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Organize Your Finances

4 Steps to Organize Your Finances Like a Responsible Adult

May 11, 2015


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Let’s face it: No one likes to deal with paperwork and clutter, especially the finance-related stuff.

When you spend hours combing through sheets of easily torn, ink-smelling material, it can be mind-numbing. For the sake of being a responsible, tax-paying citizen, though, you have to do it.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it the hard way.

If you want to find the files you want, when you want them, you need to organize your finances. For that, you can follow these four steps to declutter and organize your finances.

1. Invest in a Filing Cabinet

In general, the bigger a filing cabinet is, the better.

Even if you don’t have much paperwork at the moment, you can expect the pile to grow larger and larger over time. And I’m not saying you necessarily need to purchase those big metal file cabinets either. The one I use at home blends right in with the couch and works as a side table so it won’t be an eyesore.

Also, the more drawers a filing cabinet has, the better. This will make it easier to separate your files into specific categories.

For example, you can designate one drawer for “credit cards”. Another can be for “auto,” still another for “insurance,” and so on and so forth. Within the drawers, you can separate files according to folders (e.g. “annuals,” “quarterlies” and “monthlies”).

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule to using a filing cabinet. As long as the organization makes sense for you, and as long as it cuts down your search time significantly, any rule goes.

2. Make Electronic Copies of Your Files

But, what if a filing cabinet isn’t a practical option? What if there isn’t enough room in your place for one? What if, despite your filing cabinet, it’s still a hassle to search for files? That’s where the electronic option comes in.

The nice thing about electronic files is they are much, much easier to find when you need them.

All you have to do is type the file name in the “Search” bar on your computer, and presto! The document you want shows up in no time. Also, you can easily drag-and-drop digital files between folders when the situation calls for it.

If you can easily access a document online, e.g. bank statements and tax returns; you don’t need a hard copy of it. You can just download those digital copies, save them on a malware-free hard drive, and shred the physical copies sent to you on a regular basis.

If, however, you need the physical, original copy of a document for any reason, e.g. birth certificate or marriage certificate, you can scan the document, file the original one in a folder, and keep that folder in a secure, damage-proof place.

It’s super easy to scan your documents with a small scanner like this:

It’s very similar to the one I use for scanning all of my personal and business financial documents and receipts, and it works great!

3. Use Apps to Track and Organize Your Finances

At some point, you’re going to need extra space or a backup for your electronic files. For that, use Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage services. These will allow you to access documents no matter where you go or what device you use.

In case you need help organizing the files per se, there are apps for that, too. If you’re comfortable with Microsoft Excel, you can link your finance-related worksheet to supporting documents.

Otherwise, download the best tracking apps for your smartphone. There are ton to choose from! For my business receipts, I use the FreshBooks app. For personal accounts, I like Personal Capital because it let’s me see all of my financial accounts in one place. Easy peasy!

4. Schedule Time for Getting Organized

You don’t have to clean up your paperwork every day. It’s fine to do it once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, whichever is most convenient for you. The important thing is to make a habit of it.

Habits take time to develop, though, so you’ll want to block off “Paperwork Clean-Up” on your calendar, until it becomes second nature for you to declutter and organize your paperwork regularly.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to reward yourself with one of these ideas for $20 or less for a job well done. That way, you’ll learn to associate “organizing finances” with “a cup of fresh, steaming Starbucks coffee” instead of “soul-sucking drudgery.” By spending time now to save time in the future, you’ve definitely earned that reward.

How do you organize your finances?

Anum Yoon is a personal finance blogger who loves sharing her hard-earned insights about money management. She leads a green and eco-friendly lifestyle in an effort to contribute to the sustainability movement, as well as to reduce her budget. You can read her updates on her blog, Current on Currency.

Learn to associate adulting with fun instead of soul-sucking drudgery with these four easy steps!

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12 responses to “4 Steps to Organize Your Finances Like a Responsible Adult

  1. Although I consider myself fairly “green”, I do better organizing paper files, than electronic ones. So I have two accordian-type files for financial paperwork. The challenge for me has been keeping on-top of the filing. I generally have pile of papers that increases on an almost-daily basis, but only gets filed once or twice a month.

    1. Yeah, I don’t like electronic files either. I much prefer paper, though I also hate the clutter that paper can bring too. It’s a vicious cycle. 🙂

  2. I’m really bad at this. Currently, I have file folders for anything and everything and that’s how I keep track of things for the most part, but it’s still a big messy in my opinion. I mostly track my spending and budget through Mint.com but I would love to have a file cabinet and start creating digital files and using more spreadsheets.

  3. I’m 50/50 on paperwork. I’ve had a filing cabinet for years, but it’s also just a pain because it’s filled with so much stuff. My mom was much better at keeping it organized! As a result, I’m leaning more toward electronically filing things. I have a better organization system on the computer. I just need a good scanner!

  4. I think making time to organise your finances is SO important. I’ve just been through my bank account today actually, tracking my spending and seeing if there have been any variations in costs lately as well as tidying up my business accounts for this month. Not the best job to do on a Saturday but never mind!

  5. I’ve always done much better with physical files than trying to keep everything organized online. It’s so worth the work when you need to suddenly find some important paper or the other.

  6. About a year ago I finally bit the bullet and cleaned up the piles of paperwork that were sitting as knee-deep piles in my kitchen! There was 10 year old paperwork in there – it had gotten so out of control that I just couldn’t face tackling it. The good thing – a lot of the paperwork was so old it didn’t even need to be filed – straight into the shredder/recycling bin!

    Now I have a manila folder that I put paper in, until I have a cleaning day about once a month where it is filed into labelled A4 binders, and stored in a wardrobe. I have so much more space in my kitchen, even 12 months on I still appreciate it.

    1. When I moved, I had stacks of paper and receipts that hadn’t been filed. They sat in paper boxes (the ones that companies have printer paper delivered in) for about 2 years before I finally went through them. Most of it was trash. It took hours to get through because I didn’t want to throw away things that I needed to keep for taxes, etc. I vowed to never let it get that out of hand again. So far, so good!

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