2.08.2012

February Challenge: Financial Paper Clutter

Last week we sorted through our finances and made a list of what categories we needed to track for budgeting and what bills we need to pay monthly - so they're paid on time. This week we're going to look at financial paper clutter - or even paper clutter in general.

Paper clutter is no good in any way. It makes us feel overwhelmed and can easily over take spaces in our homes - leaving an unorganized mess. Paper comes from all over the place - from the mail, work, school, kids, the internet (when you choose to print), stores and restaurants, etc. - the list goes on and on. About half of my paper clutter is financial - receipts, W2s and other tax forms (at this time of year), bills and invoices, statements, and so on. It's honestly a bit much for me to handle.

Recently, with the boom of my blog (traffic wise) and Etsy store, along with my new job and responsibilities that go with being a teacher, I am feeling quite overwhelmed. I'm also a wife, so I have the "wifely household duties" to continue to keep up on. I've always been in charge of the finances in our house - whether that's a good thing or not is beyond me. This girl is wearing one too many hats. I want to hand the financial hat over to my husband - but it's hard for me to do so because I'm so used to doing it. Truth is, I'm now terrible with the finances and often forget that I've already paid bills or that I still have yet to pay them. Too many responsibilities are leaving me exhausted by 8:30 p.m. and overwhelmed. So this month, as I challenge you (and myself) to get financially in-order, I am personally mostly doing this so that I can hopefully feel okay with handing things over to Chris. The paper (and digital) clutter, that is financially related, is just becoming too much.

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Here's my life:
We have student loans out the wah-zoo. We have basic utilities, plus rent. We have those bills that are on auto-pay and those that we owe to family for our cell phones. Then we have the necessities that come throughout the month when we go shopping - food, clothing, etc. I need a bill paying system or schedule that works for me. We don't balance a checkbook (I know, we really should), so when bills come out after they're scheduled, I often end up surprised because I forget that I schedule them. How are we going to get things in order? I've come up with some solutions.

Go Digital
Sure, you've seen this suggestion everywhere in the last few years. I'm doing it now - this month...I'm doing it. Yeah, I get my mail every day, but I check my email more. If I get an email bill/statement reminder, I don't have to delete it and I can star it in my Gmail account. A constant reminder when I look at my email everyday. With Gmail I can even create an "event" from my email messages and add it to my Google Calendar. The Google Calendar allows me to receive an email or text message reminder at a time that I specify. Perfect. I just set this up with some bills in my email account. I think this will help me. That's now 3 less bills I'll receive in the mail and forget about in my pile of paper.



Buy a Scanner
I have an amazing printer/scanner/copier (HP Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One Inkjet Printer). I absolutely love it. I really want the NeatDesk scanner, because it will scan receipts and file them nicely. If I had my own business that required that I save receipts, I would totally be all over the NeatDesk scanner. Now, I do save my educational/classroom expense receipts, but this is my first year doing so. Maybe after doing my taxes this year I'll find it beneficial to have a specific receipt scanner. We'll see.

Back It Up
If you're going to go digital, have a way to back up your files. There are many different companies out there that now offer online backup servers, which appear to be safe. I don't personally use any of these services. Not that I don't trust them, I just happen to own an external hard drive. I keep it in my fireproof safe - not for the fear of someone steeling it, but for preserving my photos and documents in case anything happened to my PC. I have it written in my calendar to back up my PC once a month - although really, it should be two at this point with the amount of documents that I'm collecting lately. The fear of losing what's mine is no longer with me. I absolutely love my external hard drive.


Create a Filing System
Obvious, yes, but few people who refuse the digital route will actually create a filing system. I have a filing system, which is also known as my mail station. Living in an apartment, I don't have an office or a place in my kitchen to store incoming mail or bills. I have transformed my former kitchen table into my desk. (Long story if you haven't been following my blog for some time.)

Your filing system can be as simple as a file folder labeled "mail" or "bills" or as extensive as mine with a file box with hanging file folders. Whatever you do, choose something that will work for you and your family. There's really no sense in creating something that others won't utilize - it will just drive you nuts. Even though I'm going digital with my bills, I do still need my mail station to collect receipts, mail to be filed, coupons, and tax documents. (It's honestly worth it, for me, to sort these things as they come in and then go back to do a better job once a week than to have it all in a big messy pile to have to sort and then file away later on.)



