I don't spend a whole bunch of time couponing. After all, who has a whole bunch of time? But I do enjoy paying a little less for groceries and necessities every week, so I use some basic coupons. I also use a grocery list and a coupon binder. Check out my fancy coupon binder:
Pretty, right? Ha ha. Really, you are going to be loading your coupon binder in and out of stores. You are going to be shoving in your cart, in your trunk, and under a pile of cans on the kitchen counter. For me, must haves are that it be cheap, wipe-able, and seals shut (in this case with a magnetic tab). That's it.
I don't keep my weekly menu or grocery list in my coupon binder, because I only want to have to have my coupon binder with me in two places: at home and while shopping. If I have time to go to a coffee shop on a Monday and do paperwork, I might bring my binder to work with there. But, really, making my weekly menu in my planner is a better idea because I can glance and see that we are eating out on Monday night or going to a party on Friday night. And I ALWAYS have my planner with me, so if I have a craving for an orange or run out of coffee, I can list it in the grocery list in my planner. I add grocery items to the list as I run out at home. In the pic below, dinner menu is to the center left and grocery list is to the center right:
I shop on Tuesdays. And I only shop at Target. (Every now and then, Target doesn't carry something. In that case, getting that item from another store becomes an errand, to be done on errand day.) Since I live outside of the city, going to a bunch of stores wastes too much gas and time.
Because I shop on Tuesdays, Sunday and Mondays are when I prep for shopping. (Exception: if I KNOW I am eating something in particular or out the next week at dinnertime, that gets noted on my menu. Also, if I run out of something, it goes in my planner on the grocery list that I just mentioned.)
At prep time, I enter last weeks' receipt into my budget in Excel, enter any high priced or meat/cheese/staples items into my price book (that I will show later), and file the receipt in my little monthly receipt envelope that lives in my shopping tote.
The inside cover of my binder contains post-its, any 5% off an entire shopping day coupons that I got from Target for using their pharmacy, and any gift cards. It also contains a yellow legal pad (or scratch paper) for making this week's final grocery list.
To start the grocery list, I copy what is needed from my planner for this week (milk, bread, sugar...that sort of thing.) If I have a coupon for any of it, I attach it with a binder clip to my grocery list. (I put these coupons in the same order as things are set out in the store.) Target accepts one Target and one manufacturer coupon, so I check for both.
I check www.target.com's weekly ad (released on Sunday's) and Google "this week's target deals" to decide from the ad and from other bloggers if there is anything I want to buy due to sale. For example, I don't buy Halloween candy often, but when it goes on sale for trick-or-treat, comes with a $5 gift card, and I have two coupons, it's worth it to stock up then, even if it is two weeks before Halloween. I only buy some stuff, like toilet paper, my husband's Diet Mountain Dew (*cough* addicted *cough*) and paper towels, when they are on mega sale (about every two months). And if something like lean ground beef is one sale (I love 95% lean for cooking, but it's expensive and freezes well), I stock up. I add those things to the grocery list.
Then, based on sales, I adjust the weekly menu if necessary and make sure I have the right ingredients for each meal. (Usually, I use things in the freezer for cooking, but if potatoes are on sale, we might have a potato side instead of a rice side, or vice versa. And, of course, if an expensive meat is on sale, we might plan a meal around that.)
Finally, I pull any coupons that are about to expire, cross them from the index, and decide if it is worth using them this week. (For example, I would ALWAYS use a coupon on my coffee, since it rarely goes on sale and I am always going to have to buy it. But an ice cream coupon might not ever get used, if that kind of ice cream, a treat, never went on sale.)
Since I add items to my list as we run out (or, in the case of TRUE staples, like milk, when we have less than a week's worth left), my list is complete at this point. If I add an item to the list that has a coupon associated with it, I star the item on the list.
In order to make list making easier, I have a handwritten list of all my coupons, an index, divided into three parts - cold food, dry food, and nonfood. If I clip a coupon, it gets written on the list. After the first time, it only takes a second, I promise. And having an index is so useful! I scratch out coupons as I pull them for use (and just rewrite if I end up not using them).
My index lists: the date, T or nothing (for Target or manufacturer coupons), the amount off, how many you must buy, the type of item, the brand name, and any special instructions. For example, line 1 and the last line on this pic say:
11/04 1.00/2 Cheese Kraft Singles 8 - 16 oz.
10/27 T 1.00/2 Frozen Potatoes Ore-Ida
The next portion of my binder is a plastic. half cut clear folder, filled with unclipped, unindexed coupons.
I print (in black and white and low quality ink, so I waste as little money as possible) any coupons on http://www.target.com, http://www.coupons.com, and http://www.redplum.com on Sunday or Monday. (I have tried everything and Smartsource does not work for me.) Throughout the week, if I get any coupons in the mail, catalinas from the store, or coupons from the newspaper, I also put them in this section of the coupon binder with the printed coupons. (I do not subscribe to our newspaper, as it has very few valuable coupons in our local, per area bloggers.) When I get a chance (but always before I make my final grocery list), I cut these out, file them, and add them to my master lists of coupons. Cutting and indexing coupons is a good activity to do while my kid does homework (he feels like I am working with him) or during my weekly coffee shop visit.
Next, I have my sorted coupons. I divide them into manufactors (which can be used at any store) and Target only coupons.
In each pocket, I put this month's coupons in the right side binder clip, and future coupons in the left side, sorted in EXPIRATION order. That way, I can grab those that are going to expire this week when I plan my grocery shopping, without missing any.
It would seem like it would be hard to find the coupon that I want, until you consider that I have that awesome index. I can locate any coupon in seconds on the indexes, check if it is Target or manufacturers, and check the expire date. Then, I can find the coupon by looking in the right set, under the expiration date.
I rarely price match, since Target's policy isn't very convenient or generous, but if I do, the weekly ad I am matching to goes here:
I have an NOT INDEXED section for nonstore coupons, like pizza coupons and roller rink coupons. I just sort through this occasionally. The coupons often go to waste, but you never know when you will use one!
I keep a price book of frequently bought items, so I can note a good sale price.
The back page of the binder holds my notes about coupon policies at Target. (You can also print them off the internet and bring them with you, but I like my basic notes better.)
I keep this binder, reusable grocery bags ($0.05 off for each one used at Target), my receipt binder, a kid's safety scissors, extra binder clips, and anything else for grocery shopping in one tote bag in my trunk, so that I don't forget it!
I only spend a few minutes each week couponing, but through coupons, using the 5% discount, using reusable bags, buying double of expensive stuff when it is on sale, only shopping from a list, and planning menus around sale items, I save about $30 to $50 a week.