My first advice to someone who has started couponing is to find a system that works for you. I started with a small accordion file, which is good for a beginning couponer or someone who only collects specific coupons. When I realized that the 13 pockets weren't enough for me to a.) hold all the coupons I was collecting, and b:) find what I needed quickly in the store, I switched to my own system of a plastic basket filled with envelopes, and the envelopes had all the categories I needed. This system worked a while for me, but the envelopes did not hold up for long, and the basket was open, which meant I had to be very careful with it when I left the house.
Finally while reading one of the many couponing blogs I like, I found out about My Coupon Keeper. This has been my favorite system so far, and it is the one I use now.
The idea of it is pretty simple actually, it is a very sturdy plastic box, with tabbed dividers that come with labels that you can affix yourself. When I got mine in the mail, I didn't see the labels in the box, so I made my own and that is mostly what I use now for my categories.
Here are two pictures of my personal coupon organizer. I have the categories set up specifically in the categories that I like to search for the coupons, and then in alphabetical order.
Here's my list of categories. As you will notice, most are pretty general, except the health and beauty items are broken out in more categories... the main reason is that a lot of these items are cheap or free at the drugstores, so using my system this way will help me get the maximum amount of free stuff!
BOGO/Free - This is used for the BOGO coupons, free coupons, and high value coupons. This way I'm less likely to miss one I really wanted to use.
Beauty - skin care, misc Health & Beauty
Organic - This is broken out separately because the store I primarily shop at has a specific section for organic products.
I chose the stores at the end specifically because they are the stores that I receive the most store specific coupons.
The coupon system also comes with these small plastic holders, which I use for the following: one for unsorted coupons (for this box) and one for unsorted coupons for restaurants, stores, etc. I'll show that section in a bit.
So this is how I store the coupons. Once a month, usually in the last week of the month, I spend a little time and go through what I have. My main coupon box is mostly full by the end of the month, so I purge the coupons that are expiring that month. Doing this in the last week means that I have time to go through the ones that will expire and go to the store if there are any HOT coupons to be used! (Most of the time I will make a run to the store to purchase whatever is in my BOGO/Free section!)
Each week, I look at the savings/deals blogs and find out what I'm going to buy. I write down a shopping list for each store with what I am planning to purchase that week. Then I either match the coupons from my organizer or print whatever I need to from the Internet. I store each store's list and coupons in a separate accordion file.
My categories for this file are the stores that I will shop at or do deals for.
Shop N Save
Online (for online coupon codes, etc)
Now don't think that since I have a category for the store that I shop at each store each week. Oh no. I keep this file separate for several reasons, but the main one is that I like to do the drugstore shopping (CVS and Rite Aid) on my lunch hour since I work downtown. This saves me a lot of time and most of the time I buy what's on my list. This way I can keep my Register Rewards (Walgreens), Extra Care Bucks (CVS), and UP Rewards (Rite Aid) with my weekly list. Also if I find that I am stopping at Giant Eagle for one thing, I will have my file with the hot deals that I don't want to miss.
Last week I did all of my lists for the week over the weekend. Then I found that I didn't make it to any of the stores at all. Some weeks are like that, and I don't feel like I missed anything because even though there were things I could have gotten for free, it was nothing I needed desperately.
Lastly, I'll show you the file I use to organize restaurant and store coupons. I have changed this system several times as well... they used to be by category but some categories, such as restaurants and stores, had a lot of coupons, where other categories were empty, or there was not a category where a coupon fit well. Now I organize them alphabetically and this saves me a lot of time.
Like I said - you need to find the system that works for you!!
Other systems I didn't mention, that I have not tried are the binder system, and organizing coupon inserts by week.
The binder system was demonstrated on the Extreme Couponing show on TLC by Joanie the Krazy Coupon Lady. I found this one to be time consuming for me, and I'd rather have a smaller box of coupons to stick in my tote bag that I take to the store.
Organizing the coupon inserts by week has several advantages. First, if you buy multiple papers to collect the coupons (I usually purchase at least three) then you don't have to cut them all. Second, the deals/coupons blogs usually feature the deals and list the coupons by week that they were released (i.e. Smart Source, 1/23 or Redplum 1/23, etc). I don't like to use this method because I collect coupons from many sources... and I like to have them all with me when I make a trip.
Do you have a method or system that you like? Please comment on it if you have anything to add!
Update: I have a special deal for my readers. If you enter code JOURNEYTODEBTREE, you will receive an additional purse sized folder FREE!