It’s that time of year again. Tax season is upon you. You went to your junk drawer for your bills, the stack of papers on your desk for your W-2’s and the shoe box under your be for your receipts. It was chaotic and, as usual, at some point you had go back and look again for something you had set aside. You have refused to go through that next year. It is time to get your finical information in order.
Step one. Ransack your home for all your finical documents. I know, they’re everywhere. Clear off the kitchen table of placemats and the centerpiece then pile all those documents in the center of your newly bare table.
Step two. Separate. Grab a pile from the middle of the table and use the edge to walk around placing like documents in the same piles. Put your credit card statements together, your bank statements together, utility bills, receipts, investments, house payments, auto payments, charity receipts and so on. Try to separate your credit card statements by the card as well. At this time be sure unfold all papers so that they lay flat. They will take up less space this way.
Step three. Decide how you would like your papers stored. Today you can do just about everything paperless. A folder on your desk top will take up a lot less space than a file cabinet filled with folders and statements. If you chose to go paperless then you will need to log on to your accounts and chose the paperless options. From here they will simply e-mail you your statements. You can also download them from the site. Older statements will be on site as well so you can simply download and save them to your desktop or folder later, eliminating your need for the paper statement. To set up your finances on your computer I suggest using an “Office” based program. However, it can be done simply by opening a new folder and storing the information in that folder. If you chose to do this I suggest you put sub-folders within the main folder to keep the information organized.
If you still prefer to use paper statements that is ok too, and it can be easier in some ways to organize. Even if you chose to go paperless there will still be some items (such as receipts) that need a place to go. Here I suggest investing in a file cabinet or a file box, depending on the information you will need to store. Use separate file folders for each type of bill, statement, or investment. You will probably be using hanging file folders at this time, which are great because they have separate little tags in which you can add to the top – telling you what is in the folder, and you can stagger the tabs across the top in a way that makes it easiest for you to read. Here I also suggest using different color file folders if you can get your hands on them. Separate your statements into one color, credit cards in other, and keep separating by color your investments, utilities, loans and bills. This way if you are looking for a utility bill you will know to look for a certain color folder, same if you need a loan or a credit card statement. If you have enough colors I suggest giving your receipts a color of their own. This way you can separate the receipts into food, office, investments, bills and so on. When tax season comes around again it will make things easier. If you cannot get a hold of different colored files then trying using different colored markers. It will have the same effect.
Step four. Find a place for bill to be paid. You can keep them in your files if it is easy and if it works for you, for some people it is easier to open a drawer or grab them from someplace on their desk. Set aside a space in your junk drawer for them, put up a wall hanging next to your desk, or use some sort of in/out tray. Either way always put new bills in the same place and remove your old bills, putting them in your files.
If you have chosen to go paperless be sure to keep a separate folder for bills as well. Keep up with this folder – always adding and removing so that you know what needs to be paid and when.
Step five. Make a list. Another plan for your bills is to keep a list of what monthly bills you have and when they are due. This will help keep you accountable for the money you have going out each month. Be sure to include on this list any tithing, investments and savings. Knowing beforehand where your money will be going allows you to make maximum use of investment and savings funds.
Step six. Run through your bills and see if there is anything you are paying out on that you don’t need or use. We all do it. Keep an account open that we haven’t used in a year, or have an extra service on our cable because we thought it was worth the extra money. Do a quick check to make sure there are no monthly bills or accounts that are not necessary. Even in good economic times this is a good practice. If you don’t need it, then remove it. It only takes up time, money and space.
Now that everything is well organized it should be fairly easy to keep it that way. Bills and statements all come in on different days, generally scattered throughout the month. When you get them in simply put them away right away, it will only take a minute of your time. You’ll be pleasantly surprised this next tax season and worry less about keeping up with your bills.