One of the most common reasons for being strapped for cash isn’t always overspending or being fruitless with money — it’s being unorganized. Think about it: When you can’t pay a bill on time because you’ve misplaced it, that can lead to a late fee. Or if you’re behind schedule on keeping watch of your bank account, you may incur an overdraft charge.
So if you’re finding you’re often scatterbrained when it comes to keeping your finances organized, you may want to establish a plan to keep yourself more in control. Here are the top five tips for getting financially organized:
1. Don’t pay bills the second they come
A common mistake people make is to pay a bill immediately in order to get it out of the way. However, that can set you up for easily getting confused about which bills you actually paid and when. Instead, have a designated area (or email folder) to place bills when they arrive, and then pay them all simultaneously.
“Paying them all at once helps give you a better perspective of your total expenses,” says Ric Edelman, author of “The Truth About Money” and chairman and CEO of Edelman Financial Services. Another option is to set aside one day a week to pay pills (e.g., every Saturday or Sunday).
2. Get rid of paper
It’s the 21st century, and paper is becoming more and more extinct — and for good reason. Too much paper increases the chance that things will get lost. If you use a scanner, you’re more likely to be able to keep things in order (plus, it’s better for the environment).
“Simply scan photos and paper documents to create electronic copies. By transferring all physical records into electronic format, you’ll be able to later print the records,” says Lynnette Khalfani Cox, author of “Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom.” You should also store at least one backup copy on a CD or memory stick.
Not ready to go paperless completely? Invest in a paper shredder.
“It eliminates waste, and that’s pretty crucial,” says David Bendix, a CPA, financial planner and president of The Bendix Financial Group in Garden City, New York. “It’s smart, and it’ll help you get organized.”
3. Pretty up your work area
It sounds unnecessary, but the truth is, working in an uncluttered, attractive area can help you stay organized and keep all documents under control — and make you actually want to put everything in order.
“I know many people have little desks at home that are forsaken and forlorn,” says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, author of “Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces” and founder of ApartmentTherapy.com and TheKitchn.com. “Making it an approachable, attractive space is the key.” In addition, a small desk or work area can be the reason for lost important documents, especially if it’s cluttered — all the more reason to tidy up.
4. Be detailed in your computer filing system
“Think about those files you access the most and the reasons why,” says Wayne Bogosian, president and managing director of the PFE Group, and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 401(k) Plans.” “Rather than dumping everything into a general folder called ‘documents’ or ‘photographs,’ break it down into primary and secondary folders.” That means being as specific as possible (e.g., “tax returns,” “credit/debit cards,” “insurance”).
“And don’t be an ‘e-pack rat,’” says Bogosian. “Chances are that document you saved in 1997 isn’t going to do you much good today.”
5. Make a checklist
The only person you can count on fully is yourself, as not all important documents — whether electronic or on paper — always make their way to you in a timely manner. Start each month by making a checklist of each bill you know will be arriving. Keep it in the same place at all times and be sure to update it regularly. You can refer to it whenever you need to verify whether you’ve paid — or haven’t paid — a bill.
Getting financially organized is a great way to get back on track and spend less, but best of all you’re going to eliminate the clutter and be more aware of what needs to be done.