In a perfect world I would have my home office tidy and organized, with neatly labelled bins and folders. Every thing would have its place, and every place would have its thing. Clutter frustrates me, and leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Yet, I am constantly surrounded by clutter when it comes to the home office. I go through regular purge sessions, but paperwork seems to accumulate so quickly that I often get overwhelmed. My filing system is a hybrid of clearly labelled file folders and stacks of paperwork classified as “To Be Filed.”
When we decided that I would stop working to keep our kids at home, it was agreed that I would need to take over the bills and financial stuff and keep up with all our “paperwork.” I was a little intimidated because early on in our relationship, I willingly handed over a lot of this upkeep to my husband since I knew that organization was not my strongest feature.
My previous method of keeping up with bills and paperwork looked something like this: I had a file folder labelled DUE BILLS, where I put statements as they came in. I had another file folder labelled TO FILE that usually got misplaced and turned into two or three folders or an entire pile designated TO FILE. I would try to check the DUE BILLS folder regularly and keep up with deadlines, and did alright for the most part. Some things got sent late, and some things got misplaced, and once something moved from the DUE BILLS to TO FILE, who knows how long it could be until I found it.
So once the burden of our finances and paperwork fell squarely on my shoulders, I knew I needed to get things together, at least as far as our finances went. I knew it would be a little over ambitious to tackle my entire organizational problem, but I at least needed a way to keep our finances in order.
I have four major components of my new DUE BILLS system.
First, I have my Monthly Planner. This is my master calendar for the year. After many years, I realized that I didn’t need a thick planner with month and day pages. So I use a simple BlueSky Monthly planner. This is an 8 1/2 x 11 ” planner, with each month opening across two pages, and having a tab. I have a highlighter color coding system set up. Yellow is Due Bills, and the remaining colors (Pink, Blue, Green and Orange) are set for each family member so I can keep up with everyone’s schedules and needs.
I put Bills on the calendar, regardless of whether they get mailed, payed online or autodraft from the bank account. Many of the bills are sent as paper statements, but there are a couple that we only receive email statements. Because the monthly expenses are usually due same day each month, I schedule them on my calendar regardless of whether I get a mailed statement. I also schedule several months out at a time, so I am not scrambling to update the calendar at the end of each month. Quarterly payments can also be scheduled for the entire year. I put a dollar sign on paydays so I can easily see when Dan’s check gets direct deposited.
The next part of my Due Bills system is a separate hanging file folder box. I got a snazzy one at Target for around $12. I keep in on the shelf in my dining room with my cookbooks, since I spend a fair amount of time downstairs.Yes I have a file drawer where I file everything away neatly (eventually), but the only way I can keep things running smoothly is to have a separate file box that stays where I process the mail and do most of the financial transactions – in the dining room. Along with my hanging file folder box are two magazine boxes, one designated for items To Be Shredded, and the other one designated for items To Be Filed (but NOT financial documents…). I know it sounds like I am keeping a bit of the disorganization by having this To Be Filed box, but it works. It keeps all the non-financial stuff that needs to be filed in one contained space that I can handle in small doses.
In the hanging file folder, I have twelve manilla folders, labelled for the twelve months of the year. The only stuff that goes into the folders are statement, bills and payment coupons. When I bring in the mail, I sort immediately. Bills for the month go into the current month’s folder, or into the month that they happen to be due (in the case of a quarterly statement); any other paperwork I need to file goes into the To Be Filed box. If it’s something sensitive but junk (like credit card apps or blank credit card checks that we never use but they insist on sending us…) it goes into the To Be Shredded box. If its a regularly occuring bill, it most likely has already been placed on the calendar, but if not, or it is a non-recurring bill, onto my calendar it goes. If the bill has a coupon booklet, like a car payment or a condo HOA payment, the book goes into the current month. Once I send the payment with that month’s coupon, I immediatley move the coupon booklet to the next month’s folder so it is ready for the next payment cycle. As I pay the bills, I record on the individual statements date and amount payed, check number if I sent in the mail, online confirmation number if I payed online, etc. The statement STAYS in that month’s folder. I do not move any of these financial records into the To Be Filed box. This keeps my financial statements organized by month in case I need to access quickly, and takes into consideration my known weakness for not filing other things in a timely matter. At the end of the month, I move that month’s folder to the back of the box, so that the current month is in front and easy to access, but the previous months are still in order and available to be referenced. One more thing – in an extra hanging folder I have a stash of empty envelopes, stamps and address labels. One less thing to have to look for when I sit down to do the bills…
To keep track of what is due and what has been payed, I do two things. First, and most importantly, I keep a post it note on the inside of each month’s folder.Very low tech, but it works. For all the recurring bills, I have them listed, with a small circle to check once I have payed. Additional bills that aren’t recurring, such as a labwork bill from a doctor, gets added at the bottom of the list so that I know it is due. Usually I write payment confirmations on the individual statements, but for those bills that I don’t get mailed statements, such as student loan payments, I record confirmation numbers directly onto the post it note. For any bills that autodraft, I check off as I notice them drafting from our checking account. When I pay bills, I usually have my calendar in front of me, so I also put a check next to the bill on the calendar. Checking off on the calendar is more of a backup thing for me, but the post it note is really what I use to remind me of what has been payed and what is still due that month.
I’ve used this system for the entire year and it has made such a difference. I just sat down this weekend, with my file box on my desk, and went through each month’s folder to sort statements. I had the entire year of financial statements sorted into their individual files in my file drawer in a short time. Now I have my empty month folders back in my file folder box ready for the new year.
It’s almost January, which means tax forms are about to start showing up in the mail. So I have added a new folder to the file box. TAXES 2012. As I start sorting the mail in the new year, bills will go into their monthly folders, and tax statements will go into the Taxes 2012 folder. And remember my post it notes? As I emptied my monthly folders during my filing session, I stuck the post it notes on the inside of the Taxes file in a single stack, paperclipped for good measure. I doubt I will need them, but there are some confirmation numbers written down, so just in case, I want to hang onto them. During my filing session, I shredded the contents of my To Be Shredded box and have (sort of ) started filing the contents of my To Be Filed box.