Organizing Your Finances - Thinking Outside the (Shoe) Box

If you're like most people, your personal financial records are most probably kept in less than "Good Accounting Practices" standards. For example, stashing old ATM receipts and hanging on to a stub showing what you paid for a pack of mints two years ago (cash, of course), might be filed with your paycheck stubs, credit card statements ? paid and unpaid alike ? as well as a few tax forms, a stray paper clip and a penny. Anything from an old shoebox to a toolbox would do you for this method of personal financial tracking but you can do better than that.

Not to worry. Here's how:

1) Plan for a few hours of "alone time" with your financial records. This is a dandy time to pack the kids off to the mall, put up a pot of excellent coffee and a little snack (preferably chocolate), as a treat when you're done.

2) Supply yourself with ample space, such as a large dining room table. Make sure you have enough organizing supplies close at hand: sticky notes, file folders, a tub to hold them with hanging file folders, large envelopes, a check file, ring binder/s and a three-hole punch if you like, an open stacking file, and an organizer/sorter. A trash can by your side is a must.

3) Get everything from everyplace ? shoe boxes, check files, file folders, etc.

4) While enjoying your cup of coffee, make a game plan. Decide what you're going to put where: e.g., checks and statements go in a specific file for checks and statements, credit card statements can be unfolded and placed in a file folder, etc.

5) Start sorting on the table. Checks go here, ATM receipts go there, paycheck stubs go over there, paid bills go on the other side, etc. until all the "stuff" is divided into neatly organized piles. Use sticky notes to mark what-goes-where on the table to avoid confusion.

6) Put all the "paid" items away first. Be ruthless ? it's perfectly okay to toss the receipt for those mints from two years ago.

7) Put the rest of the inactive items in the envelopes, file folders, check files or other storage devices as are interesting, functional, and readily available from your local office supply store.

8) Have another cup of coffee and tackle the active, or open, items. Decide what you're going to pay and when. If you have an open stacking file, you will find one with four compartments (one for each week of the month), very handy for this purpose.

9) Balance your checkbook. Now.

10) Enjoy your chocolate after putting everything away where it belongs and, oh, by the way, check the calendar for when you'll be doing this again next month.

Of course, next month this will all be done much faster.

I highly recommend using technology to make this much easier and faster. Programs like Quicken and Microsoft Money will help. Really any spreadsheet program will do.

Have a category for each life area you spend money. Once a week or month take your receipts, checkbook records and scribbled notes and record where you spent ALL your money....every penny. One of my students was shocked to find out he was spending $75 per month on orange juice! Legend has it that the Rockefeller boys did this and they turned out alright.

This time next year you'll wish you started today.

Leo J. Quinn, Jr. owner of http://www.LeoQuinn.com is a financial educator from the Albany, NY area. For over eight years he has been helping thousands of people get control of their finances and get out of debt in a fraction of the normal time. He has a special offer for readers of this newsletter at http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/adt rack.asp?AdID=132551

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