Keeping track of coupons

It's more worthwhile now than ever to keep track of your coupons. In a down economy, savings are especially important. And with coupons, Groupons and other "social deals" available everywhere these days, you can afford to indulge in meals, spa services and even organizing services! The only catch: you have to remember to use the coupons before they expire and be able to find them when you're ready to do so.

Many of my clients ask me how I manage my own coupons and social deals, so I thought I'd share my solution here and show you how to set up a system just like it:

  • To start, gather all the coupons and social deals in your possession, discarding any already expired items.
  • On a fresh letter-sized envelope (if you're an avid coupon user you might consider using a larger envelope or container), list each coupon in order of expiration date (soonest to latest).
  • Place your coupons inside the envelope.
  • For coupons that aren't available in hard copy, make a note on your list. For example: Libra - organizing services - 2 hours - expires 12/31/11 * confirmation in my Gmail archives

Keep your coupon holder in your handbag, car, desk drawer or entryway table - wherever you are sure to see it frequently. I browse my list a couple of times a week to see if anything is expiring soon. I also check the list before I head to the store or out for dinner to see if I have anything I can use.

An additional safeguard to ensure that a coupon doesn't expire before you can use it is to set a reminder in your calendar, whether paper or electronic, that gives you a heads up a month, a week, even a day before the coupon expires. Whenever I receive a new coupon, I enter it on my envelope and calendar right away. Once I use a coupon, I cross it off right away.

Additional coupon tips: 

Although coupons can be extremely valuable when used properly, be sure to avoid pitfalls:

  • Groupons and social deals are a great new way to save money, and try out new products and services. As my grandfather used to say to my mother when she was a kid, however, "You're saving me so much money, you're breaking me!" Be selective about your deal purchases so that you stay within your monthly budget and allow yourself enough time to use them all before they expire.
  • Traditional coupons can save you hundreds on groceries each year - if you stick to using coupons for items you already planned to buy, or if you plan your meals around the items currently on sale. Don't use coupons as excuses to make too many impulse purchases. Since grocery coupons usually save you a dollar or less per item, the cost of extra, unnecessary purchases can add up very quickly.
  • Finally, coupons are meant to enhance your life - not to burden you. If you find yourself spending hours coupon clipping or sifting through piles of 30-cent scraps, maybe you need to re-prioritize. Unless you truly need to pinch every penny, it's probably worth paying full price on items in order to have more time for the things you enjoy.

In general, the benefits of any tedious or time-consuming practice should far outweigh the costs. Don't let yourself be a slave to an unnecessary habit. Sometimes the best way to streamline your life is simply to let go!