that Target would accept a coupon on a previous purchase if you brought the receipt back to the original store of purchase on the same business day!  This was a difference of $6 in savings for me when I purchased 2 maternity clothing items but left my store coupons at the house.
  2. Never settle for full price.  It may seem a little extreme to some of you, but I refuse to buy anything (with exception of rule #5 below) that isn’t either on sale or that I have a coupon for.  And since I began following this rule, I have done so without fail.  When it comes to our weekly grocery shopping, I start off with looking at the store’s advertisements.  What meats are on sale?  What fruits and vegetables are on sale?  Which snack items do I have a coupon for this week?  And my meals are planned based on those items.  If chicken thighs are on deep discount this week, but I have a week of meals lined up already, I’ll buy them anyways and freeze them for the following week.  The same goes for retail shopping and online shopping.  When buying retail, never pay full price.  Countless times I have purchased a household item or a new outfit, only to find the following weekend it goes on sale.  Going along with the rule to know each store’s policy, the store you made the purchase from may be able to do a price adjustment and refund you the difference of the sale price within a set amount of days.  When shopping online, check out sites such as Coupon Cabin or Retail Me Not for coupon codes, % off coupons, and free/discounted shipping offers.
  3. Set a budget.  For my family of 3 (soon to be 4!), I budget $60 every week for grocery and drugstore spending.  This includes all items I may need for meals for the week, toiletries, household items, snacks and little something extras.  Setting a budget allows you to make a limit for yourself and plan within your means.  Now, $60 a week obviously may not work for every family size or lifestyle.  In our household, I always try to make homemade meals, and have plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks in the house.  A budget should fit your family’s dietary needs, family size and schedule.  Prior to going shopping I write down my shopping list, sort through my coupons in addition to tallying up my total mentally while I am in the store.  That way I know if that extra snack item sets me over budget, I will usually leave it on the shelf instead of putting it in the cart.
  4. Plan your meals ahead.  Planning our week of breakfast, lunch and dinners ahead of time greatly helps me plan out my shopping trips and my savings before I even step foot into a store.  I begin by taking inventory of what I already have in the kitchen.  I write down the meats, vegetables,  and pantry items (such as pastas, rices, side dishes) we already have and I start there.  If I have a box of pasta and a frozen package of Italian sausage, I’ll look back onto my inventory list and see if there is a salad or package of frozen garlic bread I can pair up with it to make a meal.  I’ll add the missing ingredients to my shopping list, and then match those items up with coupons or store sales.
  5. Make an exception to forget all of the rules.  In a perfect world, I would love to plan every meal, have a coupon for every item, and walk into a store to find that without fail, the new toaster oven we need is on clearance!  Unfortunately, life happens and it doesn’t always work out as we planned.  At the last minute, we may run out of toilet tissue and there are no sales going on, nor a coupon in site.  I obviously am not going to wait on buying the item.  If something isn’t on sale, don’t fret.  My idea of being frugal means that the savings I take advantage of on a daily basis, allow me a slip-up to buy a full price item once in a while or treat my family to a night out that didn’t involve a Buy One, Get One Free entree.  Although- those are always nice.

Save Money on Your Newspaper Delivery Subscription

This morning I was paying my monthly bills and glanced at the latest statement for our Orange County Register newspaper subscription.  $44.82 for 8-weeks of Monday-Sunday Delivery.  Hmmm…I did the math.  $5.60 per week.  This seems a bit pricey.  There are always sales representatives phoning me and standing inside the grocery store with promotions that seem to be less than this.

I logged onto the Register’s website to see how much I would pay for the same subscription if I was signing up right now.  To my surprise, an 8-week subscription of Monday-Sunday Delivery was being advertised for only $29.31, or $3.66/week online!  I picked up the phone and called their customer service department, and within 5 minutes, they matched the online subscription price to the $3.66/week that was advertised on their website.  That is the easiest $15.51 I made in less than 5 minutes.

