You know how that rack next to the door finally solved your family's problem of draping their coats all over the kitchen chairs? Or how that toy bin in your five-year-olds' room allows you to hide his mess away in about two minutes when someone pops by unannounced? What if you could do this same kind of thing for your finances — create simple solutions that help you stay organized, permanently? Actually, you can.
After you've de-cluttered you financial life, here are five great ways to stay financially organized this year.
1. Buy a file cabinet -- and use it well
This might seem like a "duh" but few of us actually do it. So this year, bite the bullet and buy a file cabinet for your home. Then create the following files:
1) Automobiles For your auto lease or loan, purchase agreements, titles, warranties, maintenance, insurance and repair paperwork and receipts. 2) Bank statements 3) Children For school reports, activities and any other records worth keeping. 4) Credit cards (all statements) 5) Health and Life Insurance For policies like health, life and disability, etc., and all health insurance claims statements, reports from doctors and tests. 6) Home For your lease or mortgage and closing statements, other purchase documents, and insurance - renters insurance, private mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, etc. 7) Investment accounts (excluding retirement) 8) Retirement (all retirement account statements) 9) Salary/income For pay stubs, checks, and other payroll items, other sources of income. 10) Student loans For original loan agreements, monthly and annual statements. 11) Tax returns For W-2s, 1099s, tax-related forms and IRS correspondence, and if you plan to itemize deductions, relevant statements and receipts. 12) Other loans/debts For all other kinds of loans, statements of money owed, etc.
By doing this, tax-time will be much easier (and faster) next year -- not to mention you'll have a full picture of your financial life right at your fingertips. Be sure to purge your files at least once a year, for example, by throwing away monthly statements if you receive a year-end summary.
2. Create a "reminder system"
The cable bill is due one week, the mortgage the next, the electric the next. That's all hard to keep track of -- but if you don't, you'll end up paying late fees. So take an hour or so of your day today to create a "reminder" system for the rest of the year. Go through all your bills and see when they're due each month. Then create an online calendar (I use a Google calendar, but an Outlook calendar or some other online calendar will work as well) that will send you automatic reminders on certain days so you'll never forget to pay a bill again.
3. Organize membership and rewards programs
If your wallet is anything like most people's, you've got so many membership and rewards cards -- for grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores and more -- hidden in there that you've probably forgotten about some of them. And that means you're losing out on big savings each year. To get those cards organized, consider using the Card Star app on your smartphone. You simply insert each rewards or membership card into the app (you can type in the membership number or scan the barcode to do this) and viola, you have all of your cards in one place (and a far more organized wallet).
4. Combine bank and retirement accounts
Do you have multiple individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s from old jobs in a bunch of different accounts? That can get confusing and makes it harder to make sure you're diversifying your investments and keeping on track for your long-term goals. So help yourself better organize these accounts by rolling over old 401(k)s or 403(b)s to an IRA, and consolidating multiple IRAs into a single IRA. You can compare IRA providers at IRAmarket.com.
5. Do weekly financial "recaps"
To stay organized throughout this year, it's important to set aside 15-30 minutes each week to review your finances making sure no bills fell through the cracks, that you've filed away all paid bills, and that you're on track with your savings. If you're married, do this recap with your spouse each week.
These five tips can help keep you on top of your paperwork and feeling better organized all year. What do you do to keep yourself organized online and off? Is a clunky file cabinet a step too far for you?
By Catey Hill, contributor at IRAmarket.com
(Image: "Business Woman" image via Shutterstock)