When we started to get our budget straight, I realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone. I would have to call companies to find out our interest rates, determine how to reduce charges, update info, and dispute charges (epic show down with Xbox live - I'm still bitter about it). I had been throwing out bills as they came in since I have bill pay set up through the bank. I decided to just start keeping that info to see if that would help. Boy did it ever! I run the house finances like a business, that would be impossible without keeping good records of what we're paying and when. Now when a new opportunity comes up (replacing cable with Hulu and Amazon Prime, for example) I can pull up records for our current accounts and determine whether to switch. I save HOURS on the phone, since very few companies have little wait time on the phone. It also helps me meet my goals, watching my retirement accounts grow, for example, or watching debt be paid off.
To start your own financial files, you'll need a file cabinet, file roller, or file box. Unless you're very young, you will most likely need a minimum of a file roller. I have 33 files and one of them (health insurance info) is at least 3 inches thick. The file cart I bought can be found here for $34 with free shipping from Amazon. While I would recommend it, anything similar would do. If you have some free time, you can peruse craigslist to find a free one.
Make a list of every single account you have- retirement accounts, debt, investments, water, cable, cell phones, internet, power, etc. Also add things you would like to track such as credit reports for adult family members, social security reports, transcripts etc. For each item on your list, make a file folder. Label the folder, and on the inside front cover write the most important account information so you can see it at a glance. Write the website, your username, either your password or a password reminder (such as regular password +3469), a payment address, a payment due date, an amount due, a balance if there is one, a contact phone number and any other important information that you may need at a glance.
For example these are our files:
- Account Info - A condensed information sheet on all of our accounts at a glance. A payment calender and copy of our extended budget (a budget that extends for one-three years).
- ATT- Cell Phones
- Baby - A compilation of all the paperwork I needed for Squishy-Face. Maternity "Go Bag" Packing list, pediatrician info, medical paperwork, health insurance sheets, day care information etc.
- Born Free Northern Virginia - Blog revenue and Google Adsense pay stubs. (I doubt I need these, but it's kind of cool to track the growth of the blog).
- College- Rowy
- College- Jon - Anything needed from transcripts to correspondence.
- Credit Reports - Update every 6 months, if you score goes up within the 6 months, call credit cards and ask for an interest rate reduction based on your new credit score.
- Deferred Compensation - Quarterly Reports
- Deer Park- This account will be removed in January since we cancelled Deer Park service early this year.
- Dominion Power - I don't purge these records, I keep all of them because it helps to project what future electric payments will be. This is our most varied bill and it helps to have an average from years past.
- Flying Club- Statements and flight time.
- GMAC Mortgage - Mortgage statements and payment schedule.
- Health Insurance - I have to be honest, I can't figure out health insurance billing at all. But I plan to tackle that soon, so I keep all of these statements.
- Miscellaneous - Jon's amateur radio license, awesome Tropicana special offers, random things that I need to save, but don't know where to put.
- Homeowners Association - quarterly statements.
- Retirement - Our companies retirement information.
- Roth Ira- Investment statements, beneficiary information.
- Taxes - Federal and State income taxes for the last 5 years and personal property taxes for the last two years.
- House #1- A home that we own and use as a rental property. Rent information and receipts, work done to the home etc.
- House #2- A home that we rent until we decide where we want to officially settle down. Same as above.
- USAA - Credit Card- Statements.
- USAA- Insurance - statements and policy information (actually read that policy too- it's important!)
- USAA- Banking - Statements
- USAA- Car Loan - Statements and Pay off Schedule.
Every year, purge your financial files. I keep only one year of records (except Dominion Power), but when I purge, I retain January's statements for each year. So I'll have one statement from each year and 12 months of the most recent statements.
We created a "Red File" as well, a portable enclosed file that contains all of the most important paperwork for the family. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, socials security cards and diplomas are all held here. They can be placed in a safe for added security, but in the event of an evacuation, it would be beneficial to have quick access to those papers.
This cart is set up next to my desk and inbox and makes it remarkably easy to keep up with paper clutter. Happy organizing!