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How To Organize Your Money

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“I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.” - Jackie Mason

When you’re cleaning out your closets, did you find that old shoebox full of receipts, statements, and bills? Now it’s time to stop procrastinating and go through the bits and pieces of your financial life. You’ve done so well and straightened out the rest of your personal and professional life, it’s time to handle the money part too.

Most people who find themselves disorganized when it comes to their homes and offices also find they are disorganized when it comes to their finances. Avoidance of all messes becomes a habit that’s hard to break. Very few of us like to dig through the receipts, cancelled checks, bills, and credit card statements.

A root canal would be preferable to balancing that checkbook. It doesn’t have to be that way. Remember how good you felt when you conquered the disorganization of the rest of your home and office? Trust me, you’ll feel just as good, or even better, dealing with the money mess.

Plan to give yourself a few hours’ time to deal with this paper clutter. Let’s start with that box of paper clutter you found while cleaning out your closet. Then gather all the other papers, bits and pieces, statements, bills, file folders, and everything that constitutes your financial life, and lay them all out on the dining room table. Don’t forget to look through your purse, pockets, etc. anywhere you may have stashed a receipt or two. Be sure to place a trashcan near the table. Arm yourself with plenty of brand new file folders, large envelopes, pens, and some color-coded stickers. You may want to purchase a small portable file holder, just for bills, etc.

Drag everything out and start sorting through the piles of papers. Checks in one pile, business receipts in another, credit card statements in another, paycheck stubs in another, etc. until you’ve gone through every single piece of paper. Discard old receipts that aren’t useful anymore. Use color-coded stickers to help you keep everything straight and organized.

Start a file for the current year and stash your business receipts in it. Paid bills should be filed away in your portable folder and the unpaid bills should be kept in a different folder, so as not to be forgotten. There are many useful tools out there in your office supply store to help you get organized on a monthly basis, when it comes to bill paying. Use whatever is handiest for you and keeps you up to date.

A month-at-a-glance calendar is very handy and simple to use for bill paying. List each bill on the date that it’s due and do this for each month of the year. Keep this calendar on your desk, within easy reach, so you won’t forget it. As you pay each bill, check if off on the calendar. A quick glance at each month shows which bills have been taken care of and which bills still need your attention.

Once you’ve taken care of filing all the papers in their proper places, it’s time to get to that checkbook. If it’s been several months since you did this little task, it may take you a while to catch up, but it is essential that you know exactly where you stand, financially. Essentially balancing your checkbook is as simple as adding in all the deposits you’ve made each month and subtracting all the checks written. Don’t forget to include any withdrawals through ATMs, along with any fees posted for these withdrawals, as well as any other fees your bank charges.

Nowadays, the check card issued through your bank is quickly replacing actual paper checks and is marvelously handy. It’s faster than writing checks and makes shopping a breeze anywhere you go. However, there are some drawbacks, which won’t be a problem for you with just a little organizing. Anytime you use your check card, be sure to make a notation in your checkbook. List the necessary information - where you used your card and for how much. Believe me, you won’t remember later; and unless you use an online banking account, you’ll be at a loss as to where you stand with your bank balance.

Setting up an online account with your bank takes only a few minutes and can save you many headaches in the future. Paper statements are good, but keeping up to date on your bank balance on a daily basis is much safer.

Thanks to technology, you can make short work of balancing your checkbook. Computer programs like Quicken or Microsoft Money are invaluable tools in the search for financial freedom. Start keeping careful track of where you spend your money, every single penny of it. You might be surprised at where your money is leaking out of your life.

Do you buy one of those fancy coffees each day? Just can’t do without it? Just a little indulgence you say? That $5.00 cup of coffee, every day, five days a week, for twelve months, really adds up. That little indulgence could be costing you on average about $1200 a year. Robert W. Sarnoff said, “Finance is the art of passing currency from hand to hand until it finally disappears.”

Without the proper organization, you could be losing hundreds of dollars per year with just a few little indulgences like this. By knowing precisely what you spend each day, each week, each month, you can literally save hundreds to use in other significant ways, such as college tuition for your kids or a much-deserved grand vacation. There’s the obvious advantage of saving money and putting it where you really want to use it, or putting it into a high yield savings account, an IRA, or even investing in mutual funds.

Then, there’s the wonderful feeling of self-confidence in taking control of a section of your life that’s been terrifyingly out of control, maybe for years. Groucho Marx once said, “Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy.”

Okay, so after a couple of hours work on the checkbook balancing and a few minutes online setting up your account, you’ve actually balanced the whole thing, down to the last penny. Whew! What a relief! Now you’re in control, which should be the case. That’s the first step to being in total control of not only your money, but also your life. If you know exactly what’s coming in and precisely what’s going back out, you’re now in the driver’s seat.

You may still owe money on credit cards and loans, but you’re no longer in the dark about your financial future. You know where you stand now and where you’re going; you’re in control of that future. You won’t be like E. E. Cummings who said, “I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.”

Now comes the maintenance part of organization. It’s no good setting everything up for yourself, then letting it lay there unused. When your bills come in, discard any extraneous parts, just file the bill and the envelope for sending it back to the company with payment. An even easier way these days is to pay bills online.

Setting up the accounts for your credit cards is super easy; it’s simple to pay online and safe. Your account information is encrypted before it’s sent to the companies. Many feel it’s safer than sending in the traditional paper statements containing your account information that anyone can get their hands on by simply opening the envelope.

If you still prefer the paper bill and snail mailing your check, file that statement and make a note of the due date to keep yourself organized, so that your bill gets paid on time. Make sure you go over that statement carefully, in case of errors that could cost you more money. If you do find any discrepancies, contact the company immediately. Waiting could cost you.

If you use the online method of payment, be sure to print a copy of the transaction to prove the amount paid, as well as the date. Always keep these copies filed in the appropriate folder.

Identity theft is running rampant these days, but there are ways to protect yourself. Deal with any mail from finance companies, credit card companies offering you cards, etc. right away.

Shred any papers with your personal information that you don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Never send credit card information in an email and never give it to someone on the phone. If the credit card company calls you, they won’t ask you for your account number, they already have it in their files. Don’t be fooled by scammers! Be especially careful with your credit cards; don’t keep your PIN numbers in your wallet or purse, with the cards. And guard your Social Security number carefully; your good credit depends on it.

“Money talks, but all mine ever says is goodbye.” - Anon

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