Question for the organized

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by Fran, Jan 4, 2008.

  1. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Could you give me some suggestions of how you handle mail, bills,receipts and important papers so that you don't have clutter everywhere? Where do you keep it? How do you file it? What do you do with your very important stuff, like deeds, birth certificates,passports etc.
    I get mountains of mail every week. I am pretty organized in my own little system but it is becoming overwhelmed. I have an accordion file for receipts that are by the year. I bank on line for the most part. This is so tax season isn't a nightmare.
    I would love to know how you do it and see if it works better.
  2. HereWeGoAgain

    HereWeGoAgain Grandpa

    I have a system that works pretty well for me.

    I have a drawer. If something seems important for some reason, I toss it in there. Then, when I need to find some important paper, I search through the drawer for it. Usually I can find it the same day, or at least within 48 hours, if it exists (I'm never quite sure if I really kept it or not, or even had it in the first place).

    Every so often the drawer overflows, so I have to throw some stuff out. I have a system for this, too. I dump out the drawer and start tossing stuff that doesn't really seem all that important anymore.

    Hope this helps.

    (In reality I have no right to even view a thread titled "Question for the organized".)
  3. everywoman

    everywoman Active Member

    I use a filing cabinet (small two drawer) and file folders. Folders are labeled. If mail is junk--I toss. All bills are paid online and I've pretty much eliminated paper bills.
  4. timer lady

    timer lady Queen of Hearts


    I have a monthly financial file for each month of the year; all banking, bills & receipts for that month go in those files.

    Once bills are paid & I receive my monthly bank statement I shred all cleared receipts & bills paid (i.e. telephone stmts, grocery receipts, etc) unless it's tax deductable or tax related or a purchase of a new asset, a repair, insurance paid, etc.

    I, too, bank online & receive paper statements & bills whenever possible from whichever vendor I use that offers this option.

    At the end of the year, I cull out what wasn't needed for tax purposes & shred that (other than newly purchased assets & warranties). The rest goes into that year's tax file.

    I hang onto 7 years worth of tax files & each year celebrate shredding one of those when I file that year's return & know it's been accepted.

    As for birth certificates, deeds, things like that - husband & I use a lock box at the bank. It's one of the safer & cheaper places to store these items. If I were on the ball I'd take in a copy of a monthly backup of my checkbook & keep my tax returns on CD there to store as well. Maybe this year....
  5. hearts and roses

    hearts and roses Mind Reader

    See, Linda, you are my hero.

    I have a filing system closer to HWGA. I toss all incoming junk mail and immediately shred unsolicited offers for credit cards. then I separate the mail - mine and H's. Mine goes into a countertop wicker file. H's goes on the top of his desk where it sits and begins to meld into the other crud lying there after a fews day and then H rummages through my stuff looking for the bill he claims I threw out. In my wicker countertop filing thingy there are big sections in the rear where I put stuff like catalogs I may be interested in or college books, etc.

    In my room I have a drawer file that is sectioned off with folders for appliance warrantees & manuals, divorce papers, old tax returns, medical files for each kid and myself, and a personal file for old writing I used to do as well as some really great papers I wrote in college. I go through that annually and clear out junk.

    Also in my room, on my bookshelf I have accordian files for each daughter. These files contain their entire academic information, as well as any current or upcoming college information.

    When our home addition is complete, my hope is that I can find an old large two drawer file cabinet for all this stuff so I can keep it all together in the basement, next to my memory box, which holds all the special things from my daughters' babyhoods and up through the grades all those wonderful little pictures and books they made and every card they ever gave me, my first wedding dress and photo album, and some other stuff the girls may want one day.

    I bought an organizer this year and I have been using it. I plan each day and make lists and check things off. So far, so good. It has a pocket where I am keeping my bills so H can't rummage through them when he's lost one of his own! The wicker thing will become a simple holder of miscellaneous crud that I can clean out once a month after the excitement of "maybe I will look at that" has worn off! I used to be REALLY organized and now I'm getting back into it.
  6. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    I have a 4-drawer lateral file in my home office. Each drawer is designated for a different purpose.

    The top 2 drawers are for work-related information.
    The 3rd drawer is for household and personal information, separated into categories (I'm going from memory here, so these are in no particular order):
    1) Tax information
    2) Banking and finance
    3) Bills
    4) Schools and Support Services
    5) Medical
    6) ID and Documents
    7) Magazine subscriptions
    8) Household equipment (for warranty information, repair records etc.)
    10) Home (for deed, mortgage information, appraisals, etc.)
    11) Legal (divorce documents, etc.)'

