Wednesday, December 26, 2007

THE BINDER SYSTEM OF AWESOME

My "filing" system has impressed at least one person outright (hooray!) and she has given me the confidence to blog about how much I pwn organization.

The "Identity Theft" Binders
Simply put, I keep important papers in binders. (Lyra teases me by calling them the 'identity theft' binders, for obvious reasons.) It was easy to start, because when I was in school they were always handy. At first I had just one. I put things in it that were simultaneously important and obscure, because they didn't go with my apartment bills or paycheck stubs, and I was at a loss. I printed out everything I needed to get professional certification (a grueling process, which may even beat out the car title transfer mess), and brazenly slapped the word "Life" on the cover.

As I wanted to keep more areas of papers in the system - and as I gained someone else's papers to manage (wink) - the number of binders, and the splits between them changed.

That's key - if they didn't change when needed, I'd have "leftovers" from the system again. I HATE that.

We're up to four binders now, sectioned by dividers approximately as such:

Finances - Pay stubs, tax info, CC accounts, bank accounts, 401K, Roth IRAs, student loans, investments

Insurance - Renters, Life, Auto, Health, Dental

Apartment - Gas, electric, phone & DSL (plus all that router info, GOD), lease and other rental information, cars (maintenance / service), cell phone, details on our nice clothes (to track sizes, favorite brands, and care info, which I am particuarly good at losing), and other similar practical (and often bill-related) items

Miscellaneous - Magazine subscriptions, memberships, "networking" contacts that aren't needed often, "wishlist" furniture, appliance or important electronics info, and other things, as they are deemed necessary to keep and require homes.
This binder will likely evolve into two, once groupings of these items become obvious to me.

Inactive files (taken out of the binder, put into files, and put on the tippy top closet shelf) - Medical records, utility and rental info from my last apartment, research from our job-hunting, important items that are no longer in service (e.g. insurance info from our parents)


The Contents
Another key here is that I'm not leaving it to the documents to speak for themselves. To me, this "raw" paper trail isn't enough. The key to having useful content that makes it more than just filing is tracking other information here as well. Each section should have at the very least a cover sheet, where the important phone numbers, online logins, and notes on what has happened - dated. It's to make me more efficient and organized, but it's also to help Wal, should he get thrown into the fray on this stuff. Work has also taught me that leaving an "audit trail" of why you made the calls you did is vital. You just won't remember in a month or two, and recreating it is a waste of time (...and may not lead to accurate results, if you haven't remembered all of the factors to consider).

So! Throw your notes in there. They don't have to be pretty.

All of our monthly bills outside of rent are paid online. I don't print the bills when they come (...because I don't have the printer), but just review them through the online banking. Every couple months I kick Wal off the computer (...) and print them out to put in the binder. I might decide to stop this if it is not giving me much helpful information.

Set it, then forget it?
Some of these important pieces of your life require maintenance. I try to keep a to-do-list by binder. It's easy to note on the cover sheet what the next step is, and I maybe put a sticky note tab reminding me that I can see from the outside. If it's urgent, it should be upgraded to the regular TDL, anyway.

It is pretty damn helpful to be able to pick back up unfinished items where I was, because of the notes I left for myself. Present Self remembers how daft Future Self can be, and tries to prepare for it.


The Inbox
The stuff "to be filed" was piling the hell up, and that was not working out well for me, so I created what I think of as a divided inbox. Each binder has a file of things to be filed for it, and items that still need immediate action can stay in a separate file.

Receipts

A sidenote on receipts - the general consensus from the things I read was that for MOST items, you only need to keep the receipt long enough to verify that the bank account statement/bill is correct. I found that these receipts were always in my way, and that I was wanting to just pitch them and be done with it. They have their own folder "Receipts to check only," so that I can keep my purse neater (...in theory).


I don't know what else to say, really. I'm trying to adapt the system when I see areas that inconvenience me or are omitted from the scope.

What does everyone else use? Is anyone satisfied with just expanding files for bills? (...aside from you, Mom)

6 comments:

Jamie said...

I have a couple big folder things. I still live at home so it is just school and my own bills. I expect it to expand and get more organized when I leave though!

E.C. said...

I have the giant binder o' financial stuff since my bank gave me a binder when I started a checking account, but it isn't all that organized. Bills go on top of the fridge until they get paid, and my lease is stuck to the fridge with a magnet. It seems like it may be time to adopt a system more like yours.

Elaine said...

They ARE identity theft binders!

And I use nothing, because I am not grown up.

Anonymous said...

Two, I just spent the last hour and a half reading over your blog. I loves it! I do have a couple questions for you on certain stuff-- expect a call in the next few days, as I am embarrassed by my lack of knowledge.

And thanks so much for the girl's day out last weekend. I really needed it.
>^_^< One

Jessica said...

Hey, I just came across this (I know its been here awhile) and I wanted to say I think this is a great set up. I am all about everything being in the same place and EXTREMELY organized!

Thanks for sharing, I will definitely be using some of these tips.

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