Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Saving Those Receipts

My method of “filing” receipts may seem pretty sloppy, but it works for us and is VERY simple. Yes, that’s right, we use the shoe-box method. But before you laugh and close your browser, stick with me for a second here. There’s slightly more to it than that…

  • If purchasing something for a non-profit or business expense, we mark it as such immediately and file it separately when we get home. Non-profit/charity purchases that will not be reimbursed go immediately into the current year’s tax folder to be dealt with end-of-year. (Same goes for any other tax-deductible receipts.) Business expenses go into a separate business receipt folder.
  • Big-ticket purchases get special treatment too. Those receipts are immediately clipped onto the item’s instruction manual for safe-keeping. Instruction manuals are filed in a separate area from the regular household files but are all together filed by type of item (toys, appliances, tools, computer, etc.)
  • Medical receipts that are paid for using our health care reimbursement account go into their own folder.
  • Small cash receipts for non-returnable items (tacos anyone?) are trashed. I mean really, why should I waste space saving that?
  • All other receipts go into a lovely black shoe-box-style photo box I picked up at a craft store. At the end of the year, all the receipts are transferred into a large ziplock or envelope until the taxes are done, then they’re shredded.

That’s end. My simple receipt filing system.

Filing Paid Bills and Invoices

Once you’ve paid your bills each month, what do you do with them? Do they go in a box, never to be found again? Do you have an intricate filing system by the company? Do you just shred them?

Our solution is very easy and has been working well for us for more than 10 years. I have a 12-month accordion file, and each month as bills are paid, they go straight into the file for that month. If we need to find something again, say February’s electricity bill, we know to go straight to the February spot. It’s easy and straightforward, and it takes only seconds to find what we need.

At the end of the year, that accordion file is stored for a period of one year while a second accordion file takes its place for the new year. I like keeping last year’s bills around until after taxes have been completed. So I have one file for 2009 bills, while 2008’s file waits in the filing cabinet for taxes and such to be completed. When New Year rolls around, 2008’s file will come back out and the contents shredded, and that accordion file will be 2010’s folder, while 2009’s goes into the file cabinet to wait out its one-year time frame.

So two accordion files rotate from year to year. It’s easy and takes up very little space, and the system has served us well.

June is Organizing Personal Papers Month at Modern Simplicity!

Do you have piles of paper laying around? Could you easily find your Social Security card, your family’s birth certificates, or insurance papers in an emergency? Do you lose track of bills or other important mail? Do you find yourself picking through piles to find your favorite chinese take-out menu, then going through the whole ordeal again the next day looking for a receipt to return that ill-fitting shirt?

This is a big one in my house right now. I used to be good at it. But two kids and a full-time job later, I’m too tired to deal with all the papers on a regular basis. And they’re piling up. It’s driving me absolutely bonkers. So for the month of June (with one week off for a much-needed, kid-free vacation), I’m going to sorting and filing until it’s all done. It sounds overwhelming now, but breaking it down will make it a much more palpable task.

This Week: The Big Sort

First, I set aside an hour a week that is now my “office time” — it’s blocked out on the family calendar that every week I will get an hour uninterrupted in our home office to work on this project. I chose Tuesday nights after the baby goes to bed, so my husband only has to deal with the preschooler for bedtime. But I will be working on this project any spare chance I get, not just Tuesdays.

I’m going to start by bring ALL the various piles of paper to one location and doing a quick sort of everything. Receipts in one box, paid bills in another, kids’ artwork, medical records, photos, magazines, papers to read, etc. There’s so much in there, I don’t know how many categories I’ll end up with. I will not spend time reading every piece of paper, but will scan it long enough to see if it’s really worth keeping. It’s good to have a shredding box and a recycling bin handy and use them liberally. I will not be stopping to actually file anything right now, just sorting and chucking.

My office will look much worse before it gets better. Once The Big Sort is done, we can move on to filing, one of my least favorite organizing chores ever, but a necessary one. I’ll be back with tips and tricks to make filing a little less dreary.