(If you’re new to the challenges, check here for the intro and list.)
TAXES: Now that 2011 is over, and you should have received all of your tax information, it’s really time to get to work! This year, Passover (April 6-14) falls just before tax day (April 15) – and do you really want to be worrying about taxes then? I have an appointment with our accountant in a week, and everything is pulled and ready. And it was pretty effortless.
How? Each year, I have a folder that is labeled taxes (year). Into that folder goes all things tax related that accumulate throughout the year: donation receipts, unreimbursed work expenses, shul receipts, etc. When our W-2 forms come, they go right in, as well as end-of-the-year bank and financial statements. Then everything we need is all in one place, and we just have to sort through and pull anything we didn’t get in a paper copy. If you don’t have a Taxes 2012 folder set up yet, do it now! You can make it easier for this year’s taxes.
Now back to 2011 taxes: I’m not a tax expert. Or even semi-expert. Put me at the beginner level, really. But I can gather and organize everything we need thanks to that folder and my own checklist based on previous years.
Because every family is unique, there really is no easy way to list what you’ll need (without looking at previous year’s taxes). But you may need your work forms (W-2/W-4/etc), student loan interest and payments, mortgage information, any stocks/bonds information, donations information, childcare. All of your bank information, ways you made money, interest you paid, and special programs are things you might need. Get them together and get thee a tax appointment (whether you go out or do it yourself!)
PAPER SYSTEM: Are you swimming in paper? It seems to be that many families are. And we need a way to get a handle on the paper before it takes over the place!
I’m not perfect on this one by far, but my guiding principle is to touch each piece of paper only once. Of course, that’s not always possible. But that’s what I try for. The more places you put the paper, the more chances it will get lost or delayed along the way. And you waste your time, too!
So I open mail when I can deal with it, over the recycling bin. I take documents that need shredding and put them right into the bag and pay bills right then, too. I file whatever needs to be filed right away, too. Anything that I can’t deal with immediately gets put into one of three boxes: For me, for my husband, and in progress.
We each know to look through our inboxes every few days and deal with any papers. Anything that is in progress gets checked through, too–this is things like waiting to hear back from someone about a warranty, medical file request we are waiting on, etc.
For kids’ paper, well, I don’t have any. I’m the teacher (yep, we homeschool). But I find that having a place for things and a routine helps as a general rule. So every day, check your young child’s backpack or have your children bring any papers you need to see right away. Or wait until they are in bed as you are repacking – choose one that works and keep at it so it stays consistent. You can set up a corkboard for important papers, but put everything into the family calendar and back into their bag as needed. Deal with it once and be done.
(See an upcoming post on organizing kid’s art–another bunch of kids’ paper!)
FILING: Now, I don’t have a great system for organizing the files you need. I have a filing cabinet with two drawers, and I keep the things we need in there. It works for us because I go through about twice a year and purge and rearrange as I go. It’s not terribly pretty, but it is functional (and hidden in my file cabinet, so that’s OK for me). I am planning on emptying out the whole thing and sorting through what we have this week.
For those of your who are looking for beautiful filing systems, here is one that I like.
Once you set up your system, the most important thing is actually using it! File away those papers before they become a huge pile. If you can’t do it every day, put them into a SMALL box and file weekly – but use your files regularly. And clean them out, too. Some documents you need to keep for a long time, but others you don’t : here is a good resource to help you figure out which is which.
How are you doing on paper?