Here’s the thing. I hate paperwork. I hate organizing stuff. Which makes me the perfect person to be teaching this lesson. Why? If you’re like me, the last thing you want is some peppy “I just love and live to organize everything” guy. I can’t relate to that. I want someone who says, “Listen, I suck at organizing, but here’s what I do and it works pretty well.” That’s me.
This stuff doesn’t have to be rocket science. You just need to do it a couple of times and then get into the habit. And that’s probably the real lesson right there. It doesn’t really matter how you organize your documents, but that you do and you’re consistent.
There are quite a few documents and it can become overwhelming pretty quickly. So start with a game plan. Your first decision is do you want to be a paper guy or an electronic file guy? I’d choose one or the other just to make it easy. Whatever you decide, how you organize your files are going to be the same.
Here are the different categories I would create either in a file cabinet or computer folders:
Insurance: health insurance, auto insurance, home insurance, etc.
Investments: applications you’ve signed, agreements with investment advisors, monthly statements, etc.
Legal: wills and trusts, power of attorney, etc.
Tax: tax returns, 1099s, charitable donations.
Debt: mortgage paperwork, credit card statements, student loans.
Those are the main categories, but under those, you can have sub-folders to make things even easier to find later.
When it comes to taxes, here’s what I like to do. Create a file if you’re doing real paper documents or folder if you’re keeping everything electronically and label it Taxes Year. Within that folder, I have sub-folders labeled Charitable Receipts, Income, and 1099s. This makes it easy come tax time to pull this out and have everything in one place to give to your tax person or to help you do your own taxes. It’s a huge time saver.
Just get into a habit with these documents. If you’re going the paper route, get a Pending folder and dump all the financially related mail you get into it and then you can go through it and separate each piece into the different categories later. I like this idea of having a temporary bucket, so to speak, where you dump everything and then can go back through it later. If you’re going paperless, create a temporary folder and drag documents into it for the month.
And then, at the end of each month, make a date to go through and clear out the temp folder and file the documents where they belong.
Once you get into the swing of things, keeping track of your important financial documents will be effortless, I promise!
The proceeding blog post is an excerpt from Get Money Smart: Simple Lessons to Kickstart Your Financial Confidence & Grow Your Wealth, available now on Amazon.