Organizing “Grown-up” Paperwork

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So lately I’ve been talking to a lot of my friends who feel like I do: overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with becoming a grown-up. Overwhelmed with paperwork. Overwhelmed with being in charge of life and everything that is important in it. Since most of my friends (and myself included) are now considered adults with real jobs, bills, insurance policies, and other important things to keep track of, I have been trying to find the best way to organize LIFE, more specifically, all the paperwork that is required to live.

There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into being an adult, like keeping track of bills, expenses, and the budget, as well as insurance policies, warranties on random objects inside your home, and the ever daunting tax information. I’ve done a lot of reading, researching, and experimentation and have come up with a system that works really well for Andrew and I and the way my brain thinks.

Budget Binder: month-by-month

I have a budget binder that I keep in my kitchen since this is where all the mail ends up first. At the front of the binder, I have a calendar that just includes dates, not days. On this calendar I have listed the dates that bills are due, since most of ours are due on a specific date. I do this more for my husband in case he would ever need to pay a bill since by now, I know which bills are due when.

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Inside the binder I have a sheet protector for each month as well as some extras. I use a AWESOME budget worksheet that I got from a blog I follow called Penny Pinchin’ Mom (see below for the link). I fill out this sheet each month and stick it in the front of the binder. As the month progresses and bills, bank statements, etc. come in, I pay them (as needed) and stick the portion that says “keep for your records” in the month’s sheet protector. At the end of the month, I look over our expenses, finalize the budget worksheet and stick it in the front of the sheet protector for the month with the bills and other paperwork behind it.

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As you can see, my binder is pretty thick now, since it’s the end of the year. If I needed to, I could pull out the electric bill or any paperwork from January and look over it….every thing is there! When the year ends, I will pull out the sheet protectors and place them in a file labeled “Taxes 2014” in my filing cabinet that I keep in the office. While it is highly unlikely to need any of this information for tax purposes, I have it if needed.

Then in January, the binder starts all over again.

Document Binder Station:

While my budget binder takes care of the month-to-month paperwork, what about the OTHER paperwork, like needed information for insurance (medical, auto, home), student loans, etc? This was my downfall…it was all in separate files in the filing cabinet but I didn’t know what was in each file, what I needed to keep, or what could be shredded. Again, I did some research and found an older post on another blog I follow called A Bowl Full of Lemons where she wrote about organizing her office and her system. I really liked her use of colorful three-ring binders and knew I could replicate it to suit our needs.

1. Medical Binder:

This was the binder I felt like we needed the most. We have medical insurance through my work, a separate dental and eye plan, again through my work, and a life insurance policy for both of us, all through separate organizations.

The binder has tabs for MEDICAL, DENTAL/EYE, and LIFE with paperwork for each type behind each tab. I included things like the brochures/paperwork that shows what is covered by our policy, policy numbers, and contact information for each one.

**It’s important to note that I did not include any paperwork that had private information such as social security numbers in these binders, just for security reasons**

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2. Auto Binder:

This binder seems to have a bunch of random information, but it was all necessary. Included in this binder are tabs labeled LOAN INFO, DEED AND TITLE, INSURANCE, REPAIRS, and I also included paperwork for the sale and loan repayment of Andrew’s last car (which I will only keep for the next 5 years).

The paperwork included is pretty self-explanatory as to what goes behind each tab. But again, for the insurance I put paperwork on what our policies cover, the policy numbers, and contact information. As for the repairs, Andrew drives a vintage BMW, so we seem to always be repairing something, basically this is for documentation of new tires and BIG repairs.

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3. Home Binder:

If you do not own a home, this binder can be skipped or adjusted for a renter. Since we bought our house in February, I’ve just had a HUGE stack of paperwork on it that I didn’t know what to do with. I finally went through everything and kept what was necessary and shredded the rest. There is so much paperwork involved in purchasing a house, so not all of our paperwork is included in the binder. For example, I kept a copy of the contract of sale of the house, but it is kept in a file in the filing cabinet since it is unlikely to be needed again.

The tabs in this binder include MORTGAGE, INSURANCE, and UTILITIES. The mortgage tab has paperwork on who our loan is through and contact information, as well as the any needed information for it. It also has the initial paperwork that shows the payment info and how much goes towards the principal, taxes, interest, etc. The insurance tab again has the information on what we are covered for, our policy number, and contact information. We also have the First American Home Warranty that was included in the purchase price, that covers things like the garage door breaking, the roof leaking, or the hot water tank bursting, that we plan to renew. While this isn’t technically insurance, I placed this information for what it covers, our policy number, and contact information in this tab, because I consider it to be similar to insurance. The utilities tab includes documentation on the different utilities we have at the house, electric, water, sewer, internet, etc. If I signed a contract to use the utilities, I have a copy of it. I also have our account numbers and contact information for each type of utility.

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4. Warranties and User Manuals:

This binder is pretty self-explanatory. Included are any and all warranties on any item that we own. I have it divided up into 3 categories: personal, kitchen, and garage, which most of our items with warranties seem to fit. This binder probably will get little use, however if I need the lifetime warranty on our luggage, I know where to find it! 🙂

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Personal:

This binder can be whatever you need it to be, or completely forgotten about. I use it to keep track of our student loans and my paperwork for graduate school and the TEACH Grant.

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The medical, auto, personal, and home binders are stored in the office on a baking pan organizer that I purchased from Walmart that keeps them upright. The warranty binder is kept in the filing cabinet with a few other random files.

The Filing Cabinet:

We have a smaller, two drawer filing cabinet that we also use to store paperwork that is important but not necessarily needed  all the time. I have a few random files in it, but I specifically wanted to discuss the files I use for the dreaded TAXES.

I have a file for each year of taxes, labeled with the date, that includes the W-2’s for the year, proof of file, and the return. What this means is, I have all of mine and Andrew’s tax information basically since we both started filing taxes.

**If you didn’t know this, you are supposed to keep tax records for 7 years. After 7 years you can shred the paperwork.**

In my 2013 taxes file, I have all the budget binder paperwork as well as all the tax information for Andrew and I (W-2’s, proof of file, and return information).

I also already have a file for 2014 taxes that I began in January of this year. I have been putting receipts and paperwork that I thought may be necessary in this file throughout the year and as our W-2’s and student loan interest information becomes available, I will place those in the file as well. That way, when Andrew and I sit down to do taxes, all I have to do is pull out one file with all our information.

Fire-Safe Lock Box

The last place I keep paperwork is inside a fire-safe box that we bought to keep important paperwork that would be hard to replace if we ever had a fire. Documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, etc. I also have a copy of our insurance policy numbers and contact information for our agents for the cars and the house, just in case.

While this is not necessary, it is something I thought we should have just to be on the safe side.

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I know this was a lot of information in one blog, but as requested I thought I would map out my system and what I have tried to do to keep my OCD under control.

As mentioned above, here is the Penny Pinchin’ Mom website link to the budget binder worksheet:

 http://cdn.pennypinchinmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Customizable-Budget-Worksheet-Final-Form.pdf

I highly suggest her website for all sorts of money saving tips! 🙂

So, what do you do to organize all your grown-up papers? Anything I should add to my system? 

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