MARTIN SLOANE | Supermarket Shopper Column will help cure you of bad case of 'coupon mess'

If you are a coupon clipper, and you haven't figured out how to organize your coupons for maximum savings -- achieving more Double Play and Triple Play Savings -- this column is for you. Even if you are a well-organized smart shopper, you may find helpful information.
When you are playing The Great Grocery Game, the Smart Shopper's Rule is to clip all the coupons for products you use as well as for products you might use or try for the first time, if the price is right. Within a short time, you will have many dozens, even hundreds of coupons. Throwing these coupons in a kitchen drawer will give you a bad case of "coupon mess." You waste time rummaging through the coupons looking for those you need, and you find that the coupons you meant to use have expired. To cure yourself of coupon mess, consider these methods for organizing:
UYou can set up a coupon file divided by product groups. My file has 12 pockets, and I use these groups: 1. cereals, breakfast and baby 2. dairy, oils, margarine, diet 3. soup, snacks, candy 4. vegetables, starches, fruit 5. seasonings, sauces, sugar, syrup, salad dressing 6. meat, poultry, seafood, other main dishes 7. baked goods, desserts 8. beverages 9. miscellaneous food products 10. soap, cleaning products, paper, wraps, other household products 11. health, personal, cosmetics 12. pet, miscellaneous non-foods. When you set up your file, use product groups that make sense for you. Within each product category, I file the coupons alphabetically.
UA second way to file your coupons is in straight alphabetical order by brand name or manufacturer. It makes you decide whether, for instance, a coupon for Kellogg's Special K is filed with the S's or the K's. This system requires a good memory.
UA third method for filing coupons is by expiration dates. This is usually done with the oldest dates, coupons expiring last, at the back of the file. Having short expiration date coupons up front makes it easier to keep track of them and remove those that have expired. However, this method requires more effort to find the coupons you need when you play the your money saving match game.
Easy to find
I recommend filing by product categories, because it is easier to find the coupons you need when you are at the kitchen table, working your way through the supermarket advertisements, matching coupons with sale prices as well as the needed items on your shopping list. Filing by product categories, or alphabetically, requires you to "clean" your file at least once a month, removing expired coupons and bringing those with short expirations to the front of the file where you can keep a close eye on them each time you make up a shopping list.
My favorite coupon file is an accordion style expanding check file. It is inexpensive and available at stationery and office supply stores. When expanded, it can hold hundreds of coupons. The check file has 12 pockets and, if this is not enough, consider subdividing them. The attached band is convenient and prevents the file from opening accidentally and spilling your coupons (disaster!).
Shoeboxes are often used as coupon files. They hold lots of coupons, and they are portable. You can make cardboard dividers, or use envelopes with the flap removed, for each product category. Use a strong rubber band to keep the top of the box securely in place.
UThere is a fourth method for filing coupons. Some shoppers arrange the dividers in their file by the aisles and sections (i.e.. meat, dairy, produce) of their supermarket. They take their file with them and check the coupons for that aisle or section as they enter it. The system does not work if you shop at more than one supermarket.
Next step
After you play the match game and selected the coupons you need for your next trip to the supermarket, I recommend you place the coupons you intend to use in a used business-size envelope (junk mail does have its uses). The back of the envelope is a handy place to write your shopping list.
Whatever form of shopping list you use, place a check mark next to each item for which you place a coupon inside the envelope.
Mail-in offers should also be organized. There are dozens of available offers for refunds as well as attractive merchandise. Most offers require several proofs-of-purchase you must collect over a period of weeks. I use an envelope system to keep track of them. When I find an interesting offer, I take an unused envelope and write the offer address on the front, for example, "Smuckers Rebate Offer, P.O. Box ... " I write the offer requirements and expiration date, for example "three POPs 5/31/03" where the postage stamp will eventually go. I put the mail-in form inside the envelope. I file the envelopes in a shoebox by expiration dates, those soonest to expire up front. My mail-in offer file is always on the kitchen table when I play the match game. When you have collected all the required proofs-of-purchase, the envelope is ready to drop in the mail.
When you get organized and cure yourself of "coupon mess," write and tell me about your savings successes. Write to me, Martin Sloane, The Supermarket Shopper, in care of The Vindicator. I publish the most interesting letters.
United Feature Syndicate