    Within each category, there are separate files for each item. For example, under Bills, there is a separate file for each "vendor" (phone company, cable company, internet provider, etc.). Under Banking, there is a separate file for each account, labelled by bank, name of account holder and account type (e.g. Bank X - Personal Chequing - husband, Bank X - Business Chequing - Trinity)

    I have electronic copies (scanned) of all important papers, and they are saved on a remote server in another part of the city. I have also e-mailed them to myself, so they are backed up on the e-mail server too.

    I use online banking for the most part. Since my accountant needs all of the records, I print a copy of the e-bill and transaction record, staple them together and file them in the appropriate folder. For things that I can't do online, I use computer-generated cheques, the kind that come with 2 cheque stubs and perforations. When I print a cheque, I attach one stub to the invoice, and leave the other one attached when I send it out.

    For receipts:
    I file all receipts in envelopes, one for each month. I used to have a more complex system, but my accountant said that he would just have to undo my system and get his staff to use his, so it was easier to just sort by month.

    The big thing is that I try not to handle any document more than once. I try to review it, process it and then either file or shred immediately. Otherwise, I end up with giant piles of paper all over the place, and start to feel overwhelmed.

    One thing I have learned...with ADD, I am either extremely organized, or I'm not organized at all and I can't function. So...I have to be very regimented about this or things quickly sink into chaos.
  7. Star*

    Star* call 911

    Important papers - are in labeled envelopes for everyone in the house

    Important papers like deed, home insurance, auto binder, health insurance, = all have copies of and the originals are in a safe

    Then I have a basket and a bucket

    Basket - ALL incoming mail is sorted the minute I come in the house into 3 categories BILLS (put in basket), Junk (Bucket), Fun - read right then.

    The bucket mail gets shredded - invest in a shredder that you can cut up CD thickness.

    I have called each of my collectors so that the bills are all due on around or about the same day. You can call and change it. Then I sit down on the 5th of each month and write checks, hit the online pay (Your bank may also organize all on line bills for you to pay with a click)

    I then stamp them paid, and file them in a month folder. Jan - Dec.

    At the end of the year - I shred all those that have cleared because where I live - I've had problems with several utilities saying I didn't pay when I had - and had to prove it in paper.

    It works for me - and the beauty is - if I get sick or can't get to the computer - DF can pull the paper bills - and pay them as he is not computer savy at all.
  8. tiredmommy

    tiredmommy Well-Known Member

    I race husband to the mail box each day. This is so that I can sort it right then and there. Junk is trashed within moments of entering the house. husband's "stuff" (non-essentials like mags) are immediately put on his desk. Bills, statements, etc immediately go to my desk.
  9. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    I like the filing drawers the best. 4 sounds about right. Thanks trinityroyal. Your suggestions and those of every other organized person helps. Everywoman, I can't even imagine no paper bills. Maybe someday.
    Linda,I can see your accountant style management. Very sleek.
    Nomatic, I figured if I was thinking about maybe others will benefit.
    Star, your system seems easy and efficient. Thanks.
    TM with your weather, I would let husband win that race. LOL.

    I think I will set up a work station of some sort with file cabinets with folders and divided by years. I am pretty much past the basket stage.
    I toss junk mail immediately. I used to do bills 2twice a month then weekly and now it seems something is pressing during the week. I hope as the remodel is coming to an end that will settle down. I hand all mail that I am not directly responsible for to husband's desk. There are things that he needs from that pile. (one more letter from the college alumni committee and I may have a meltdown. Can you say begging?)
    Right now, I have a pile of receipts to file for the year 2007 so I can send the 2 accordian files to husband's office for tax season.
    A pile of things that husband and I need to go through together and finish.
    A pile of things that may come in handy for the future(adverts and work type things)
    A pile of incoming mail that is linked to difficult child. A pile that is linked to easy child. I have files for difficult child, easy child and the dogs. The dog's file is in the truck but I need to put the current vac updates in there.

    I can see that I need to set up a system that is a little more structured than I have been using. I need more of a work area. I tend to like the kitchen. I don't shred much but husband does. I do a lot of tearing. I also have to decrease the amount of incoming paper. It is overwhelming. Maybe e-bills is the way to go but they make me nervous. Easy to accidently delete or for something to automatically be kicked into the spam folder. I seldom get through the advertisement catalogs. I should just dump them from the mailbox to recycle.

