Extreme(-ly Average) Couponing.

extreme-couponing-TLCI totally wish I were an Extreme Couponer.  If you haven’t seen the show on TLC that chronicles this group of money savers, it’s a total gem and I recommend checking it out.  Basically there are people out there who diligently collect and track coupons (we’re talking dumpster diving for circulars and JUMBO binders full of clippings) and are able to bring thousand dollar grocery bills down to just a few dollars.  It’s amazing.  The good ones maintain master Excel spreadsheets that help them to figure out the exact amounts of each product to buy and how much they’ll save before they go to the store.  One rejected coupon at the checkout and all their math is off.  It’s riveting.  And most of them have stock rooms at home built for the sole purpose of storing their stuff – I mean entire basements dedicated to storing the 100 jars of marinara sauce, 50 tubes to toothpaste, and 65 jugs of laundry detergent, usually impeccably organized and labeled.  I will say that I have seen a decent amount of them dedicate the stuff they know they’ll never use to their church or charity.  So they aren’t all just hoarding mass amounts of stuff they’ll never use.

But anyway, these people have serious skills.  Math skills, organizational skills, and supermarket skills (which you know are near and dear to my heart!).  And I totally wish I were one of them.  But sadly I am not, I’m just your average manufacturers-coupon-for-diapers-and-20%-Bed-Bath-and-Beyond-couponer.  But a girl can dream right?

Earlier this summer I noticed that I kept coming home from a trip to the store realizing that I had forgotten I had a coupon for something I just bought sans discount.  Very frustrating.  While out at Target one day (probably without my coupons), I noticed a fun ‘Real Simple’ coupon organizer on clearance.  I tossed it in the cart and ran home to organize my coupons.

First, I trimmed them all down to get rid of excess paper that I didn’t need.  Then I laid them all out on my kitchen counter, tossing the expired ones (except those Bed Bath & Beyond super coupons – they never go bad!).  Next I grouped like-kind coupons together: grocery, baby, household, etc.  This is what things looked like after that step:organizing-coupons-step-one

The coupon pouch came with labels so when I was finished arranging the coupons into a few logical piles, I wrote the category name on each tab.  Then I filed the coupons away, like so:

organizing-coupons-step-two

You can probably see I also tossed a pen and some paper clips in there.  The pen really only went in there since there was a pen holder (duh), but the paper clips serve a purpose:  when I’m running an errand where I know I’ll only need a few of my coupons I leave the big folder at home and just clip together the few that I need and bring them along.

I’ve been using this system for a few months now and so far so good.  I decided my folder was looking a little JV so I started visiting some sites like Coupon Suzy and Cool Savings to beef up on coupons.  And I’m happy to report I’m actually using them!  Being resourceful + saving money = amazeballs.

So moral of the story, even us common folk can get our couponing on, and keeping them well organized can possibly save you more dough in the long run.  Efficiency rules.

And since I’m still playing around with my camera and my new Photoshop app, I will leave you with a quasi-artistic shot of my nicely organized coupons.  Complete with my felt tip pen, half chewed by KP on the bottom.  Typical.  Happy couponing!

organizing-coupons-end-result

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The Great Paper Chase.

Paper Clutter

I don’t care how neat and organized and super awesome you are; paper overload is something that affects us all at one time or another.  So much paper comes into our homes and offices every day – Bills! Statements! Receipts! Schedules! – making it really challenging to keep paper clutter at bay.  Paper overload can be a major stressor: causing late bill payments, lost important documents, and a disruption to overall peace of mind.

Personally I feel really overwhelmed when we have too many random papers floating around or piling up.  Yes, some of that is because I am organizationally nutso, but mostly I worry that I’m going to lose or forget something important which will cost me more time, money and effort than if I had just taken a little bit of time to sort and organize my papers.  I really loathe wasting time, or doing something twice unnecessarily.  It’s probably worse than wasting money.  Well, not always.

So in hopes of inspiring some spring paper cleaning out there, I am going to share some tips on creating and maintaining a smart paper organization system at home.  Keep in mind 2 important things: 1) there is no one-size-fits-all perfect system, and 2) an efficient system takes time to evolve and refine itself over time.

To help plan your system, take some time to re-visit the 5 W’s of elementary school fame and, if you love listmaking as much as yours truly, jot down your answers.  If it helps to motivate you, use a fun notepad and pen, like these and these (my two favorite list making accessories, as pictured below!).  Side note, I absolutely love these notepads, as B has unfortunately learned the hard way.  There is a slight chance that B might have been scolded a few times for using my “nice” note paper for jotting down one-liner reminders.  Harsh? Probably.  But it’s for the good of my wallet…this paper ain’t cheap.

