Organizing your finances
Advance planning saves time, money, and worry
Have you ever been late paying a bill because it got lost in a pile of paper? Could your next of kin make sense of your finances if something happened to you? Would you be able to access your accounts and other critical documents if your home was destroyed in a flood or fire?
Organizing your finances and important documents helps to reduce clutter and frustration and assures that you’ll be prepared for whatever life throws your way.
Eight ways to get organized
Manage your bills
Whether you’re a paper person or you like to manage things electronically, make sure to gather all your bill-paying materials in one place.
Use a file drawer or a cardboard box to organize your bills according to when they’re due. Including a schedule showing all these due dates in once place can be helpful. Then, file bills according to whether they’re outstanding or paid.
You can simplify this system by using your financial institution’s online banking and billpay program. Sign up for electronic statements and take advantage of direct deposit and payroll deduction. You’ll have less paper to file, access to years of account history, and less need to write fewer checks.
Secure your tax documentation
Throughout the year, place records of donations, medical expenses, local fees and taxes, education expenses, and other information in one spot. Add your W2s and tax documents when they arrive. That way, you’ll be ready for income tax season.
Safeguard your records
A credit union or bank vault is a secure place to keep key documents like original copies of your birth certificate, marriage license, and adoption papers, as well as contracts and leases, professional licenses, passports, titles and deeds, jewelry, rare coins, and other valuables. Include a copy of your household inventory, and your will.
Not interested in a safe-deposit box? Then invest in a fireproof safe. Make sure you do you research, though, as some in-home safes may only be fire resistant (meaning they will only protect your valuables up to a certain temperature, for a limited amount of time). You might also want to consider building your safe into a wall of your home, or bolting it to the floor. Remember: if you can grab it and go, so can a burglar.
Start a financial notebook
If something was to happen to you—a serious injury, illness, or death—would your loved ones know how to handle your finances? Putting together a financial notebook can save them countless hours trying to figure out your financial affairs. Put your notebook in a safe-deposit box or another secure location that they can access quickly.
At a minimum, it should contain:
- A list of family members and their contact information
- Personal records, such as birth certificates
- The location of important documents
- Insurance and health records
- Information about your loans and financial accounts
- Your latest 1040 tax form
- Your inventory of personal property
- A list of your real estate holdings, vehicles, and investments
- Retirement planning documents
Finally, make sure your notebook also includes all your important estate planning documents, such as a copy of your will, advance directives, powers of attorney, and letters of instruction.
Prepare for an emergency
Planning ahead and keeping important documents in a single, safe location will help you get back on your feet quickly, in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. Put as much of the information as possible on computer discs or a USB drive to eliminate the potential risk of damage or deterioration of paper documents. If you do include paper, protect these documents in plastic sleeves.
Inventory your personal property
Make a comprehensive list (with photos) to document everything in each room of your home in case of disaster or burglary. This list should include things like furniture, jewelry, electronics, appliances, and tools. Remember to record model numbers and serial numbers when applicable.
Attach copies of receipts for major items, as well as the estimated value and history of special items. (It’s worth noting, for instance, if Hemingway signed that first-edition copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls or if that baseball was a World Series home run.)
Keep one copy in your safe-deposit box or other secure location and another in your financial notebook.
Prevent clutter before it happens
Not interested in the credit card or insurance offers that clutter up your mailbox? You can opt out by contacting the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry at optoutprescreen.com or (888) 567-8688.
Communicate with your family
Once you’ve gotten organized, let key people in on your system. Don’t forget to tell those you trust where to find your financial notebook. It’ll give them peace of mind.