So, you have an organized binder full of great coupons and maybe you have even signed up with one or more of the Canadian coupon apps and are ready to find yourself some good deals. There’s only one problem: digging through your coupon binder and trying to match them with sale prices can be very time consuming.
I’m here to tell you that there is an easier way, and the system to do it all for you is a program already installed on your computer! It will not only help you find great deals, but sometimes you’ll even score free items when you stack paper coupons with online offers and rewards programs. When going through the weekly flyers, it will help you prepare a detailed shopping list to take with you to the grocery store.
I’m referring to Windows here. You know, the operating system on your computer?
One night I was busy scanning all of my old photos to my computer using a special folder and title to neatly organize things. Then, I thought to myself: “why couldn’t I apply this same approach to my favorite hobby?” It would be easy to search for specific offers, especially if the files and folders were named properly! By the time that this idea occurred to me, I already had a collection of over 200 different coupons, not to mention all the doubles.
Related: Couponing 101
To start this system, you will need a two pieces of equipment that you may already have in your possession. A computer with Windows operating system, and a scanner or an all-in-one printer. You could also use a camera or your smartphone if you find scanning to be a hassle.
The basic idea is that you will store every coupon and online offer that you receive and intend to use in a special folder that you will create in your Documents folder - I call this my “virtual coupon binder”. Then, you use the built in Windows search functionality to find all coupons and offers related to a specific product you notice is on sale when preparing for your weekly shopping trip. It does take a bit of time to set it up initially, but if you keep on top of it by entering your coupons and online offers weekly then it’s manageable and starts paying for itself quickly.
Setting Up Your Virtual Coupon Binder
Open “My Documents”, and create a new folder. Name it anything you’d like, mine is simply called “Coupon Binder”.
Next, you can create separate folders within the virtual binder, to match every category that is in your physical binder. This is not a required step, but if you are just getting started with using coupons it can help you to memorize your filing system. I am pretty familiar with the way I have my paper coupon binder organized, so any new coupons I input into my virtual binder get stored in one ‘paper coupon’ folder. But in the beginning, I categorized them that way.
You can add coupons to your virtual binder in two ways:
The Image Method
With this method, you take each coupon and scan it individually, which will save it as an image or PDF probably in the Documents folder of your computer. Once scanned, you then rename the file accordingly (described in detail below) and move it by dragging it to the correct folder in your virtual binder so you can find it again quickly later.
In the case of double sided coupons, you can scan or snap a picture of both sides at the same time if you happen to have duplicates of that coupon - just put one face up and one face down. This method is handy if you want to be able to read the fine print without digging the coupon out, and especially handy for people with vision issues because you can zoom in on the fine print easily.
Related: Save More With Coupon Books
The image method does take more time for data entry, which is a big con because each different coupon has to be scanned separately along with similar coupons with different expiry dates. If you find this too cumbersome, then try the next method instead:
The No Image Method
The no image method is simply to create a new folder (or empty text file) for each coupon within your “paper coupons” folder. If titled properly, it will list the brand, volume or weight, redemption amount, and the expiry date.
With this method, you will be unable to open and view the coupon image, but you will still be able to search for and stack deals quickly and easily. However, it is only really faster if you have a well organized real coupon binder, like me. If, on the other hand, you are storing your coupons en masse in an envelope, it will be faster to use The Image Method so you can quickly find coupons to read the fine print.
Naming Your Coupon Files
When you title your coupons, it is important to use the same format for each coupon. Here is an example of how I title mine:
Mott’s Clamato 1.89L $1 Limit1 20151231
This is the generic format I use:
brand | product | volume or weight | coupon value | any usage limits | expiry date (ymd)
You may think that entering the brand would not be important, because there is only one manufacturer of Clamato, but when there are other promotions for Mott’s happening, you will be alerted of the stacking opportunity during your search by entering the brand name. A good example of this is when there is an instore or redemption app/rewards program promotion featuring several products by the same manufacturer. More details on stacking below.
Rewards Programs and Online Redemption App Offers
It is perfectly fine to coupon and use this system without getting into the additional areas of rewards programs and phone apps. However, this is where 99% of your stacking opportunities will present themselves. Rewards programs I personally use are Shopper’s Optimum and PC Plus. I also have the apps for Checkout 51, Snap by Groupon, Zweet, Cartsmart, and Save.ca on my iphone.
To input these types of offers into your virtual binder, create two new folders called “rewards” and “apps”. Then, within these folders create a new folder or empty text file for each offer, and title it with the same kind of information you did for your paper coupons. Rewards program and app offers in the same program or app all tend to expire on the same date. For example, Optimum offers all expire on Friday in Ontario, Checkout 51 offers all are good until Wednesdays at midnight, and PC Plus offers renew on Friday.
I always enter the PC points offers from the Superstore flyer as well, not just the ones in the PC Plus app. I do this for two reasons: because they price match and because it’s a great way to find PC points stacking opportunities. By this, I mean that if an item has both a Superstore PC points and a personal PC Points offer tied to it, then it can be price matched from another flyer to get the lowest price while getting a load of points making your effective out of pocket cost really low.
Deleting Expired Coupons And Offers
Because of the date format you have used on each coupon entry, going through your Coupon Binder folder to find and delete expired coupons is easy.
I enter all my expiry dates in the same manner: YYYYMMDD. So, when I am deleting expired ones, I begin entering the date code for the year, month and day. The folder search will bring up all coupons with that specific date code and I can delete them all with a few keystrokes in seconds.
For example, if today is 20150615 and I want to delete all coupons that would have expired yesterday, I would enter 20150614. Any coupons that expired yesterday are displayed, then I simply delete them. This way I don’t bring them up on brand or product searches. To delete expired coupons at the end of every month, only enter the year and month portion of your date code to delete them all at once.
Searching For Deals That Stack
So, now comes the time to try out your own deal finding system. Open your ‘Coupon Binder’ folder, and simply type in the product or brand name of any flyer sale that interests you into Windows search. If you have a paper coupon, app cash back, or rewards offer they should all pop up simultaneously.
You can also enter coupon and online/reward program offer specifics, like any limits on quantities or using other promotions on the same product, you have all the required information just a quick search away. Composing a detailed shopping list and figuring cost out of pocket (or profit in some cases) is now much less of a headache. I have seen both free and pay couponing apps for my iPhone that can’t do these seemingly simple tasks so the best part is you can now do it with a program you are probably already very familiar with.
Is It Worth The Effort?
This whole procedure can be time consuming to initiate, but in the long run, if you are serious about saving money on groceries, it will save you countless hours when searching for deals through your flyers. As new coupons and offers become available, it is simple maintenance to enter these in smaller quantities versus the longer time it takes to initially get this system up and running. The money you will be saving from being able to find every sale and coupon matchup you personally have available will add up quickly.
Is anyone else currently using a method similar to this? I would love to hear about it.