Boatman Geller Notepad
PaperMate Flair Felt Tip Pens

Your answers will help build the framework of a basic system you can begin to follow, and then tweak over time as needed.  Here are my answers:

What?  A system to keep papers organized.  Need a place to store important papers that may require follow-up (“Pressing Papers”), and another for long term paper retention (“Saving Papers”).

Why?  Keep paper clutter at bay and maintain my sanity.

Who?  Two can play at this game.  I am the keeper of all papers.  It makes sense for us because I am instinctively organized and I like having control over matters like this.  B plays the role of Super Paper Shredderer, eliminating unwanted paper from our lives and keeping our folders and files safe.

Where?  System should be easily accessible on a daily basis, but tucked out of the way to prevent mistaken paper loss or mischievous KP snooping:

  • Pressing Papers are sorted into folders in the “command center” on our main floor.
  • Saving Papers live in a secure file cabinet in our guest room.
  • Junk mail and paper we don’t need to keep is shredded.

When?  Realistically I do not have time to fully file our papers every day, but by keeping our organization system in an accessible spot I can do a small amount of sorting every day as things come in.  Every week(ish) we go through our inbox area to follow up on Pressing Papers and move Saving Papers to the file cabinet upstairs.  Things requiring super immediate attention aren’t even filed – we stand them up vertically right outside of our folders so they say “Hey you there – look at me! Pay me! Respond to me!”

How?  It’s easy to identify which documents to save, but figuring out how to organize them can be overwhelming.  As with all organizing projects, stick to the basics:

  1. Inventory everything you have.
  2. Group like items together.
  3. Put grouped items away nicely and neatly.

Our Pressing Papers really run the gamut, so we sort these by person in folders on our first floor: B,  S,  A & Household.  Saving Papers can be a bit more difficult.  Here are the categories that I recommend:

  • House: Mortgage documents and statements, appliance warranties, invoices for work done, etc.
  • Car: Ownership/Insurance/Registration documents, Invoices for work done, servicing and/or mileage records, etc.
  • Financial: Tax documents, household budget materials, one year’s worth ONLY of: bank/investment statements, credit card statements, loan documents, etc.
  • Medical: Doctor/Hospital bills, Insurance paperwork, important health information, receipts for FSA reimbursement, etc.
  • Kids: Doctor visit bills/receipts (for FSA), daycare information and forms, etc.
  • Pets: Animal Info, annual rabies shot info, important bills/receipts
Whew.  This is way more than I intended to write about this topic.  But I’m sure you aren’t surprised.  You know I like keeping things organized, and you know I’m wordy.  But since paper overload happens to all of us at one point or another, I’m hopeful this will help a few people out there to develop their own paper organization systems.  Happy filing!

Martha, Martha, Martha!

Martha Stewart Home Office OrganizationI’m all for DIY solutions and organizing on a budget, but sometimes it really does help to splurge a little on cute organization supplies to get yourself motivated.  There’s just something about looking at a stack of nice new bins and boxes and folders that just make me want to get my organizing on.  Well you can imagine my excitement when I learned earlier this month that Martha Stewart has come out with a line of Home Office Organization supplies, available at Staples!

Looking at the “collection”, there are so many things that would be fun to put to use.  A few items are pictured above.  Starting from top left and moving clockwise are: binders and accessories like zipper pouches, pockets and note tabs; kitchen organization labels; large bands for bundling documents or securing files; file pockets; fun journals; and colorful file folder labels.  I’m not exactly sure which items I could use yet, and I do not generally buy things without purpose, but I’ll look back at my master “to organize” list (yes, I have one, and I’ll share it soon in a future post) and see what could be helped along with some Martha magic.  But boy are they all so pretty!  I can’t wait to hit up Staples soon to see them in person.  I’ll admit that some of the items may be a little too crafty for me right now (I shouldn’t even pretend like I have the time to be crafting anything these days…), but I’m thinking the file pockets and binders could really help with some of the paper organization I need to get working on this year.  And hey, like I said last month, it’s time to get going on your 2011 tax return docs – maybe one of these fun folders or binders could help make the task less loathsome.  Maybe.

Questions Answered: DIY Home Office Organization.

