Winter Weather: Time to organize!

In much of Iowa, our recent winter weeks have held lots of days suitable only for staying indoors. We’ve canceled or postponed many plans, and some of our dogs have missed lots of walks because some days were just too cold or windy.

So what can we do with those snow days?  I have an idea!
No, it’s not binge-watching your favorite shows or movies, nor does it involve baking. You don’t need ME to suggest those!

My idea is less recreational, but much more valuable in the long term: go through your files!

Cleaning and organizing files is a task we tend to procrastinate. But in an emergency, and even in many non-emergency situations, we sure would like to turn to our files and immediately put our hands on the document(s) we need. When need arises, we’ll be glad we invested some time in getting organized.

Here’s the good news: it’s a task that can be broken up into small doses.

  • If you already have a filing system, you can just go through one or two files a day, to pull out old materials that are no longer needed, and make sure the most current information is in front.
  • If you do not have a filing system in place, start with a small stack of papers from wherever you’ve been storing them. Create file folders or envelopes for each category of papers you run across. For example, if the first paper you come to is about your car insurance, then create a car insurance file. Perhaps the next item will be college transcript – if so, create an education file.

Well-organized files have three characteristics:  1) they are clearly labeled; 2) the newest and most important information is in front; and 3) out-of-date and unimportant documents are removed. Determining what is important can be a challenge. Some tips for starters: 

  • Insurance – keep the most recent summary of coverage (declarations page). In addition, keep the full policy booklet if you have one, and any updates you receive about coverage details.
  • Mutual fund accounts – keep your quarterly statements until the year-end statement arrives; that should include all activity for the year, so you can discard the quarterly statements. Keep all year-end statements, with the most recent in front. Keep the most recent prospectus. There is no need to keep annual reports.
  • Monthly bills – once you get the next statement showing that your payment was received, you can safely discard the previous statement, unless you need it for tax purposes.
  • Warranties and purchase records for warrantied items – keep as long as you own the item. Keep the purchase information longer if the item affects your taxes.
  • Taxes – after six years, they can be discarded.

Personally, my biggest filing problem is old folders with labels that have fallen off – I need to go through and re-label files. Which filing task most needs your attention?

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Red File Revelations

fileDo you ever think about what would happen if your house was flooded or some sort of disaster was happening and you only had a few short minutes to grab meaningful financial and personal documents? What would you grab? You definitely won’t find yourself hauling the entire filing cabinet out the door, so the best solution is to have a consolidated set of files set aside just in case you would ever find yourself in this situation. The idea is…THE RED FILE!

The concept is fairly basic. Get yourself an accordion file of some sort, preferably red (or another bright color) for easy finding, and include the following things in it:

  • List of vital information such as:
    • Contact Information (family members, financial advisors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, employers, doctors)
    • Bank, Credit Union, and credit card account information
    • Insurance policy information
    • Summary of vital information (personal, property, financial…etc)
  • Originals or photocopies of:
    • Birth and Marriage certificates/divorce decrees
    • Social security cards of all members in the household
    • Driver’s license and other wallet cards (copies of)
    • Will/Trust documents; powers of attorney
    • Most recent income tax return
    • Passports/identity documents
    • Military discharge papers
    • List of prescriptions (name on medication, dosage, pharmacy…etc)
  • You will also need:
    • Safe deposit keys/combination
    • Computer user names or passwords; CD with relevant personal, financial, and legal files
    • Some emergency cash

If an emergency ever occurs, you can grab this file and know that you have all the basic information you need for you and your family.

If you have the capability, another great option is to scan in copies of all these documents, and save them on a flash drive or upload them to a safe place online.  HAPPY FILING!

~Leslie Kohlhaas (guest blogger)

Leslie is an ISU senior intern working with Barb this semester. Other disaster tips can be found at the Dealing with Disasters webpage:

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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