Over the past year, we’ve had a few requests for a peak into how we organize our finances. When we first got married, I was the one who kept track of the bills and made sure everything was paid on time. After a few months, the fact that I’m not much of a numbers gal started to catch up with me – and our checkbook. Things were fine, but not as smooth as we knew they could be. So, to prevent my brain from overheating too much, Greg took over the actual bill paying and the proverbial heavens have been rejoicing ever since.
Even though Greg is essentially the one who makes sure the bills are paid on time, together, over the last five years of marriage, we’ve finally come up with a system that works for us. We have a sit-down about once a month to go over the budget, set goals and make sure we’re on the right track dollars and cents wise. However, the main thing that keeps our finances in tact is, in the words of Blues Clues, a handy dandy notebook… errr binder. In that case, to answer the question, “How do you organize your finances?”, the best way would be to give you a tour of the binder…
In the front of the binder, we have a small notepad that houses all of our passwords for the online accounts (mortgage, cable, power, etc). It comes in really handy when you’re trying to remember 10+ passwords in your head. One of the benefits of keeping them in a separate small notepad is that if we’re going out of town for a while, we can just stash it away in a safe place – rather than the entire binder. All the information in the binder is pretty much useless without them. We also keep a few stamped envelopes for the few bills we still have to send through the mail. Seriously. Why can’t we just pay everything online?! In the zipper pouch are a few Sharpie pens, white out, and stickers for notes.
Being the obsessive organizer that I am, I had to make sure there was a place for absolutely all essential types of financial information we could possibly need on a regular basis. We divided the binder into eight sections: bills, accounts, budget, register, receipts, donations, investments, and taxes.
BILLS // In this section, we have a monthly bill check-list where we keep track of the bills we have to pay. In the first column, we have the day of the month the bill is due, followed by the type of bill, a note whether or not it’s an automated payment and then a box to check off when it’s been paid. We’ve been using this system for a while now and it’s very handy and an easy way to get a snapshot of your month-to-month finances at a glance. Click here to download the monthly check-list! Also in the section is a page to keep track of what we call “rogue bills” – like the once-in-a-blue-moon dentist bill.
ACCOUNTS // This is where we keep all of our account numbers on hand. This section was created out of the frustration when we’d call the cable company or the power company and they’d ask for our account number. Rather than fumbling for an old bill or having them look it up with our social security numbers, it’s all right here in this section. Oh, and we have “Mortgage 1” and “Mortgage 2” because we pay a “half-mortgage payment” every two weeks rather than a full payment just once a month. Doing this cuts down on the total interest we end up paying in the long run and essentially pays our mortgage off faster.
BUDGET // In this section, we keep track of the household budget. We also have a few sheets of blank paper for number-crunching or jotting down financial goals we’re wanting to reach in the near or distant future.
DONATIONS // This is where we keep receipts and other information about the donations we make to charitable organizations. It’s nice to have a place for those little slips they give you when you donate something to Good Will.
REGISTER // In the world of debit cards and online bill-paying, we rarely find ourselves using a check book, but there are still one or two annoying bills that refuse to go paperless. When we write a check, we note it in here (including the date, check number, payee, amount) to keep track of what will be coming out of the account. Once the check has cleared, we just put a little check mark beside the check number.
INVESTMENTS // Just like the accounts and donations sections, we keep information about our investments in this section. The most recent balances, account numbers, dividends, etc. are all handy right here.
RECEIPTS // This is where we keep a top-load page protector with important receipts of large purchases – just in case. These particular top-load page protectors are really handy because they have a flap on the top that prevents stuff from falling out – perfect for receipts. At the end of every month or so, I go through the receipts and get rid of the ones we don’t need to hang onto anymore. If it’s something that we need to keep long term – like the dining room table receipt that has to be kept with the warranty information – I end up filing it away.
TAXES // In this section, we have another top-load page protector where we stash W9s, W2s or other important papers that float in throughout the year that we’ll need come tax time. That way, when 2014 rolls around, we’ll have everything ready and waiting for our tax guy (whom we love… dearly).
This system works pretty well for us – it helps us stay organized and all the information we need is right at our fingertips. How do you guys keep everything straight? Does one person do the bills in your house, or is it a community effort? Talk to us in the comments!