Organized Home Office

I know, I know.  I’ve left you all hanging the past few days.  “My apologies.” (Inside joke with B).  But in all seriousness, my aforementioned cold, combined with several nights of early wake-up calls by A left me pretty beat.    Before the cold hit I did have some time to finally work on my answer to reader Kerri’s excellent question from a few weeks back, but I haven’t been able to post about it yet.  So here goes!

Question:

Hi Keep It Neat- I’d love to be able to buy everything that exists at the container store but that’s just not realistic. I have work papers and items that tend to messy up my work space at home. what is a good DIY Keep It Neat solution?

Answer:

I too would love to buy everything that exists at the container store.  It’s an amazing place.  I don’t let myself go there too often because it usually turns into a spendfest.  And there’s no possible way to leave there without picking up at least a basket full of gadgets that weren’t on your original list.  So yeah, I hear you on this one.  After reading your question I was able to come up with a few ideas for getting your home office organized on a budget.  I really wanted to test a few my suggestions before posting, and I even took a few pictures to give you the gist of it.  I wasn’t able to tackle all of my ideas but Google Images came to the rescue on that one.

1.  I love Mason jars.  Uses for these are just endless, and they are 100% free if you just re-use glass jars you already have (jams and jellies come in great sizes, so does mustard and also the “canned” peaches and pears from Trader Joe’s that M brought down 2 years ago when I had my wisdom teeth removed – I’ve been holding on to them for a special project ever since!).  I think that glass jars would be great in a home office to hold pens and pencils, and depending on the size, flowers on a desk, paper clips, stamps, etc.  They’re great naked, but if you did want to spruce them up there are probably a million ways to decorate them.  I decided I’d clear the dust off my glue gun and leftover ribbon pile to make mine a little more fun:

Glass Jars as DIY Office Organization

And here is a close-up on the paper clip holder, just because it was my favorite (the tapered shape of the former Grey Poupon mustard container on the right didn’t make it easy to get the ribbon to sit right, it’s driving me crazy in the shot above, but I don’t feel like re-doing and re-shooting!).

DIY Glass Jar Paper Clip Holder

Side note: it’s really easy to decorate things with ribbon, and I must give credit to our cousin Lisa for introducing me to this quick and inexpensive craft idea.  She is an expert.  You can get ribbon really cheaply at craft stores, or if you don’t want to spend any money at all, just do what I do – hang on to the ribbon scraps you get with gifts and save them somewhere with other craft supplies.  I’ve found that a glue gun works best for attaching ribbon to things, but I’m sure you would be fine using any type of glue.  It just may need touch-ups.

I also pinned this idea for using glass jars for office storage on Pinterest.  Also uses a glue gun, so I’m interested in trying it sometime soon.  I love me some glue gunning:

Office Supplies in Mason Jars

2. Egg Cartons.  These also have endless storage uses, and would be great for holding small office supplies – in a drawer or displayed out on a desk.  Unfortunately we were out of eggs so I had nothing to use as a sample.  But I managed to find this pic online; it should do the trick.  I suppose you could paint it or jazz it up if you like, but if that’s not your thing or you just don’t have the time, it really doesn’t require anything other than re-using a clean egg carton:

Egg Carton Storage

3. Shoe Boxes & Gift Boxes.  Depending on the size these could serve a few different purposes.  Shoe boxes would make great spots for mail, an alternative rolodex, and envelope/small notepad storage.  Shirt boxes are the perfect size for an inbox, or somewhere to store stacks of file folders.  Jewelry boxes are good for smaller items.

4. Paper towel rolls.  These can be cut and/or decorated and then used to keep cords organized, or to store items on your desk.  Found a picture online to illustrate:

DIY Cord Holder Paper Towel Roll

5. Bulletin boards & old gift bags.  This one is out there, but I had a lot of fun putting it together.  I was looking at my craft supplies (which is not a huge stash, it’s really just the leftovers from things we made for our wedding or things I’ve made for holiday decorating), and I thought this would be a fun idea using things I already had.  I started with a cheap bulletin board from Staples that we covered with navy fabric for our wedding for hanging place cards.  See pic below for a walk down memory lane.  This was the bulletin boards before they went up at the venue:

B&S Wedding - Placecards

I took one plain covered bulletin board and stapled four gift bags that I had leftover from Christmas to the bottom.  I then cut and decorated some card stock to use as labels for the bags.  Unfortunately I have no place to put this in our house so it’s just a sample (but if anyone would like it for their home with custom labels, I would be willing to host a giveaway…just email keepitneatblog@gmail.com), but I really think it could work as a fun filing system or inbox, as I’ve set it up here:

DIY Bulletin Board Inbox

And here is a close up:

Close up - DIY Bulletin Board Inbox

Hopefully these have been helpful ideas for organizing your home office space, without an expensive trip to the Container Store.  With a little creativity, a few odds and ends from your kitchen, and a little glue-gunning, it CAN be done!

