This is a guest post by Mr Credit Card from Ask Mr. Credit Card. Today, Mr Credit Card is going to write about ways to keep your finances organized. If you are looking for a credit card, then be sure to check out his best credit cards list section.
Telling folks to be organized in their finances is easy to say, much harder to do. I’m going to share some ideas that I myself have implemented and hope you find them helpful for yourselves and your situation.
Set Monthly Bills on Autopay – I find it such a hassle to constantly go through my utility bills, cell phone bills, internet connection bills, credit card bills, mortgage etc. For me, I find that putting all my bills on automatic bill pay works for me. There are a couple of ways to do it. You can set it up from your online bank account, or with the entity which you are paying the bill. What I also do is to put some of my utility bill on my credit card to earn extra reward points!
Some folks prefer to manually check the bills and write the checks themselves. For me, I find that this will not work because I just cannot be bothered with things like that. I also do check my bills even though they are on autopay to make sure there are no errors. The only thing you have to be aware of is to have enough cushion in your checking account. You do not want to be short of money and go into overdraft!
Have a separate box for warranties – Ever bought a new blender and forgetting where you put the warranty after you send them in (normally within 30 days though most folks actually forget about it!)? I used to lose warranties and instruction manuals because I had no set place to put them. Well, I now put all product instruction manuals and warranties in one place (more like a big box). That way, even though I am unlikely to ever need to refer to it, I always know where it is.
Have a separate file or box for your insurance policies and wills – We all buy insurance policies and once the payment starts, we forget why we buy them! Some folks don’t even remember buying them! I find that it is a good practice to keep these documents in a separate area. I frequently forget about the nitty gritty details of my health insurance and when I want to check them, I know where to get the documents.
Have lots of files – I file all my statements in bright colored files that I get from statements. For me, I refuse to receive “email or online statements” from my credit cards or utilities. I receive my statements in the mail and file them promptly.
Use Quicken – I use Quicken to track my accounts (both personal and business). My CPA told me to set up my business accounts in Quicken so that she has less work to do come tax time (and would presumably charge me less!). Since I moved over to Quicken, I found life so much easier. I could track my expenses and see patterns in my spending (obviously, you could use use services like mint.com. But for me Quicken does the job.
One trick that I’ve been taught was to set up my expense categories in my business accounts according to the expenses listed under the Schedule C (Form 1040 – where you file your business P&L). This makes it easy for your CPA if you just give him or her your Quicken file.
Use Separate Business Credit Card for your business – I used to use one personal credit card just for my business expense. But I found that I occasionally used it for personal use as well (most of the time by accident! or to make use of reward points!). But it gets messy because it gets in the way of keeping your business and personal finance separate. I finally bit the bullet and got myself a small business credit card. The card I got was the American Express Plum Card, which earns me cash back if I pay in full within a 10 day cycle. I also get no preset spending limits, which allows me to charge a higher than normal expense if the need arises.
Keep track of all your autopay accounts you charge to your credit card – Once I got my new business credit card, I had to call the vendors (or change them online) to change my credit card account. My web host for example has my old credit card information. Google has my old credit card information. My Verizon FIOS had my old credit card number. I had to either call them to tell them to charge to my new credit card or do it online.
Track your portfolio performance – Whether you have a single or multiple accounts with various online brokers, you should always consolidate your accounts into a platform for performance tracking. Quicken for example, does a good job of that. If you only use one brokerage firm, then the task is relatively more simple as most will have some form of annual performance tracking tool. But part of keeping your finances organized is to be able to say precisely what was your return last year net of fees.
Get a safe – I would recommend getting a safe to keep important documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, your college degree. You could obviously keep your jewelery in it as well.
Have a list of important phone numbers – Make a list of your banks’ numbers, your brokerage number, your attorney’s number, your health insurance agents number, your doctor’s number. You never know when an emergency might come up and you want to have those numbers on hand.
I’ll stop here – These are some of the things that I have done to try to keep my finances organized. I hope you will find some of these tips helpful. The one thing that I have not really figured out is how to organize my pile of receipts! I hate filing them and I am very tempted to get something like Neat Receipts where I can just scan in my receipts and it can be transferred to my Quicken account and the images can be used for IRS audits. But I’m not sure if scanning receipts is an improvement at all. If anyone has any ideas for these, I’m all ears.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.
These are all awesome tips. One suggestion I have in lieu of getting a safe is to rent a safe deposit box. If you already have an account with a bank, getting a fairly large box can be as inexpensive as $50 a year or less (we pay $55 for a box larger than an 11"x17" sheet of paper). Personally, I just feel "safer" (heh) with my important stuff in a vault rather than at home.
Another tip (related to some of your points) is to keep track of yearly renewables that are on your credit cards (for example, a book club membership). If you don't use that credit card frequently (or you stop using it), you might miss this charge on the bill and damage your credit score significantly.
I have all my bills on my autopay on credit cards so that I can get points for whichever of them qualify.It also makes it easier for them to get paid since I don't have to write a separate check for each thing.
I have an average for each card and have set up ING to push payments to the two cards I use for all bills and shopping so that those credit cards are always paid off.
I do check my statements all the time to make sure bills are accurate but I love the freedom of not having to manually go and do all of that every month.
I guess you can say that organization is one of the keys to successfully managing money. Thanks for the tips! =)