Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Coupons: Paper That Saves Money

I’m a couponer, so another category of paper I deal with daily is coupons. Lots and lots of coupons. It seems like they’re everywhere, and it’s annoying not being able to find the ones I need when it’s time to hit the store. So here are a few tips for organizing those q’s.

  • Get them together. Until you can file them properly, they need to be stored together, even if you’re just tossing them all into a box. It’s amazing how fast they can spread all over the house, so finding a dropping point is an important first step to getting them organized.
  • Pick your system. There are a lot of different ways to actually sort and organize coupons for use. Some people use only a few and can get away with a small accordion-style wallet. More intense couponers need more space, so binders, page organizers or larger file boxes come into play. I personally use a large file box, about the size of a laptop and twice as tall. It really doesn’t matter what kind of system you use as long as you find one that works for you and stick with it.
  • Make time to clip and sort. Set aside time each week to clip, sort and file new coupons, and stick to it. I set aside one lunch hour a week to clip and file new q’s and plan my deals for the week. The job gets more harrowing the more inserts that pile up. Take time once a month or so to go through your files and recycle any expired q’s.
  • Use them. You’re wasting your time if you don’t actually use the coupons you’ve so lovingly clipped, sorted and filed. Plan your shopping ahead of time so you can pull your coupons and clip them to your shopping list. Take your coupon file to the store with you in case you see another deal.
  • Recycle the rest. It probably goes without saying, but be sure to recycle the insert discards and your expired coupons. There’s enough paper there without adding the rejects to the landfill!

Couponing can seem like a lot of work, but if you stay on top of it and plan your deals, you can save a lot of cash on items you use every day. If you have any tips for organizing your coupons or shopping for deals, I’d love to hear them.

Saving Those Receipts

My method of “filing” receipts may seem pretty sloppy, but it works for us and is VERY simple. Yes, that’s right, we use the shoe-box method. But before you laugh and close your browser, stick with me for a second here. There’s slightly more to it than that…

  • If purchasing something for a non-profit or business expense, we mark it as such immediately and file it separately when we get home. Non-profit/charity purchases that will not be reimbursed go immediately into the current year’s tax folder to be dealt with end-of-year. (Same goes for any other tax-deductible receipts.) Business expenses go into a separate business receipt folder.
  • Big-ticket purchases get special treatment too. Those receipts are immediately clipped onto the item’s instruction manual for safe-keeping. Instruction manuals are filed in a separate area from the regular household files but are all together filed by type of item (toys, appliances, tools, computer, etc.)
  • Medical receipts that are paid for using our health care reimbursement account go into their own folder.
  • Small cash receipts for non-returnable items (tacos anyone?) are trashed. I mean really, why should I waste space saving that?
  • All other receipts go into a lovely black shoe-box-style photo box I picked up at a craft store. At the end of the year, all the receipts are transferred into a large ziplock or envelope until the taxes are done, then they’re shredded.

That’s end. My simple receipt filing system.

Filing Paid Bills and Invoices

Once you’ve paid your bills each month, what do you do with them? Do they go in a box, never to be found again? Do you have an intricate filing system by the company? Do you just shred them?

Our solution is very easy and has been working well for us for more than 10 years. I have a 12-month accordion file, and each month as bills are paid, they go straight into the file for that month. If we need to find something again, say February’s electricity bill, we know to go straight to the February spot. It’s easy and straightforward, and it takes only seconds to find what we need.

At the end of the year, that accordion file is stored for a period of one year while a second accordion file takes its place for the new year. I like keeping last year’s bills around until after taxes have been completed. So I have one file for 2009 bills, while 2008’s file waits in the filing cabinet for taxes and such to be completed. When New Year rolls around, 2008’s file will come back out and the contents shredded, and that accordion file will be 2010’s folder, while 2009’s goes into the file cabinet to wait out its one-year time frame.

So two accordion files rotate from year to year. It’s easy and takes up very little space, and the system has served us well.