Here are the top 10 things I do that help me to keep my personal finances organized:
1. Limit the number of “paper” bills. Almost all of the bills that I pay monthly can be received online or via email. I “print” a copy of each bill to a file on my hard drive, for future reference.
2. Limit the number of “paper” checks. In connection with number 1, I pay almost every bill that I have via Wachovia’s online bill pay. Wachovia offers a free checking account, has good service, offers a local branch, and has free online bill pay.
3. Use an “accordion” style portable file box. I use one of these, which I purchased for about 7 dollars at Office Max, and I keep all of my bills in it. Once I pay a bill, I keep the original bill in one of these file boxes, arranging bills via alphabetization.
4. Do a daily, weekly, or monthly “sweep” of my desk / office / kitchen counter. This will be different for almost everyone. Depending on how many bills you receive, how much mail you get, and how much room you have for clutter, you need to design a system which allows you to “clean up and clear out” all of the necessary / unnecessary paper work that you have accumulated.
5. Throw junk away. Seriously, most people keep way, way, way too much stuff in their homes. Get rid of non-essential stuff.
6. KEEP the stuff you need. As a parallel to number 5, remember to keep documents, bills, and paperwork that you might need. I don’t really focus on how long I am supposed to keep a document. I keep everything that I need, organized in my file boxes, underneath our bed. I don’t follow a 3 or 5 or 7 year rule. I keep all important documents. If you will organize them, you will find that they do not take up THAT much space, and you will create peace-of-mind, knowing that your documents are available.
7. Buy a big plastic “storage tub” or “storage box”. If you are like me, you will find that some days (or weeks) you do not have the time (or the energy or the desire) to get organized. This is where the big plastic storage tub comes in handy. Take all of your accumulated paperwork, and literally throw it into the tub. Place the lid on the tub, and put the tub up, out of your way. When you have time to concentrate, get the tub, empty its contents, and file accordingly. The storage tub has done more to reduce clutter in our home than any other device!
8. Talk to your spouse (family, children, etc.). Get everyone on board with organization. Like rowing a ship, everyone must needs be going in the SAME direction, with the SAME intensity.
9. Know thyself!!! Are you a “hoarder”? Are you “forgetful”? Try to understand WHY you put things off, and then take steps to change your behavior. Do not define yourself by your struggles!
10. Relax. ENJOY the idea of being more organized. If you can only take one single organizational step per day (or week, or month)… TAKE IT!