Utilize Your Home Management Binder
I need to get better with my home management binder. Mine has kind of lost it's way. I have a section called "fiances", which includes all of my financial printables. In this section I keep track of my monthly bills and expenses. I'm still very much a visual, pen and paper girl. I love writing, so it helps for me (mentally) to write things down and see them on paper. Having a section in my HMB for finances keeps me organized. It also allows for me to have a central place for these documents so Chris can easily find them when he needs to.



Shred What You No Longer Need
I love my paper shredder. I don't keep confidential financial documents that I don't need in fear that someone will steal my identity. I bought a cross-cut paper shredder years ago. Best investment - seriously. I unfortunately receive 2-3 "pre-approved" credit card offers a week. I strongly dislike these - they're such a waste of paper and my time. But, of course, I've heard the stories of people finding the ones in garbage that are simply torn into 5 separate pieces, and taping them back together and sending them in - stealing peoples identities. No thanks, I have enough of my own financial issues already. I don't need this crap going down.

Okay friends, so what are we accomplishing this week?
  • go digital and set up reminders (online, via email or text) so we pay bills on time!
  • invest in a scanner, if necessary, to store financial documents that you may need to reference later on, but aren't required to have the original copy for
  • back up all of our important digital information so it doesn't get lost, deleted, or fried by a bad computer
  • create a filing system for the mail and bills that do come in via snail mail - you don't need to lose them or find them a day before their due all because you "forgot" where they were (or that they even existed)
  • use your home management binder, if you have one, to organize your finances - create a section just for finances to track payments and bill due dates
  • invest in a good paper shredder so you're not holding onto a whole bunch of paper junk just because you're afraid to get rid of it (due to scammers, of course)

Want more information on conquering paper clutter? Check out this post that I wrote in October. It's the most popular post on my blog via Pinterest!

Do you have any other financial (or just paper clutter) tips to share? I'd love to hear how you manage all of the paperwork that comes with the finances.


4 comments:

  1. Our kitchen counter is a catch-all for most of our financial paperwork. It is a work in progress. I have tried a few things, but nothing has caught on.
    I have my own little corner in the blogosphere, and since I read your blog daily, I decided to tag you in a recent post. It is a fun question/answer post, and I would love for you to participate if you have the time! I am a teacher and busy wife, so I completely understand the time constraints.

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  2. Girl, you are changing my life one blog post at a time!! I will send you a full email when I am done with some pictures of all of my organization you have inspired, but just know I have done SO many things you have suggested and everything is working out great! I wanted to let you know a few years ago I saw a thing on one of the bottom of my pre-approved credit card junk mails that said. . ."to opt out of getting offers like this go to this address. . ." I did it on the internet one afternoon, and within a few months ALL of those had stopped!! It was amazing. I have heard you can do the same with other junk mail, I need to investigate!

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  3. I have put a lot of my bills on automatic payment through my credit card. They are always on time then plus I get all the credit card points but I do always pay my credit card bill off every month so no interest charges.

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  4. I actually tried to go digital in 2010 and 2011, and it caused me more headaches and problems. I have an iphone, which has great apps to use and such, but I can't use them. Honestly I use the alarm and an app that uses GPS to track my walks, that's it. Everything else I have tried on there, has caused issues. I have tried using Quicken, and it has great features, but all I use it for now is a check register.... that I only update every other week and I updated it from my banks site, so items I have already been charged for and have cleared the bank. I have also tried using a program called You Need a Budget (YNAB) I really like, kind of a digital version of the envelope system, but again I don't ever update it. It took 2 years, but I finally figured out my problem... Too much screens.... Between TVs, computers, gaming systems, phones, etc...We spend too much time in front of a screen and it got too much for me. I still watch my tv, and play abble dabble (scrabble) with my husband on our phones, and I get on my computer for facebook, blogs, email, picture editing and some crafty things, but I can't use it for important things like finances anymore. So this year I am changing. I have already set up a Loan Repayment binder (thanks to a printable you offered awhile ago) to keep track of our student loans (we have alot too.... and still adding since my husband is finishing up nursing school!) And currently I am utilizing some financial pages that came with my planner- bill schedule list and a log for tracking income and expenses... however they aren't working perfectly for me, so while I am creating my Home Management Binder I am working on making some that work exactly how I need (I like the income/expense tracker you posted for the challenge, not sure if it will be exactly what I need, but we will see :-)) I do have some automated bills, but because I have too... with out income situation we don't always have money on the date they are set for... I like being able to pay things early when I have the funds. I am also working on revamping my filing cabinet this year... my system wasn't working. I do need a shredder though... it's been on my wishlist for the last 2 years!

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