    Thanks for all the helpful ideas. Next I'll have to ask how people organize their kitchens for some insight. I try to organize it as I use it but the pantry is becoming a large junk drawer with a door. husband's closet is becoming disorganized. Maybe baskets will work there.

    Jan. is a good month to try to set things right for the year.
  10. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    I've had to apply the same regimentation I use in my office to all aspects of my life, just to keep the number of ADD panics down to a manageable level. When you're ready to tackle your kitchen and closets, I have ideas...

    All the best,
  11. Marcie Mac

    Marcie Mac Just Plain Ole Tired

    I have drastically cut down on the amount of mail- now its mostly just junk. I use my BofA bill pay and have almost all of my accounts set up for ebills. I get an email when they come in, and can't avoid not seeing them cause when I log into the bank, there is a bright red sign saying I have new bills...

    My old system of them comming in the mail, and falling into the black hole at the bottom of my purse, never to see daylight till its too late rarely happens. I have a folder for each payee, and when paper does come in, it gets shoved in there, along with a printed receipt from the bank showing it got paid. I empty it out every so often.

    I make copies of stuff that are tax deductible and put it in a separate file for year end taxes - that way I don't have to hunt.

    Things I have to do are religated to my Outlook where I put them under scheduled Tasks, under my contacts I keep name, addresses and account numbers for each account.

    Not the perfect system but works for me..

  12. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    All the long-term important documents (deeds, licenses, etc.) go
    into the safety deposit box at the bank. All the utilities bills
    mortgage payment receipts, medical receipts (we use a pharmacy and MDs who have records available easily) etc. go into the trash
    and out of the house. For us that means we are only left with
    easy child/difficult child, and difficult child papers that need to be saved and I have file folders for each of them. Somehow I used to think I had to save
    every receipt for everything. Once I gave some serious thought
    to it, I realized most of the mess was there because I held on to
    unnecessary papers.

    Of course, I would assume that if you are really computer literate and have a scanner you could scan copies of all the papers and store them on your computer with only important documents to be maintained at the bank. Me?? Nope, I barely know how to type my replies in consistent lines! :smile:DDD
  13. jbrain

    jbrain Member

    Here We Go Again,
    your reply cracked me up--similar to my "method"!
  14. Stella Johnson

    Stella Johnson Active Member

    I have a little expandable file thing that I keep on the computer desk. I put all the mail in it.

    Passports, birth certificates, insurance stuff should ALWAYS be kept in a fire proof safe. Don't skimp on the safe. Buy the best one you can find. I've seen some of them melted in really bad fires.

  15. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Good idea Stella. Thanks.
  16. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    My organizational systems have all broken down in proportion to the number of years I've been a parent but I do have one that works well for me and that's medical.

    I have a huge 3 ring binder which I use because I can take it with me when needed. In this I keep:

    1) a zipper pencil pouch in which I keep scripts that haven't been filled yet, paper clips, fine point sharpie so my print on the claims will copy easily, and a Kinko's card to pay for copied

    2) a folder (with holes) into which goes medical bills that have been paid on one side and insurance claims that need to be processed through our tax free medical account.

    3) a page protector where I keep insurance company contact info and the codes I need for the claims.

    When I've accumulated enough I haul the binder to Kinkos to copy everything. They have staplers, three hole punches, etc so it's easy to do there. I make copies to send out and then staple the originals in groups, date them when they were sent in, hole punch them and put them in the binder. I keep large envelopes in the binder too so I can drop it off at the post office afterwards.

    The companies we're under still have it pretty labor intensive but it helps a lot to be organized. The binder makes it easy to bring to the computer and double check from the online site as well.

    I'm thinking of going to the big binder system for bills with a folder or big zipper pouch for each month. I sometimes like to go sit in the bookstore cafe to write bills (translation: reduces distractions so I finish) and it would be handy.
  17. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    I try to open the mail every day, and separate the junk from the bills/things I want to look at. This usually leaves me with a pile of junk. :wink: Or a pile of junk and one or two pieces of paper that I need to look at on bill-paying day, which for me is Saturday. The junk mail goes directly to the shredder, and if it is anything that I am concerned about people seeing, I shred. The important stuff gets stuck in a little cubby by the printer.

    Every Saturday morning I sit down with my Quicken and get online with the bank (which I usually do every day just to be sure I'm somewhat aware of how much money we have) and pay the bills. I keep the credit card bill in a file cabinet for a couple of months to be sure I don't need to return something or contest a bill, but then it gets shredded. I shred utility bills because I can always access them online. We have very little paper in the house. I should say I have very little paper in the house, and I do the bills. husband is a packrat and can't get rid of papers ever. That's why I do the mail and the bills! :laugh:

    Passports and other identifying papers are kept in a hidden fireproof wall safe.
  18. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    It's not just mail. But let's dal with that first.

