In our recent post, “Making Time for Creativity,” we shared some insights from “Big Magic” author Elizabeth Gilbert on how and why you should make room in your life for intangible inspiration. This includes organizing your more tangible financial interests. Here are three handy habits for improved financial organization in the year ahead.
Locate What You’ve Got
Naturally, if you don’t know what you own and where it’s held, it’s going to be very difficult to organize it. This is one reason to identify and coordinate all of the accounts you own, regardless of where they are held. This includes not only your primary accounts but also company retirement plans, stock options, assets from former marriages, lost savings accounts, and more.
Having your assets in order not only helps you more efficiently manage your own financial interests, it can come as an enormous relief if another family member ever needs to step in on your behalf. We covered that in one of our earliest blogs, “A Lost & Found for Your Money” including links to sites you can turn to if you suspect that you or a loved one may have unclaimed property to hunt down.
Eliminate What You Can
Again, for your own sake and for the sake of your heirs, the less cosmic debris you have cluttering up your record-keeping, the faster you’ll be able to locate pertinent information when you need it. That is why it’s helpful to either get rid of or archive (scan) financial records that are no longer relevant.
The new year is as good a time as any to conduct an early spring cleaning of your real or virtual files. Look for investment accounts or holdings long since sold; insurance policies and estate planning documents that are no longer in force; receipts from bills long since paid and pay stubs from careers long since left behind.
This step does come with two caveats.
First, avoid going overboard, disposing of records that you or Uncle Sam may still need. Consumerist’s “How Long Should I Hold On To My Old Bills & Other Documents?” offers a handy overview on the subject, as does “Tax Girl” Kelly Erb’s “How Long Should I Keep Records After Tax Day?” Better yet, since tax regulations and other protocols can evolve over time, it’s advisable to consult with your advisor and accountant before shredding.
Speaking of shredding, this brings us to our second caveat. Whether disposing of paper or electronic records, don’t let them fall into the hands of an identity thief. Shred all hardcopy and have any electronic devices professionally scrubbed before disposing of or donating them, lest files you thought you had deleted remain behind in ghost-like form. This includes not only computers but smart phones, scanners, photocopiers and fax machines.
Automate What’s Left
As Carl Richards expresses in his “One-Page Financial Plan,” automating your financial habits is one of the best ways to ensure that “your good intentions turn into good behavior.”
By automating everywhere and anywhere you can, you have the powerful advantage of taking action once, and benefiting from it over and over again. Budgeting, bill payments, saving goals, retirement plans, philanthropic intents … with today’s technology, all of these sound financial practices and many others can be set up to happen regularly, without your having to lift a finger once the set-up is complete.
You can also use automatic reminders to establish routines you’d like to follow, such as dedicating a half-hour each week to having a family conversation about financial literacy. Once you’ve organized the little things in your financial life, the possibilities become endless for taking on your family’s grander goals. Or just enjoying a good movie together!
Sage Serendipity: Marie Kondo, the author of the “mother of all ‘tidy’ books “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is a professional cleaning consultant with a three-month waiting list. So if you really want to get both your physical (and by default) psychological space in order, these books are a good place to start. Her first book has recently been followed by her latest, Spark Joy. The Atlantic summed it up, “Reading it, you glimpse a glittering mental freedom from the unread/uncrafted/unworn, buyer’s remorse, the nervous eyeing of real estate listings. Life’s overwhelm, conquered.”