Although your days are filled with planning for the holidays, take a few hours to get your financial house in order. You’ll be rewarded with more time for family and friends, less paperwork, and some extra cash in your checking account.
Before you can streamline your financial life, you’ll need a clear picture of what you own. So, go through your files, drawers, and safe-deposit box, and make a list of your valuables, brokerage, bank, and investment accounts. Then note where your will, IRAs, and insurance policies are kept.
The perfect time to start de-cluttering your life is a new year, which is just ahead. Therefore, here are some planning points to get—and keep—your life under control.
You can easily merge your financial affairs into just two or three accounts, such as checking for routine expenses and a money-market mutual fund, linked to your bank and its related stockbroker. At one time, there may have been a good reason to have several bank accounts; for example, an account near work and another close to home. Now it’s time to consolidate, and you may even save money because there’s less likelihood of low-balance fees.
Deal with mail every day by tossing the junk and filing whatever needs to be kept. Place the bills in a separate box or basket with everything you need to pay them: pen, checkbook, envelopes, and stamps. Better yet, sign up for on-line bill paying and save time and money.
Establish a system to review bills, such as hospital, telephone, and credit card. Occasionally, a vendor puts a charge through twice, and not necessarily in the same period.
Calculate credit-card debt, and if it is more than 15 percent of after-tax income, adopt a strategy to reduce the total. Consider using a home-equity loan if you can put the credit cards away for a while. Home-management expert Kathy Peel suggests using a bulletin board to keep papers organized in the kitchen. Put phone numbers in one section, shopping lists and coupons in another, schools in the third, and restaurant takeout menus in the fourth.
Instead of using scraps of paper or “stick ups,” jot down friends’ info, birthdays, lock combinations, and PIN numbers in a small address book, using the alphabet as a filing system.
Prepare for the worst
No one likes to think of the three D’s: disability, divorce, and death. But you need to have a plan if disaster strikes. If you plan to get divorced, hire a lawyer, cancel joint lines of credit, and update your will. Make sure your spouse has adequate insurance and that you’re named both owner and beneficiary on any life and disability policies. An attorney can secure any health insurance coverage or retirement assets you may be entitled to.
Gather together your personal records and make sure that a family member or friend knows the location. The file should include your full legal name, Social Security number, date and place of birth and location of birth certificate, location of will or trust, marriage and divorce papers, and preferences or prearrangements for burial. Your financial records file should contain information about insurance policies, bank accounts, deeds, investments, and other valuables.
Consider doing a household inventory with a video camera and store the videotape should you need to provide documentation for an insurance claim.
Write down your short- and long-term goals. Are there trade-offs you’re willing to make? Planning is all about priorities.
FINANCIAL ORGANIZATION HELP ONLINE
There’s plenty of help available in getting organized:
Kiplinger’s Your Family Records Organizer CD covers all the basics, and is available for a reasonable fee at www.kiplinger.com/organizer
or call (800) 280-7165.
Need a health insurance intermediary? Contact the Patient Advocate Foundation at (800) 532-5274 or www.patientadvocate.org
for more information.
Check up on your doctor through the American Medical Association at www.ama-assn.org.