Cut Coupon Clutter

by Karen Baxter

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In the past year, I've saved more than $200 on groceries using coupons. Despite my savings, however, there was a time when I vowed I wouldn't let another coupon into my house. They seemed to be uncontrollably multiplying, taking over my kitchen table, counter and my car faster than kudzu.

Instead of renouncing coupons, which went entirely against my frugal nature, I finally decided to do something about the clutter. The following system has worked for me, and it is easy enough for anyone to use.

Designate one place to keep unclipped coupons. A shallow rectangular basket or a plastic container is a good choice because it is compact and portable. Also, keep a pair of scissors in the bottom of the container so you won't have to waste time searching for them.

As soon as you bring the Sunday paper in the house, remove the coupon sections and place them in their assigned spot. Otherwise, in addition to having the coupons, you'll accumulate piles of entire newspapers, which take up much more space.

When you are ready to start cutting, find a place where you can spread out, like a kitchen table or breakfast counter. I don't advise clipping coupons in bed, unless you don't mind waking up with a stray peanut butter ad stuck to your cheek.

Clip only the coupons for items and brands you will definitely use or are highly likely to use. If you don't have a dog, toss all the dog food coupons. You won't need them! If you are loyal to one brand of ice cream, don't bother with the coupons for another brand.

Also, pay attention to expiration dates. If a coupon for paper towels expires in three weeks, but you have a year's worth of paper towels in storage, don't keep that coupon "just in case."

As you clip, create makeshift piles on the tabletop separating the keeper coupons into categories. I use the following categories: beverages, bread and snacks, canned goods, cleaning, dairy, frozen, health and beauty, meat and poultry, paper goods, pet supplies, rice and pasta, and spices and sauces. Sometimes one item can potentially fit into more than one category. In this case, I categorize it according to its location in the store. For example, I put frozen orange juice in the "frozen" category instead of in "beverages."

It is tempting to save coupons for friends and family members who might have a use for them, but this will only create more clutter for you. I don't save coupons for anyone anymore unless she's specifically requested that I keep a look out for a certain item. In that case, I immediately put the coupons in a separate envelope and get them out in the mail so they won't get lost in the shuffle.

Once you have discarded all of the coupons you don't want and have the ones you're saving placed in piles, you can easily transfer them into a coupon organizer. I use a sturdy, plastic, purse-size accordion folder, which I purchased at the dollar store. Label the blank tabs that come with the organizer with the same categories as your piles, leaving the front pocket unlabeled and empty. (See below for explanation.) You can either order your categories alphabetically or by the order in which you find them in the grocery store.

The last part of my coupon clipping routine is to review the week's sales circulars to match sale items with coupons in order to maximize my savings. I add these items to my grocery list, noting the sale price and the amount of the coupon. This helps keep me on track while I'm shopping. I immediately place the coupons I plan on using in the front pocket of the organizer, so I can easily locate them in the store and have them handy for checkout.

Keeping my coupons organized has not only made my life much simpler, but it has further increased my savings at the store because I can easily locate a particular coupon whenever I need it.

Karen Baxter is a freelance writer living in Abingdon, Maryland.

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