Frugal Family Footnotes
School supplies for mom, too
Aug. 15, 2011
by Kristi Hiivala

My husband calls me organized. I personally think of my organization skills as a way of survival.

With three busy kids in the household, it’s nearly impossible to keep everyone’s plans straight without an organized system. I use a large dry erase board that hangs on the wall and I list everywhere, everyone is supposed to be every day. Every member of the household has a color assigned to them so a quick glance at the board allows me to see quickly where I was supposed to be, with whom, five minutes ago.

These organizational skills work out great for couponing. Coupons are little pieces of paper that hold a ton of info: what product it is good for, how much money you can save, when it expires, and who is honoring the discount. Because of all this information, you can organize your coupons in a variety of ways. The goal of having your coupons organized is to save you time in the store and as the saying goes, “time equals money.”

When I started couponing, I used a plain number-10 envelope to hold any coupons I clipped. At that point, I was only using coupons when I remembered to bring them along to the store, and even then, I questioned whether I really wanted to haggle with what could potentially be a big mess (example: have you ever seen what a pile of clipped coupons looks like on the floor of the Marketplace after your toddler child “helps” you?). I didn’t organize them by any certain way in the envelope – it was more of an afterthought. That is, I thought, “oh darn it, I forgot to use the coupon” after I left the store!

Once I realized that my envelope method wasn’t working for me, I found an old pocket tab divider holder that was actually lying around my house. I am still not sure how we got it, but my toddler was using it to store her stickers in it. I bribed her to let me use her holder by agreeing to let her “drive” the blue car cart at the grocery store the next time we were there.

The pocket tab divider holder allowed me to separate my coupons, saving time by not having to go through every coupon in the store aisles. I decided to separate the coupons by product. The pocket tab dividers were labeled: Freezer Food, Aisle Food, Refrigerator Food, Cleaning, Bathroom, Baby, Pets, and Misc.

While these product separations worked for my family (we have a dog so we needed the pets category), the coupons could be separated in whatever way would be easiest for accessing throughout the store. The main idea was that when I was in a certain part of the grocery store, I could potentially look under each tab divider to grab the pile of coupons needed, which saved me time.

This system worked for awhile. But every single time we went to the store, my toddler reminded me that I was using her sticker holder.

As my coupon savings progressed, I decided to step up my coupon organizing to the next level: the three-ring binder. Before you can even think of this system, you have to ask yourself (and your husband and children) if you are really ok with hauling a three-ring binder into the store with you each time. Would you be too embarrassed? Would your family?

Carrying a three-ring binder around can be an attention grabber for store employees and other shoppers. I must admit that the first few times I took mine along, I was a little self-conscious. But as I quickly discovered, when I didn’t bring my binder with me to the store, I missed out on a few deals where I could have gotten an unadvertised sale product for free because I didn’t have my coupons with me. It only took a few of those missed deals to make me realize that carrying a binder into the store, and the looks I get from others, is worth the money I save.

I asked to borrow some of my child’s baseball card holder pages to use in my binder – they are a perfect size to fit the smaller coupons from the paper (I figured the holders were not being used, seeing the number of baseball cards I was picking up off of the floor).

For Internet-printed coupons and for the larger coupons from sales ads, I purchased a few clear inserts intended to display collectible money. I lucked out and got them on clearance from amazon.com and they are a perfect addition to my coupon binder. I changed only a few divider tab titles to fit the kind of coupons I was collecting and for the past four months now, I have been enjoying how easy it is to find a coupon in my binder.

So, while you are picking up school supplies for the kiddos in the next few weeks, I encourage you to take the next step in couponing and pick up a binder for yourself, as well. Go ahead – tell everyone the Hello Kitty binder is yours! Happy savings!

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