Do you have trouble keeping track of paperwork? Do you question your ability to organize, or wish your approach was less haphazard?

Over the last 40 years, a new problem has sprung up: disorganized paperwork.

When we grew up, many of us had no one to show us how to organize paperwork, simply because our parents didn’t need to know how. They didn’t have the myriad of bills, or the plethora of papers that comes with running a home-based business. 40 years ago adults often had one source of earned income, making finances simple. They didn’t use the enormous number of service providers that we use today. For example, in those days, most people had one telephone bill. Now, many small business owners receive at least five phone bills: cell phone, regular phone, fax, internet connection, and long distance.

When Marie attended graduate school, she wrote two checks a month: one for rent, one for phone. She never balanced her checkbook because she could easily keep track of how much money she had in her account. When she started her own business, she suddenly began to receive overdraft charges and even bounced checks.

“My finances were totally out of control,” says Marie. “Every time I opened my mailbox it seems I received another bill. I’d write checks hoping I’d have enough money to cover them, but not being sure. Then I’d have late payments because I’d misplace a bill and forget about it. It came to the point where I hardly dared open my bank mail for fear it would be another overdraft charge.”
Marie finally adopted a filing system that helped her keep track of her bills and other financial paperwork.

“I feel richer now because I’m in control. I used to worry about whether I’d have enough money to make a bill payment. Now I know exactly how much money I have in my account, and when I can pay my bills. I can handle increasing complexity, including automatic withdrawals for savings and investments, simply because I have a system in place.”

Most people don’t spend the time to develop a smooth system for handling paperwork, even though paperwork tends to increase year by year. A famous American statistician, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, reports that 94% of failure is due not to people’s unwillingness to work, but to the lack of an effective system for the job. Developing a filing system that works for you will increase your effectiveness. Not only that, but an efficient system will leave you more energy for other tasks. Successful people develop a system for paperwork to minimize opportunity for error, simplify complex finances and stay in full control of their finances.

These simple tips can help you develop your own system for handling financial paperwork.

  1. Use one basket to collect only financial paperwork that needs to be filed, such as paid bills, invoices and receipts. A basket for this sole purpose prevents items from floating around the office and getting lost. Choose two days each month to file these papers-the first and the fifteenth of each month work well. This practice eliminates needless paper-shuffling and unnecessary thoughts about paperwork. It also leaves you in charge of when you address your papers.
  2. Sort everything you need for paying your bills in a small portable filing case: checkbooks, stamps, envelopes, address labels, bills, bank statements and bank slips. This system keeps everything together so you don’t need to rummage through piles to find what you need. More importantly, the system makes it so easy to pay bills at home or on the road. You’ll probably never pay a late fee again!
  3. File your paid bills and reconciled bank statements, with attached bank slips and cancelled checks, in a monthly filing system. Label the files with the days of the month. When tax time arrives, you’ll have everything you need in one place. And, if you ever need to look at a paid bill or reconciled statement at a later date, you’ll know exactly where it’s located.
  4. Organize all your permanent records in a separate, long-term holder. Permanent records would include telephone, vendor and utilities agreements (not bills.) Your papers will be stored out of the way, but handy at the same time.
  5. Keep certain important papers, such as credit card and insurance agreements in a fire box. (For a free report on which items to store in a firebox, email Amber@AmberGrady.com.)

By creating your own financial paperwork filing system, one that works for you, you eliminate room for error, and you increase your opportunities for success in your household and for your business. Instead of your paperwork controlling you, you control your paperwork!
(Amber Grady specializes in organizing finances, and is the creator of My Money Manager Kit, “A Bookkeeping System That Puts Paper in Its Place” and author of Money Success 127 Ways to Make It Happen for You! tip booklet (featured in April 2003 Home Business Magazine.) You can view her products at www.AmberGrady.com. Joy van Hemert writes freelance articles for entrepreneurs. You can contact her at joy_van_hemert@hotmail.com.)