How you can save on your current subscription:

1.  Check the online rates of your local newspaper:

  • The Orange County (CA) Register was advertised at $1.51 per week for Sunday only delivery, $2.48 per week for Thursday-Sunday  delivery, and $3.66 per week for Monday-Sunday delivery.
  • The Los Angeles Times was advertised at $1 per week for Sunday only delivery, $1.50 per week for Thursday-Sunday delivery, and $2.99 per week for Monday-Sunday delivery.
  • The New York Times was advertised at $3.90 per week for Sunday only delivery, $5.40 per week for Friday-Sunday delivery, $3.85 per week for Monday-Friday delivery, and $7.70 per week for Monday-Sunday delivery.

2.  If you have an e-reader, computer, or mobile device, consider subscribing to only the E-Edition of the newspaper.  Reading the news online or on your iPad rather than subscribing to home delivery could save you up to 50% off of the home delivery rate, and can be conveniently purchased from iTunes, Amazon, or an app directly from your device.

3.  Cut down on the number of days you subscribe.  If you currently receive a 7-day subscription, but find you are only looking through the paper on the weekends, a Thursday-Sunday delivery may be a better fit for you.  If you are subscribing solely for the coupon circulars, consider a Sunday only delivery.

4.  If there are numerous local newspapers available for delivery in your area, consider subscribing to the one with a lower rate.  For example, in the Southern California area, it could mean a difference of up to a $1 per week.

If you currently subscribe to a newspaper delivery service, take a look at your next statement.  Have you been paying the same amount continuously every 8 or 16 weeks?  The rates featured online may be lower and with a quick phone call, I am sure any company would be more than happy to match the rate, rather than lose a customer.

Coming This Week…

Here are a few things to look forward to in coming weeks on How I Saved:

Monday Menus: Join me on Mondays when I plan our meals for the week based on weekly deals and featured coupons.

Tuesday Giveaways: Each Tuesday morning I’ll be featuring gift cards, free samples, and full sized products that you can enter to win!

Frugal Fridays:  A new article each Friday on frugal living and how you can simply increase your savings and decrease your spending.

Saturday & Sunday Store Deals:  Each Saturday you’ll find store deals for the top retailers- one day earlier than the circulars are released with your Sunday paper- allowing you to plan your attack for Sunday morning.

Daily printable coupons & online coupon codes you can use to save big!

Daily free samples that some of my favorite companies are offering and that you can easily sign up to receive in your mailbox.

Welcome to How I Saved!

Welcome to How I Saved- your new online, money-saving resource.

As a teenager, I would babysit my Aunt’s two children.  Going on family vacations with them, weekend stays, and spending my summers off of school at their house.  My income as a babysitter was pretty substantial, considering I had no expenses and well- was a 12-year old with no relevant experience helping out a family member.  Despite how much I made, I was always able to save a good portion of that paycheck.  My top purchases were clothing, accessories, shoes, CD’s and movie passes.  Though- the amount that I was able to save on sales items and local deals allowed me to buy that much more.  My Aunt would joke “You should write a book on how you saved a Million Dollars!”

Fast forward 15 years later.  My income is considerably higher now working as an Accounting Manager for an IT Firm.  I am grateful for my work flexibility which allows me to work from home and focus on things outside of the daily 9-5, like my fiancee’, my soon-to-be 3-year old step-daughter, and our new baby on the way, expected June 13th 2012.  A few other things have changed since my summers of changing my nephew’s diapers.  I also have those adult responsibilities- like rent, a car payment, grocery shopping lists, and utility bills. By moving a little further away from the city my fiancee’ works, we were able to save on our monthly rent.  And though we do spend slightly more on gas each month with the commute, I downgraded to a more economical car, and a lower car payment.  Now I’m focusing on everything else.  The everyday items that may seem small, but they add up to a lot!

Using the same savings savvy I did as a teenager, I am able to save hundreds each month on our grocery bill, in addition to freebies that fill my mailbox daily, local deals, deep discounts on online retailers, and free gift cards, electronics, and more that I earn online in just a few minutes each day.  Stay updated with me by visiting How I Saved, or subscribe to email updates, follow me on Twitter, or Facebook to get in on the savings yourself!

I look forward to having you all here.