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Here’s today’s topic, readers: What are your best tips on how to store bills and otherwise organize your paperwork? How do you deal with the mix of paperwork, electronic documents, emailed receipts, and more? I describe my own record keeping system below, but I thought it’d be fun to see what other people do…
I was 15 or so the first time I remember my parents talking about how to store bills, receipts, and other kinds of paperwork. By that point I already had savings accounts, and my mother also opened some early credit cards for me at various stores (thank you, Mom!) to start building my credit report. But it was probably when I got my first job that we actually sat down and started to talk about how to store bills, as well as other record keeping tips.
Back then, my parents gave me a big subdivided redweld and suggested that each entity that I got bills and statements from should get its own little pocket. So my bank statements went in one pocket, my lifeguarding check receipts went in another pocket, and then my Gap card statements (or wherever) went in a third pocket. It was all very, very organized. Oh, and every time I made a deposit at my bank (or a withdrawal) I was supposed to enter it in the little checkbook register.
Psst: In honor of this series’ original title, Tales from the Wallet — here’s a mini hunt with wallets we love!
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These days, I’ve backslid pretty far from that initial system for record keeping — but it works for me and my family. Here’s how I store my bills (both electronic and paper):
The Easy Way to Store Bills
One folder per year: All Griffin family bills, statements, and receipts went in one folder for the year 2017, roughly in order of date but certainly not organized. I attempt to put “important papers” in the front of the folder — charity donation receipts, large purchases, etc.
For the papers I often scribbled “PIF 3/1 Check 743” at the top, meaning the bill was paid in full on that date. Sometimes I’ll also write STBPIF 3/1 — scheduled to be paid in full on 3/1 — but I do that far less often than I used to. (I never file a document unless it’s been paid, but it was something I started doing while getting our accounts in order for labor and we’ve continued since — but it’s probably also just a good practice for married money management.) This folder gets huge by the end of the year so I try my best to remove staples, unfold documents, and so on, so I can keep everything to one folder.
The Best Folders
How to Store Bills Electronically
Wherever possible these days I download statements to a year-specific folder on my desktop — and for some I’ve completely turned off paper billing — but there’s a lot of overlap between my “2018 billings” folder on my computer and my “2018 bills” folder in my filing cabinet. I try to download statements for an entire year at a time, rather than piecemeal, so it’s often done as part of my tax review.
Labeling the documents can be hit or miss — in my perfect world, if the doc I’m downloading has a default file name of “document.pdf” (insert eyeroll emoji here) then I want to keep “document” at the front of the file name and only add something minimal (like the date) after it so that all the downloaded bills of the same type are kept together. (The desktop is backed up with Carbonite.)
Reviewing transactions: If I need to review transactions or charges I’m more likely to check Mint first before going to the individual account online. I pretty much only use the paper and downloaded docs for insurance in case I can’t check things online and need the doc later.
Trashing docs: I think I have thrown away previous folders if I happened to find them and they were more than 7 years ago — but I don’t have a great review system for throwing them out.
All business-related bills, statements, and receipts go in a second year-specific folder.
Medical statements get their own folder. I finally started putting them in a different folder entirely, only roughly subdivided by year by way of a bright paper — but this way if I need to check whether we’ve paid the bill for Visit 3 on X date I can check the records and not have to dig through a zillion different Internet/mortgage/credit card statements.
Tax docs: Anything that looks like it will be helpful for tax time (like 1099s that come in Jan./Feb.) goes in a separate folder.
How I Keep Track of How Much Money We Have in Our Checking Account
In terms of keeping track of how much money we have in the account — there are so many automatic investments, payments, and other transfers flying around between my accounts that it would be impossible to keep track with my checkbook — I use my checkbook register to keep track only of which check is for what.
Our accounts are admittedly harder because I pay myself a different amount every month, but I have a separate Excel document set up that helps me keep track of how much money is coming into our general checking from my business accounts (the number varies every month — and then I move over a percentage of that to separate Ally holding accounts for my taxes and retirement), as well as money is going out from our automatic investments, payments, and so forth, such as mortgage, 529, etc.).
If the number that we expect to be left in our checking ever dips below a certain amount then I’ll move more money around to make sure that we have enough to cover a withdrawal or check or two. (My minimum for checking right now is $1,500, but we try to keep $5,000 in the saving account attached to the bank so we can move money over ASAP if we need it. Anything more than that is in various Ally accounts.)
My system is far from perfect — and I’m sure some people (like my parents!) still have that subdivided redweld for each individual entity. I know some people who’ve committed to only downloading documents and have gone backwards several years to get all relevant statements. (Does anyone have a security system for their downloaded documents?) What’s your record keeping system? How do you store your bills?
- How Long Should You Keep Receipts & Bills? [Livestrong]
- 5 Steps to Simpler Record Keeping [Real Simple]
- Organizing Your Paperwork [Martha Stewart]
- 4 Ways to Better Organize Your Bills [US News & World Report]
- How to Keep Track of Your Receipts, Bills & Other Tax Stuff [Art of Doing Stuff]
- Keep Track of Your Monthly Bills… By Throwing Away Your Statements [Moneyning]