Grocery coupons are a great way to trim your costs. But unless you are organized, potential savings could be slipping through your frugal fingers.
It is easy to spend a ton of time clipping grocery coupons from the week's circulars, only to forget the coupons at home when you go shopping.
Or perhaps you bring the coupons to the store, only to find out that most of them are expired.
If your "couponing life" is a disorganized mess, don't worry. Here are four tips that might help keep your coupons organized.
1. Schedule time to prepare. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes each week to comb through store circulars, and to print out any offers you receive via email. "Block off" this time on your schedule. This is a priority, so don't hesitate to document the time in your weekly planner or calendar.
Treat this practice like gardening: "Cull," or throw away, expired coupons, while also adding fresh ones to the collection.
The biggest benefit to scheduling a set time each week is that you'll be able to easily make a cost-benefit analysis. If you take 30 minutes per week to focus on couponing, and you save $30 per week as a result, then you're "earning" $1 per minute.
If, however, you see that you're spending an hour per week on couponing and only saving $6, you may want to rethink your efforts.
2. Keep coupons in one spot. Organize your coupons into a single binder or wallet. If you're using a binder, divide it into subcategories, such as "cereal," "vegetables" and "desserts."
Alternately, if you know that you regularly buy some items from particular stores, subdivide the list based on store information. This will make it easy to find what you're looking for when creating a shopping list.
3. Always have your binder handy. As soon as you're done updating your coupons, put this binder in your purse or car immediately. That way, you will have them on hand the next time you go shopping.
If you don't have a car, keep the pack of coupons near your keys, jacket or bus pass. That way, you will see the binder the moment you leave home.
Remember, your coupons won't help you save money if you don't bring them with you!
4. Use technology. Want to keep things really simple? "Clip" digital coupons. You can save these right to your smartphone.
This way, you can leave the binder at home. Apps such as Favado and Coupon Sherpa will collect coupons from a variety of stores.
Paula Pant helps people ditch the cubicle and live on their own terms. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental property units and hasn't had an employer since 2008. Her blog, "Afford Anything," is the gathering point for a tribe that refuses to say "I can't afford it." Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.