    We check the mail as it comes in. Everyone knows to put the mail in one central place. Someone (me, husband or one of the kids) sorts the mail and puts it on the bed of the relevant person. If it's me sorting mail for the kids, I take an educated guess on what the mail is, and/or ask the kid what it was and how they intend to deal with it. Because we've walked them through so much of this, they are fairly good at dealing with it themselves, or immediately asking for help.

    Bills - they go into a drawer, along with other papers requiring fairly prompt attention. Prescriptions, paid accounts etc.

    We also have a filing cabinet - three drawers. We keep ALL papers in there. The house plans, the deeds, the paperwork involving building our house - it's all there. Files on the kids' testing, school results, letters from doctors - all in the filing cabinet. We have complete files kept on various Government departments - our Centrelink is a combined unemployment, sickness benefits, parental allowance, health care card, etc authority. ALL our Centrelink letters go into one manila folder. There is a file number on these which is handy for whenever I have to ring them up, so I grab the folder when I call and put it back when I'm done (often with notes on the call scrawled in, or a reference to a test file I have on the computer, if it's an ongoing issue).

    We use the computer. A lot. I keep diary notes on the computer. If there is a particular issue I'm tracking, I keep a text file on the topic. I date each entry and minute each phone call, often typing while I'm still in the call. That way I can actually say, "Would you mind repeating that slowly? I want to be sure I'm quoting you correctly." I then sometimes even read it back to them and if they verify it, I make a note indicating this. Once someone has been through this with me, they will not at a later stage deny having said something.

    We also use the computer to scan documents. Although we had hard copy, we tend to print a scanned document to avoid the hassle of finding a working photocopier. (the humidity is so high here that photocopiers often print very dark, almost illegible, unless you also have a special drying drawer for the paper). We have a list of local JPs to certify that it is a genuine copy.

    Bills falling due, appointments to be kept, prescriptions due to be dispensed, birthdays, we put them in a diary and also on a computer diary. We're not so good with the computer diary, it's not as comprehensive with appointments. It's great for recurring intervals, though.

    We also keep our credit straight by using a computer record. Anything we put on credit, we log onto a spreadsheet. We have a different spreadsheet for each credit card/bank account. I collect credit card receipts in my wallet and regularly get them out to give them to husband to log. I can also log them myself but I often don't get around to it. He has a duplicate file on his laptop which he regularly backs up.
    As we log a receipt, we tick it off. All ticked receipts get thrown away. If we needed to, we could get duplicates from the bank. husband also has the spreadsheets calculating how close we are to our credit limit. If we get too close but still need to use credit, he goes online to transfer money onto the card. Payments are also logged on the spreadsheet.
    When the credit card bill or bank statement comes in, we check it against our computer record. We change the colour of the line if it has been successfully cross-checked. This really doesn't take very long and is really worth it. A few times we might see a credit charge for something we simply could not have bought; we then notify the bank and let them loose to find who's using our credit fraudulently. It's amazing how many people simply pay their bill without checking it.

    We are a family with a lot of medical bills. We have one credit card dedicated only for health-related expenses. This makes it a lot easier for insurance and tax purposes. We still make mistakes sometimes and use the wrong card, but our spreadsheet system always picks it up.
    When we incur a medical expense, we generally pay it in full at the time of service, on the credit card. I keep the doctor's receipt in my zip-up diary. husband puts them in the drawer. Prescriptions go into my diary. When I get prescriptions filled, I go to the same, local, pharmacist. It supports the local business (which I rely on). I leave all repeat prescriptions with him. I don't have to, but it makes things a lot easier. if I'm at the shops and remember I need more of this or that, I can just drop in and collect it. He prints on the label how many repeats are left.
    The pharmacist also has a telephone outlet for people to claim on their public health insurance. It's called Medicare. Because I keep the doctor receipts in my zip-up diary, and husband takes his out of the drawer and gives them to me, then while I am waiting for the pharmacist to make up our prescriptions, I sit and make my claims over the telephone. I've been talking the kids through this too, as they need to know how to do this. It's thoroughly idiot-proofed. One telephone receiver, no dial, just a single button. Push the button and you're connected to an operator who explains absolutely everything.
    To make a claim paid to our bank account, I need our bank details (account number, bank number) and the Medicare number. It's all written on a Post-It note inside my diary. I make the call, write in the details I need to, put it all in an envelope and put it in the Medicare mailbox underneath the phone. My pharmacist also gets a small fee for doing this, so it is another way to support him.
    Once the money is back in our bank account, husband transfers it to our medical only credit card, plus the extra needed to keep that card in the black.

