A Clean Slate

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Clearing clutter from your office can help with your finances
and give you peace of mind

When it comes to organizing
financial clutter, the key is to
find out what you should keep,
toss and file. Often receipts
and even bank statements wind
up sitting in your purse and
cause you to feel overwhelmed
when you finally dump things
out on your table. Removing
clutter and taking charge of
your financial life really is
doable when you have a plan.

Sort through your mail as
quickly as possible. This
means reading the mail as soon
as it is in your hands. “Keep a
trash can right next to where
you are sorting your mail,”
says Kay Morrison, owner and
founder of the Occasional
Wife in New Orleans. “And
if you are going through your
finances, have a shredder
where you sit to do your work.” This way shredding does not pile up and
turn into a big messy stack.

Start a system right now. Plan how you will keep track of your taxes
for the year. “You may use a tax filer to button up your taxes so during the
year you can put things in it that you need, wrap it up, write the year on
it and bring it to your accountant all organized,” says Morrison. You may
want to use a convenient, attractive-looking bin that holds letter-sized files
and can be carried around the house. This way you can do things in the
kitchen or in front of the television and have a traveling office. “People’s
offices need a designated place to keep their files so the good news is that
filing cabinets and systems can be really attractive,” says Morrison.

Use categories. “People hold onto receipts when they could throw
them away or categorize them by breaking them down by month instead
of putting them into one pile,” says Morrison. Problems arise when people
do not create a system. Alphabetizing is another good strategy that should
include critical information. “Living in New Orleans, we encourage people
to have an evacuation file with copies of their homeowner’s policy, car
insurance and things that could stay in a carry-all case that can easily be
taken out,” says Morrison.

Accommodate your thinking style.
This is the way your filing system
should work. “When you look at a piece of paper, do you think of the name
of the mortgage company or just mortgage and file it based on that?” says
Morrison. When you know where you put things, you will be able to save
money and see what you have.

Have a strategy in place, like Straighten up and file right.
“Get
two baskets or drawers, one for what you have not read and one for what
needs to be filed and start doing things in steps,” says Anne Teachworth,
couples therapist at the Relationship Center in Metairie. The idea is not
to put anything on top of the table. “When you read it, have the trash can
next to you and throw it away if you do not need it,” says Teachworth. If it
is something you need to file or pay, you can have four different baskets.

“When I read it, it goes into
the basket to pay, to file, to
put away or to think about,
but nothing goes on top of the
desk,” says Teachworth.

Move toward paperless.

Try using online bill paying
and the same with bank
statements. There is no
paperwork involved. It may
take time to become familiar
and feel comfortable, but you
can still create paper at any
time by printing past bills
from three years ago. “Most
people save their bills because
they want to see if their
weather-proofing is working
or they want the information
on their solar panels, but
they can research it online,”
says Morrison. Paper is not
necessary. “Now that we have
online banking, if you are using a debit card, you are keeping track of all of
your finances through the statement,” says Elizabeth Baker at Accounting
Services Unlimited in Metairie.

Know what to keep. “Use your debit card as much as you can rather
than paying cash so you are keeping proper receipt and keeping track of
your spending,” says Baker. Aside from cash receipts, you may want to keep
paycheck stubs. Utility bills can be simplified. “If you are paying bills, write
the check number and hold onto it, but you can always reference back to
your bank statement to see the check number and what you paid,” says
Baker. Understanding how to read your bank statement is a valuable skill.

Know the rules.
Small businesses are required to keep statements and
receipts for at least six years, but statements can be shredded as soon as
you match the numbers to your receipt and pay the bill. Utility bills may
be kept for a year to compare to the year before. A marriage license, birth
certificates, wills and adoption papers should be kept in a safety deposit
box. Take the time to update things once a month to be sure you are still
on the right track.

Find a computer program to help out. Once you put information
on the Internet, there is a risk of somebody taking it, so you may want to
do things with a computer program like QuickBooks. This avoids having a
huge paper mess. “For doing personal stuff, Microsoft Office has stuff with
banking and finances and Microsoft Works, which comes on the computer,
can do finances too,” says Baker.

Do not be afraid to get help. “At Office Depot, you can drop things
off and they will shred for you and give you a document stating that
everything was shredded,” says Morrison.

Organizing your finances means power. You will feel less bogged
down, less pressured and less depressed. “Getting your life and home
organized is one of the best financial moves that anyone can make,” says
Morrison.