The “Organize Your Papers” segment of Jennifer Ford Berry’s book consists of 8 weeks. I understand how it could take this long to adequately manage all of the papers one may have. The chapters in organizing your papers cover the following areas: your personal information, finances, bill-paying system, receipts & taxes, files, magazines & newspapers, e-mail & social media and mail. I know that to some degree, most of us find challenges in keeping and maintaining organization in one or more of these areas. I read all eight chapters to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses in all the aforementioned areas. It was clear that I needed to apply Jennifer’s advice.
Many years ago I read an organizing article on paperwork which asked, “are you a filer, piler or a butterfly chaser?” I thought that was an interesting way of looking at how you maintain your papers. I am definitely a piler. I have many piles of papers in all different locations around the house. I couldn’t wait until this week’s challenge so that I could dig into my piles of papers and help them disappear. Not only did I just want to clear the deck of all these piles, but I also wanted to protect our important documents. This concept is covered below.
“Organize Your Personal Information” pages 42-45
Jennifer asks right away on page 42, “Could you easily locate your family’s birth certificates if you had to? Social Security cards?…” I started to think about our own document situation. I know where they are, but due to how important these types of documents are, how well are they protected? God forbid if there was a fire, but if there was smoke/fire, the water sprinklers in our condo would turn on. Even if our documents weren’t burned, they probably would be destroyed by the water. Therefore, the advice on page 43 to purchase a fireproof safety deposit box really hit home. We went out to Target and bought a Sentry Safe model: KS4100. I have put all of our important documents in the safe. I feel better knowing that they are now protected. The list of documents recommended putting in a fireproof safe are:
Marriage Certificate, Death Certificates, Birth Certificate, Household Inventory List, Adoption Papers, Valuable Contracts, Automobile Titles, Passports, Stock and Bonds Certificates, Cemetery Plot Deed, Wills and Citizenship Papers
*I’ve added creating a household inventory to my list of things to do. This would create such peace of mind due to any circumstances your home may encounter.
I also followed Jennifer’s recommendation to take note of what is in our wallets and wrote down the account numbers and phone numbers to call in case our wallet is ever lost or stolen.
“Organize Your Finances” pages 46-49
I appreciate Jennifer trying to empower her readers by encouraging them to learn how to be financially responsible. I agree with her comment, “Change your attitude about money, and you can change your future.” Time goes by very quickly. What you do today, does impact your tomorrow. Plan carefully so that you can try to protect yourself the best you can in regards to finances.
Here are some of Jennifer’s goals:
- Gather all of your bills and corresponding paperwork and decide on one place to keep all of them
- Get a clear picture of your financial situation – know your income and expenses
- Take advantage of automatic bill payment
- Commit right now to your future
- Set up a plan for your retirement, investments and supplemental income
- Set up college funds for your children
- Formulate a budget
One idea that I implemented this year to save a little more extra money is one that I received from a colleague. It’s called the 52 Week Money Challenge. It’s where each week, for 52 weeks, you save the amount of dollars represented for that week. Example, week 1 you put into your savings $1.00, week 2 you put into your savings $2.00. I have a savings account and I transfer that amount every pay period. By the end of the year I may be able to save as much as $1,378.00 without really noticing the amounts coming out of your checking account each week.
Here are some tips that Jennifer suggests for your finances:
- Take advantage of automatic bill payment with your bank (I do this)
- Pay your bills online and request that your bank does not send paper statements (I do this)
- Consolidate your phone bills and calling plans (I did this)
- Consider paying your mortgage bi-weekly (I do this)
“Organize Your Bill-Paying System” pages 50-53
I wanted to share with you how I have created a simple method for paying my bills which I have used for the past three years. I use an excel spreadsheet. It’s very simple, but I find it extremely useful and it has proven itself successful in keeping my bills straight.
The picture above gives an example of my excel sheet. I simplified it so that you can get the idea. It’s so easy to add/delete items and it’s completely customizable, which is one of the reasons that I like it so much.
To start off, I carry over the ending balance from the year before. Then I add to that amount, my regular paycheck and then any other income I may receive in that pay period. I have all of my bills that need to be paid within each pay period. The bills come in two categories, fixed and variable. The fields of the fixed bill amounts are already populated. The fields for the variable bills are populated when I receive an email/statement with the amount. I pay my bills twice a month. Then at the end of the pay period, after all my bills are paid, I see what is left over. That amount is carried over to the next pay period and the process starts all over. Since I have used this method for so long, I can anticipate my variable bills within a few dollars. The spreadsheet contains every pay period and bill for the year. The end of the spreadsheet shows how much money I can possibly have at the end of the year, if I was able to stick strictly to that budget. Of course it never goes as planned, but it helps me to think about how every purchase affects the bottom line. Having this awareness has helped me make wiser financial decisions.
I also want to add another idea that we have been using for almost two years. We have one credit card that offers air miles to a specific airline company that we use when going back home to visit family. We put every living expense on this credit card we possibly can. We pay this credit card off every month which means that we never pay interest. We have/had enough air miles to fly back twice, round trip for free. This has proven to be a wise decision for us, but make sure it works for you and not against you.
“Organize your Receipts & Taxes” pages 54-57
We seem to have an endless supply of receipts. I have decided to have one place for them to collect, which is a compartment in a drawer in the kitchen. All of the receipts go in this space stay for a while, just in case we need to return something. Then after a little while if we do not need the receipt anymore, I’ll shred it and the ones I need to keep, I file away. This has helped tremendously with having just one place to store/house them.
My tax situation is very simple for the time being. I just wait for my tax statements to come in and put them in a file until I have everything I need to file my tax return. Once I have completed my taxes, I print a copy of my tax return and put everything together in one file for that particular year.
“Organize your Files” pages 58-61 & “Organize Your Magazines & Newspapers” pages 62-65
- Go through all your file s and toss all useless or outdated information (done)
- Gather up your papers (did that)
- Set up a file system (I have one, just updated it and made it more detailed)
I use two 2-drawer file cabinets. One is dedicated to both our active files and the other one is for our information that we need to keep, but they are not considered active.
I also use “mobile” file units. I have one that contains all of my magazine articles. I love magazines. They present the newest ideas that are out there. When I go through a magazine, I instantly tear out the article of interest and I file it under one of several categories that I have listed below.
Books/Music, Fashion, Financial, Fitness, Food/Drink, Gift Ideas, Health/Beauty, Home Ideas, Inspiration, Restaurants, Tips/Ideas, Travel Ideas and X-MAS Ideas
I have two other mobile file units that I use for household and electronics items. This is my temporary solution until I get my Household Inventory File created. These files contain the receipt, manuals and paperwork that go with each item we have purchased.
This week’s challenge has really helped me to observe my habits and has helped me to evaluate where I need to improve. I again have taken to heart Jennifer’s advice and will implement what I learned. I look forward to being able to adjust my needs as they may change in regards to all the paperwork that comes into our home.
***Please also check out the amazing women who are also participating in the 12 Week Organize Now! Challenge: Jennifer @ Mother Thyme, Bonnie @ House of Grace, Pamela @ the dayton time and Michelle @ Eamich ***