9 ways to organize your financial life

KJ: Organizing your financial life can sometimes feel daunting, but here are nine ways to help you get organized and STAY organized.

Utilize Electronic Records
Keep copies of account statements. When you get those “pesky” e-mails saying you have a statement available, go and download it. If you want to save the environment and storage space, save it to a secure USB drive. If your USB or storage device isn’t password protected, then consider getting software that can encrypt your documents. “My Passport” 1TB External Hard Drive is my personal favorite, but more budget friendly products with much smaller storage like SanDisk 32 GB USB Flash Drive will also do the trick. There are few things worse than leaving yourself exposed to virtual identity theft that you may not even be aware is happening! Given the litany of statements that come my way, I make it a priority to set aside time after the 5th of the month to download the prior month’s files. Sure banks often keep statements online for YEARS, but what happens if you change banks and your login expires? You no longer have access to your statements: that’s what. Electronic storage can allow you to keep data far longer without having to waste a bunch of space. Who likes maneuvering around those cardboard boxes and carrying them up the stairs to the attic anyways?

Invest in Accordion Folders
These are great for storing receipts as well as storing coupons. Sort by expiration date, store or whatever method of controlled chaos you prefer. Check out Smead Expanding Folders, they’ve got a lot of different options. So does your local Dollar Store or WalMart, so if you’re really looking for a bargain, stop by on your next errand trip.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Kind of ironic that I’m the one saying this, as I’m by far the lesser of the two communicators, but hey, when it comes to finances, the last thing you and your spouse (or significant other) should do is close the communication doors. You can’t stay organized with things you have going on if one person doesn’t keep you in the loop when purchases or updates are made.

AJ: Kirby and I are each responsible for separate aspects of our finances. Kirby pays the bills, decides which accounts receive savings monthly, and strategically keeps us on track for the long haul. I track our variable expenses: gas, food and groceries, miscellaneous expenses (gifts, pet food, hair cuts), so if we aren’t in lock step on communication, we could potentially go very far awry. See our post on creating a budget together. Kirby’s all spread sheets and I’m all old school: pen and a Moleskine Ruled Journal. Whatever method works for you, just ensure that you are regularly communicating and are working from the same numbers.

Take Inventory of Your Accounts and Assets
KJ:This would include accounts like: checking, savings, CDs, money market, brokerage/investment, and retirement. Periodically update the records to include information about login credentials, account numbers, values, etc. Due to the sensitivity of the information, this should be stored in a highly secure place that only your spouse (or a very close loved one) would have access to.

Take Inventory of Your Loans
Similar to #1 above, make a list of any liabilities you have whether it’s a student loan, home loan, auto loan, credit card, or line of credit.

Get a Will and Update Your Estate Plan
When was the last time you looked at your estate plan? Months, years, DECADES? If it’s been a while since you have updated your estate plan, it might be time to revisit. In particular, have you had any new additions to your family, are any family members now of legal age (I suppose you don’t need to specify a legal guardian for your 24 year-old son still living at home…), or have any family members passed away? It can be a good time to sit down and talk with your significant other if your goals may have changed too. Cousin Bobby isn’t getting any of my money anymore…but Bill & Melinda Gates will!

Update Your Beneficiary Designations
IRAs, 401(k)s, many other types of retirement plans, and certain types of bank accounts can pass to a survivor without going through your will. Therefore, check to see that you have the appropriate designations for a primary and contingent/secondary beneficiaries.

Meet with Your Financial Advisor
If you work with a financial advisor, then gather that list of questions you’ve been meaning to call about but haven’t had the time. Call him/her up and discuss any recent changes.

Secure Your Data
Don’t forget the most important advice: KEEP IT IN A VERY SECURE PLACE! I cannot emphasize this point enough. The last thing you need to deal with just after you’ve organized your finances is for someone to take the information and turn it back into a financial mess!

    What methods of organizing your finances work best for you?
    Do you have anything to add to this list?
    Is there anything you would remove from the list?

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2 thoughts on “9 ways to organize your financial life

  1. As always, great stuff! I especially appreciated the first point mentioned about electronic records. I never, ever download my band statements. Yet, you made a great point about what if you change banks and no longer have access. Such good advice and I’ll start that this week! Thanks again!


    • Thanks Andre! I’ll admit that it can be inconvenient to download them sometimes, but I pick a date when the last statements are available and then I get them all at once (usually the 401(k) is the laggard). Especially if you need documentation for a home purchase/refinance or loan, it makes it so much easier to just grab copies of statements in a rush! Plus, who knows when I’ll need to search through a savings or investment account I had years ago to see cost basis, track a transferred asset, etc…

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