You have heard the expression, “time is money.” For many people, especially those who bill or are paid by the hour, this truism feels especially relevant.
But what about your information? Do you view your electronic or paper files as an important part of your financial portfolio?
I also believe that information is money. In no area is this statement more accurate than in the organization of your financial files.
10 Tips for Managing your Financial Files
- Keep the summary documents, toss/delete the individual pieces. Some financial reports are cumulative or get aggregated at year-end. Pay stubs culminate in W-2s. Monthly or quarterly brokerage statements become annual statements. Examine your financial files and determine which ones only need to be kept until a summary statement arrives.
- Keep like with like. A key principle of being organized is to store similar items together. The same is true of your financial files. You will have some general categories, such as taxes, banking, credit cards, etc. Then, you will have more specific categories, such as company and year. In filing systems, birds of a feather should flock together.
- Consolidate your financial records. Pick one location that will be the default place where you will save financial information. Scattered files are hard to manage. Almost any consolidated location will suffice, except…
- Don’t store financial records in email form. Yes, many statements and receipts are delivered via email, but don’t keep the information in your email program. Save the attachment (or the email as a PDF) in a secure, backed-up location.
- Do store files electronically. Paper documents are subject to loss and degradation over time. Also, the odd sizes (like receipts!) of paper financial files make them awkward to store in manilla folders designed for letter-sized documents. Scan everything you need to keep. If you are saving your files on a local computer drive, make sure to automate your backups with a system such as Carbonite or Mozy.
- Protect valuable documents. Use a fire safe or safe deposit box for vital records, a few of which are “official” in hard copy format. Scan and back up all vital records.
- Plan for the unexpected. In case you are suddenly incapacitated, set up a filing system that would make sense to other people besides you. The most prominent folder in your financial files should be the ICE (in case of emergency) folder.
- Don’t try to guess how long to keep your records. Consult your accountant or financial professional to verify specific retention guidelines for your financial records. Once you have those timelines, save that information with the rest of your financial files.
- Know the purpose of a document. The reason why you are keeping a financial record often dictates how long you need to keep it. Here is an example: If you only need a receipt to reconcile your credit card bill, then keep it until the bill arrives. If you need the receipt to support a warranty, then you should keep it until the warranty expires.
- Purge and organize your files yearly. Now is a great time to go through all the financial records you’ve gathered for the prior year. Annual statements usually have arrived. And, if you haven’t already, go ahead and set up your files and/or folders for the coming year.
Information is money. Information helps you pay the appropriate amount of taxes, manage your assets, set and stick to a budget, and stay solvent.
Your financial files deserve more than a shoebox, inbox, or toolbox.
Contact me to help you manage your information, financial or otherwise, in a sustainable and profitable way.
Further reading on this topic:
- Tips for constructing an effective filename
- Search and Rescue Tips for Electronic Files
- Learn to identify the MOST important documents you own
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.