    All medical expenses are logged onto another spreadsheet. At tax time, it's easy to do the final sum and work out how much tax we can claim.

    If we're late paying a credit bill, we ask for the exact amount owing first. We try to pay our credit cards out in full each time. Because of this, we have mostly fee-free high interest cards. That means a late payment will incur a hefty interest charge. mother in law recently got herself flustered - she paid a small bill, late. Her next bill - she had made no more purchases but she got a bill for $1.20. She paid the $1.20 - late again. But she insisted she went up to the account office and paid it there. Unfortunately, she didn't ask them what the current balance was. She got a bill for 23c. By now she was getting cranky and was muttering about cutting up that credit card. "I'm never using that card again - I won't do business with them!"
    Her next bill fell due last week. As she is away, we paid it for her. late, unfortunately. I asked how much was due - "$32.75."
    They showed me the computer. She'd been shopping with that card, which meant that interest was being charged for the entire amount, even though $30 of it was still a current purchase and she hadn't even gotten the account for that.

    Knowing how your credit cards work, and how to make them work for you, is important organisation. If you're the sort of person who would prefer to make only minimum payment and carry the balance forward to a more wealthy time, then you need a low-interest card, even though they usually have annual fees. Some of our nasty cards (like the one mother in law was using) charge up to 25%, calculated monthly. And if you have credit owning, it's calculated daily.

    From all this you might think we're models of organisation in every other way - not so. Papers purely of interest rather than financial urgency tend to get filed according to the geological time scale. difficult child 3's room is unpassable, you can't find floor. easy child 2/difficult child 2 is no better. And they've spilled out into living areas. I'm waiting patiently until easy child 2/difficult child 2 and difficult child 1 move out permanently (within a few months, hopefully) so I can begin reclaiming territory. I grab what I can as I pass the rooms, throw it in the wash or the bin according to what is appropriate. We recycle a lot, we have a recycling bin (one supplied to each household) and cast-off clothing is either given away or put in the compost heap.

    But the house still looks like the "after" shot of a robbery gone wrong.

    There IS organisation, somewhere in there.

  19. LittleDudesMom

    LittleDudesMom Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I use files/file cabinet as well. I pay all my bills online with BofA. But unlike Marcie, I just cannot do the ebill thing yet.

    I sort the mail as the postman puts it throught he slot!!! Once the bill is opened, everything goes in the garbage but the cover page. Then the bill goes in the "Bills to be Paid" folder. Once a week I take that stack and enter them into the BillPay on BofA. It's great because you can schedule your bills to be paid only when they are due. Then I print out the confirmation and staple it to the bills. Once that is done, they go in the annual file (2008 Paid Bills). The bill may not be due for another two weeks, but it's taken care of and I don't have to look at it again!.

    I keep other important papers in a safe deposit box at the bank.

    This system really helped when I had to calculate child support and spousal support for our agreement. I was able to just look at the cover confirmations and figure out a mediun amount (I used a two-year comparison) for elec, cable, credit cards, phone, etc....

    I keep other papers like bank statements, financial investment papers etc., filed by institution in alphabetical order by year. It is it something that only comes quarterly or (for example my IRA statement only comes four times a year) infrequently, it doesn't get it's own file. It goes in the Misc Financial Info file by year.

    I know that BofA offers ebills and paper free statements, but there is something about having those things in my hand that feels "comforting"

    Our accountants have tried to talk me into using efile for my federal employement taxes but I just don't want to do it. I would rather fill out the form and take my check and statement to the bank weekly than requesting the IRS to pull the money out of my business checking account. Something about the IRS being able to do that is just not right!

  20. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    What I'm coming away from this is shredding receipts. I have bunches and bunches of receipts that require filing which usually pile up for weeks on end. I always think I have to keep all receipts but as many of you pointed out, they are on line.

    2) Try to get all bills to be paperless.

    3)Get a second credit card for the business related expenses.

    4)I have collected all manuals and warranties into an accordian file so they are together.

    5)Make a plan, create a storage/work area, follow with the plan like Witz. Designated days, designated storage, designated shredding.

    Now to get my current system upgraded to a more smooth system like some of you have. Guess I'm going shopping for a file cabinet or desk. LOL.