How to Tame the Coupon Flurry in the Digital Age

By Emily Fredrix, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Getting coupons has never been easier with the growth of Twitter, mobile phones and online marketing. But all those sources make keeping track of them a nightmare.

Having all the coupons in the world won't save you any money if you don't know what you have and can't find them when you need them, said Sarah Humphreys, executive editor of Real Simple magazine.

"In order to save money you have to be mindful of what you're doing, and you have to be diligent," she said. "There's a real payoff if you stay organized."

And since your time also has value, it shouldn't take more than an hour or so a week. Here are some tips:

FILE IT

The key to using coupons is knowing what you have, Humphreys said. For paper coupons, get a small binder or accordion file. Organize it by expiration date, store or product category, such as groceries or clothing.

Get in the habit of checking your stash before you go out. Take the coupons along in a purse or wallet, or stow them in the glove compartment so they're always handy.

Go through the file regularly, perhaps once a week, and move coupons nearing their expiration date to the front.

Don't forget your online coupons, too. Make a note in a separate slot to keep track of those online coupons. It might stop you from paying full price in the store.

SHED THE CLUTTER

Get rid of any discounts you're not going to use, and don't save coupons for items you don't want, no matter how good the deal. Give them to friends, neighbors or fellow shoppers. You can even sell coupons, discounts or loyalty rewards online through auction sites like eBay.

Toss anything that's expired, and remind yourself what you still have to use. It's as simple as going through folders while watching television.

"Be realistic about the coupons you know you're going to use," Humphreys said. "The more you have in your stack, the more overwhelming it's going to be."

GO VIRTUAL

Smart-phone users may find themselves depending less on paper coupons and more on online ones. Download applications to organize these online coupons and other discount cards.

Try the free KeyRing application for your iPhone or Droid phone and ditch those little loyalty cards on your key ring. Register an account and enter your loyalty card numbers online to link your accounts with hundreds of retailers such as Best Buy, Kroger and Nordstrom.

When you're at the store, call up the barcode on your phone and scan it at the register.

Try websites such as cellfire.com, where you can find coupons online and link them to your loyalty card. You don't even need a smart phone for this.

There are also many coupon applications that use your phone's GPS to find nearby deals, such as The Coupons App or Coupon Sherpa. Look for new applications regularly.

You could even keep a list on your phone of all the paper coupons you have, such as by retailer or category, so if you're on the go and you forget to bring your folders with you, you'll recall what you have.

SET REMINDERS AND SORT E-MAIL

Time is central to successful couponing. Use your calendar to track expiration dates for particularly good deals. Use a paper calendar — but it has to be one you check regularly. Or try a free online calendar, from Google for example. Set reminders for a few days before one expires.

E-mails can effortlessly bring you the latest discounts, but only if you can retrieve them quickly. Register for e-mails from your favorite retailers, and organize them in your inbox by moving them to separate folders or creating a label such as "discount."

AUTOMATE YOUR RESEARCH

Finding coupons can take time, so use electronic tools to make them come to you. Go to your favorite coupon blogs or aggregators such as couponmountain.com or dealcatcher.com and look on the page for an RSS feed. That's short for Really Simple Syndication. Those feeds stream the latest content from websites in a place you choose, such as Google Reader.

The same goes for Twitter. Follow brands, chains or coupon bloggers on the micro-messaging site and make a "list" for them, separate from your friends, family and others you follow. Or check out sites such as Tweetdeck.com, which let you organize the feeds you follow by category.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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