Stupid Money.

Stop wasting money on stupid thingsWow.  I had one of the WORST starts to my day today.  It was bad.  Like, standing-in-the-kitchen-talking-to-two-male-coworkers-and-later-realizing-my-blouse-was-completely-unbuttoned bad!  Thank god I wear camisoles these days.  And that incident was really just the tail end of the bad morning.  I woke up late and exhausted (A has decided it’s fun to wake up at 3:30am again these days; such a party animal that girl!).  It was raining out but warm and raining, which is my least favorite combination.  As if I didn’t sweat enough on my rushed commute to work every morning, wearing a trench coat in 60 degree weather in February is just gross (although, it was probably a good thing I had the coat on since apparently I never buttoned my blouse).  Then, the real aggravator – I could not find my February Septa TransPass.  I looked everywhere for it.  I looked so long that I missed 2 buses, which obviously added to the already bad morning.  I know it’s gone.  Things never “just turn up” for me because I am nuts and I have a place for everything.  If something isn’t in its place, 99% of the time it is gone.  It is a fact of life – I generally do not lose or misplace things.  In fact, I racked my brain today to try and remember the last thing I truly “misplaced”, and I think it was my cushy wrist pad at work about a year ago.

A Septa TransPass is like gold.  Philadelphia is not a city known for its cool technologically advanced transportation systems.  Just come here and ride the Broad Street line and you’ll see what I mean.  We don’t have reloadable metro cards – we have tokens that come in bags of ten that say “Septa Goes Green!” all over them, meanwhile the floors of the subway stations are completely littered with these same small plastic bags.  Way to “go green”, Septa.  We can get monthly passes to ride the subways and buses, but needless to say they aren’t registered to a person and could never be replaced, traced, or cancelled.  At the end of every month, B and I wait anxiously for our new TransPasses to come in the mail, and I have to admit it’s always a thrill when mine comes before his.  (This being Septa and all, you just never know when you’ll get screwed one month).  I know it’s wrong, but I love watching him sweat it out waiting to see if his will come before the 1st of the month cutoff!  If your pass doesn’t come you might as well give in, and if you lose yours, forget about it.  Septa has zero interest in helping you get it back.  So to lose it on the very first day of the month means I’ve just wasted $78 for the month.  Like I said – highly aggravating.

This is a perfect example of something I call “Stupid Money”.  Ever wait until the last minute to buy someone a gift off their bridal/baby registry, and nothing good is left so you try to overcompensate by buying a bunch of random things that add up to more than you were planning to spend AND you have to pay for expedited shipping so it gets there on time?  That’s Stupid Money that you just spent.  You could have avoided it by putting the event on your calendar or by putting “Buy Gift for Jane Smith!” on your To Do list.  Stupid Money pops up a lot at Christmas too in the form of expedited shipping.  Or, have you ever taken the gamble and not left enough time to get somewhere and then had to splurge for a cab?  Stupid Money.  You could have gotten there on time using public transportation if you planned ahead.  My personal worst was when I cut it so close trying to make a train to NYC last year that I thrust my credit card in the Quick Ticket Kiosk, grabbed my Philly to NYC ticket and ran to the platform.  I completely left my NYC to Philly return ticket in the machine.  It was a goner.  Major Stupid Money.

After this particular incident I decided I would track all of my Stupid Money for the year in an effort to shame myself, hoping this would keep me from wasting money in the future.  I will admit that it hasn’t saved me millions, but I absolutely dread adding a new number to the Stupid Money list and I do think about it each time I get an invitation to someone’s bridal or baby shower or have to be at a doctor’s appointment across town at a given time.  It’s a constant reminder and I recommend trying it out if you feel you spend a decent amount of Stupid Money.  Unfortunately for me this time, it’s not able to predict losing my Septa TransPass.  I’ll be running the numbers this week to see if I should pony up for a new one, or just stock up on those “green” bags of tokens for the month.    When are we getting a modern transit payment system?!