By Karen Bush, Professional Organizer, www.GreatFallsOrganizers.com
Staying on top of your finances takes time, but it does not have to be too time-consuming if you get organized. Here are some steps you can take to streamline your regular financial tasks, so you have more time to enjoy the other facets of your life.
1. Tackle the mail.
If you receive your bills and financial statements in the mail, getting organized starts by making sure these items are sorted and stored together for regular bill paying and review. Sort the daily mail next to the recycling bin – keep the bills and other important correspondence, but pitch the flyers, advertisements, coupons, and other junk mail as soon as you see it. This is the first important step to getting your finances organized.
2. Set up your filing system.
Whether you prefer to use a paper-based filing system or one that you keep electronically, organization is the key. Just as you would have a manila file folder for the different types of statements, receipts, or other documents you should hold on to, the same is true for electronic files. Set them up, using descriptive file names and the year, and then start using them as you pay bills, renew contracts and policies, and keep track of receipts. If you choose to “go paperless,” many of your documents can be sent to you over email, but you also will need a good scanner and a consistent file naming convention so you can save and find documents later. Keep in mind, if your financial institution (such as your bank, credit card company, an investment firm, insurance company, etc.) offers “paperless” statements, then you may not have to scan and store the statements on your computer. They are accessible via the internet, and you will only have to set up an online account to be able to review and print statements for the last several years, as needed.
3. Review your portfolio.
Meet regularly with your financial planner, so you can see the big picture of your financial standing. Your conversation will likely focus on your financial and life goals and how well they are being supported by your investments and reserves. Be sure to review how changes in tax laws, age restrictions, and other changing terms can affect your assets, so you can make necessary adjustments to your portfolio.
4. Review your expenses.
Look at the regular expenses you have become so used to that you do not realize what you are paying for them. For instance:
- Magazine subscriptions – Do you really read every issue, or do they accumulate in a pile that you never get to? Cancel the ones you do not read – you will not miss them. For those you do read, consider that most magazines have an online subscription option, and at least you will not have the magazine clutter accumulating in the house. The same goes for the newspaper, newsletters, and even catalogs. Cancel any such publications that do not meet your needs or interests anymore, and go online for those that do.
- TV/internet/phone – Regularly call your tv/internet/phone provider(s) and ask for a loyalty discount. These companies are in tight competition for your business and are often very willing to give you a discount, but you have to ask for it. And whatever they grant you might expire in a year, so mark your calendar to call and ask to renew the discount. Also, consider your tv/cable viewing habits. Perhaps you can eliminate one of those expenses, especially if you are also paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other viewing services.
- Charitable giving – If you receive solicitations from all kinds of charitable organizations, some you have never heard of before, realize that your name and address are being sold and the new charities are hoping you will open your wallet to their cause, as well. They target affluent seniors, by including a free note pad, return address labels, greeting cards, and even a nickel or a dime, just to get you to open the envelope. They do this to make you feel obligated to them. To combat this, plan your charitable giving independent of these solicitations. Have a budget with annual amounts you are willing to give to each charity. And once you have given that amount to the charity, disregard all future solicitations for the calendar year. Just toss them in the recycling bin (nickels and all) because they are not worth your time or mental energy to consider.
- Expenses of habit – Do you stop by the coffee shop frequently? Those multi-dollar lattes add up. Or perhaps your credit card gets more exercise at the gym than you do. It could be time to re-evaluate your gym membership. Subscription services (for clothes, foods, makeup, even wine-of-the-month) might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but sometimes they last long beyond your level of interest. Take a look at your spending habits and determine if they still reflect the way you want to spend your money and cancel any that don’t.
- Supporting other family members – If your grown children are employed and living on their own, chances are they should not still be on your cell phone plan, using your Netflix password, or included in another family plan like they were when they lived at home. Sometimes we forget to take them off the account. However, there are special circumstances where supporting another family member is a conscious and necessary reality. Just make sure it is included in your financial plan, so you are still able to accomplish your own goals.
5. Shred, shred, shred.
When organizing your finances, you will likely end up with a big pile of paper you do not need anymore. These pages may contain identifying information, so you should discard them safely. Having a decent shredder is a good idea, so you can regularly take care of individual statements you need to discard. But if you have a pile taller than a few inches, you will quickly overheat your shredder’s motor, and it will take a long time to get through the pile. Look for periodic shredding events that communities, local businesses, and realtors offer so you can take a box or two to be shred. If you have many boxes full of documents, consider hiring a shredding company to come to your home to do an on-site shred for you. These home visits are an affordable alternative to lugging your boxes of paper somewhere.
With a little organization, managing your finances can become a quicker task, leaving you lots of time to enjoy the other parts of your life!