Have you seen your desk lately? Or is it buried under piles of bills, insurance statements, bank records, business receipts and the user manual for that new smartphone?
You don’t have to live in such a cluttered (and flammable!) situation. You need a system. Here’s how to create one.
1. Keep active information close at hand
Paying a late fee because you forgot the Visa bill was due is both irritating and unnecessary.If you still get paper statements (more on that in a minute), keep a file called “Bills to Be Paid.” Have another one called “Bills That Have Been Paid.”
Bills aren’t the only obligations that need files of their own. Depending on your situation, you might have folders for health care, vehicles, insurance, home repair and, of course, tax paperwork. Knowing where these things are can save you a lot of fruitless searching.
2. Scan it and store it
Why keep all those pieces of paper? Suppose a fire destroys your home office: Good luck recreating all those files and receipts from memory.
That’s why more people are opting to scan paperwork and store it on flash drives or in the “cloud.” The originals can be shredded (and, hopefully, recycled).
Certain pieces of paper should never be destroyed. Among them: wills, contracts, titles, deeds and papers with raised seals (e.g., a birth certificate). Scan them for backup, but keep them in a safe, fireproof place.
3. Corral your supporting documents
If a new appliance or tech gadget gives you trouble or quits working entirely, you’ll need to check the owner’s manual or the warranty. Can you find these easily?
Once you do locate them, start a file called “manuals/warranties.” Again, you can scan and e-store this material. Be sure to throw the old paperwork away each time you replace an item.
Some people download user manuals from the manufacturers’ websites, save them as PDF files and gleefully toss the paper copies.
4. Stop getting statements
Two ways to reduce paper clutter (and the number of dead trees on your conscience):
- Bank and pay bills online, opting to receive e-statements.
- Make paper receipts/files byte-sized.
Remember that TV commercial in which a young woman puts a bag of popcorn in the microwave and finishes paying her bills before the last kernel has exploded? It really is that fast and easy.
Not that you have to do without backup. Just save the bills or statements you want as PDF files.
5. Decide what goes where
Do your child’s health records belong in a folder with yours or will they be filed separately? What about your auto insurance policy — in the insurance folder/e-file or the automobile folder/e-file? Are your Roth IRA statements filed under “retirement,” or with your will and life insurance papers?
Do what makes sense to you personally. Just make sure your spouse/partner knows where these things are too.
6. Clarify what you own
If you lose a bunch of stuff due to fire or burglary, will you be able to collect full value on your homeowners or renters insurance policy? Probably not, unless you’ve regularly updated your inventory of personal belongings and given a copy to your insurance agent.
Chances are you’ve forgotten just how much stuff you’ve acquired over the years. Go from room to room with a camera to create a visual record of your belongings. You can keep a written record with Know Your Stuff Home Inventory, a free online program from the Insurance Information Institute.
Does this seem daunting? Do one room per day, and you’ll be finished within a week.
7. Get tough with taxes
Many people wonder just how long they need to keep tax returns. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson scans his forms and supporting documents for electronic storage and then shreds the originals. Digital storage is so competitive that you needn’t pay a dime to store all the info you want, he says. (For more information, see “Don’t Store Your Tax Return – Toss It Out.”)
Do you have any great organizing tips that didn’t make the list? Share them in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.