What are the COUPON methods?
There are essentially 2 different ways to organize your coupons and thereby shop with them. You have what I like to call the Insert Coupon Method and the Clipping Coupon Method. Other couponers may call these methods by different names but the overall technique is the same. You also have 2 different ways of rolling any register rewards you may receive from your shop.
Insert Coupon Method
I’m not going to lie, the Insert coupon method is my favorite and the one that will take the least time upfront. I highly suggest any beginner to start with this method. Essentially all it requires is gathering the inserts from the paper and putting them in a binder or file box. In order to keep them organized it is best to mark the file or the insert itself with the insert type and date i.e. SS 4/17. I also mark the latest expiration date found in the insert on the front as well so that it is easy to know when the insert has run its course. This requires me to look through the insert and find the latest expiration date which seems like it would take up a lot of time, but I’ve found that it tends to take only a few minutes to go through all the inserts for the week.
You can see my own binder in the photo at the top of the page. I place each insert into a sheet protector and they are ordered by date so that they are easy to find. By “each insert” I mean that each different SS, RP, or P&G goes in its own sheet protector – so if I have 4 of each insert that week, all of the same insert goes into the same sheet protector. Other people may use a file box and place all the same inserts into one file folder and mark them in the same way. Either method is equally efficient. You should choose the method you feel would work best for you.
When it comes to cleaning out your inserts, this is just as easy since it is already marked with the expiration date. I usually go through my binder at the end of each month and remove any expired inserts which only takes a few minutes.
The one thing that couponers may feel is a disadvantage to this method is that it requires you to plan your shop in advance and then clip out the coupons that you plan to use. Personally I do not find this a disadvantage as I still feel that by planning ahead I am still getting the best deals. I just am not able to whip out a coupon in the store if I see something that was not advertised. But in those cases I usually just let it go.
Now if you are concerned of not being able to spontaneously find a certain type of coupon, there are ways to get around this. There are many sites that have lists of all the coupons currently active, and it is fairly easy to navigate this so that you can find the coupon that you want. Some people print out lists of each insert (which may look something like the photo above), and I have also seen where people will tear out each individual page of the insert, stack them if they have multiples, and put each in its own sheet protector to make it easier to find. I prefer sites (which I expand more upon on this page) that have coupons listed electronically so that I can just look it up quickly instead of scanning each individual list and page. Sometimes these sites have apps like this one that you can quickly look up the coupons on your phone. It also makes it easier if you choose to bring your binder or file box into the store so that you can clip out any coupons on site for any additional deals you may find. I personally don’t feel bringing your whole coupon book in store is necessary, but it is an option you may choose to take advantage of.
Clipping Coupon Method
Your other option is the clipping coupon method. Be forewarned that this method takes a large investment of time. It essentially requires you to clip each individual coupon out of each insert and organize them by category. You place each coupon into a slot in baseball card holders in a binder or file box. People with multiples of each insert will stack each page together and clip all of the same coupon out at the same time and staple together to help save time. Then they have all of the same coupon in the same baseball card slot.
The advantage of this method is that it is initially easier to find your coupons without having to look anything up. It also makes it a little easier to spontaneously find unadvertised deals in the store and match your coupons up with them.
Speaking from experience I don’t recommend this method. When I was first learning about couponing, this is the method that I found most often from research and was most recommended to me, but I found that it took up so much of my time that it didn’t take long for me to give it up and look for a faster alternative.
When you receive any type of reward from the register that can only be used on a future purchase, such as a gift card or catalina coupon, you have 2 options on how to use it, from transaction to transaction or from trip to trip.
First off, you can “roll” the register reward onto a second (or third) transaction at the same time and place, which I call rolling from transaction to transaction. For instance, if I go to Target and split my trip into several transactions, on my first transaction I may receive a $5 gift card which I then apply to my second transaction from which I may receive another $5 gift card which I then apply to my third transaction and so forth. At the end of all of my transactions I may have a $5 gift card that I then choose to apply to the first transaction of my next shopping trip and continue to keep the rewards rolling in this manner.
Your second option is to only have one transaction and roll any rewards onto your next shopping trip, which I describe as rolling from trip to trip. This is typically the route that I take myself as I feel that 1) It’s faster at the register, and 2) it takes less planning and organization beforehand than splitting it up into several transactions. For example, I may again go to Target and receive three $5 gift cards from my purchases. On my next shopping trip I plan to make purchases that will reward me with two more $5 gift cards. So I will plan to use two of the $5 gift cards I received on my previous trip to pay less out of pocket on this second trip. So if I continue to plan my shopping trips in this manner, I am constantly rolling the gift cards and applying the rewards to reduce my out of pocket cost. The only potential downside to this method is that it may require you to spend a little more at the beginning of your couponing to build up any register rewards like gift cards to start applying to future trips, plus certain rewards may expire at certain times so you have to coordinate when they are used so that they are not wasted i.e. catalina or ECB. But once you have that store of rewards you will start to pay much less upfront at the register later.
Either of these methods will help you to reduce your upfront out of pocket costs at the register. I personally prefer the “trip to trip” method and to apply the same reward amount to the transaction as I expect to receive back from my purchases. For me this is just easier to keep up with. I have found that on the “transaction to transaction” method, it is not uncommon to apply larger or smaller denominations of rewards onto the next transaction than you will receive back, so for me this is harder to keep track of. But again, you should choose the method that makes the most sense to you as they both can be equally as effective.
On one last note, when shopping for your coupons, the way in which you approach the register is the same as the rewards. You can either have 1 large transaction or break it up into smaller transactions. The way in which you would choose either method usually has to do with any register rewards you may receive or with the terms of the coupons you may be using – for instance if you wanted to use 8 manufacturer coupons on 8 individual bottles of detergent, but the coupon specifies you may only use 4 like coupons per transaction, so you may divide it into 2 separate transactions. Again I prefer to just do 1 transaction that is quick and simple and doesn’t take a whole lot of time to plan in advance.