Last week I worked to get our finances, office space, computer, calendar and school papers in order for a clean slate in the new year. Here’s what went down:
The first step in getting my little office space organized is to go through the year’s accumulated papers. I file what we need to keep and recycle what we don’t. After all, the easiest way to organize is to have less.
I also take this opportunity to declutter drawers and baskets of random pens, cards and other things that get thrown in them.
Assign papers to a folder
Next comes what to do with the papers that go in the save pile. I keep folders in two places to avoid that annoying pile of random papers on the kitchen counter (you know, the one that has junk mail mixed in with important documents so you can’t throw it away, but it keeps growing):
Easily accessible folders on my desk
The folders in the basket beside my computer have the following labels:
- One for each child’s class, papers I need to reference
- The current year’s medical receipts
- The current year’s home and car repair receipts
- A folder for tax documents that filter in after the first of the year
- And one for miscellaneous papers we need to revist
TIP: Keeping folders like this makes it simple to gather necessary documents when it’s tax season. And after tax season, I sort through my white folders and add what still needs to be saved to my file drawer, below.
File drawer folders
My next office project will be to get some white file folders in this drawer and some new labels. But for now, this is the scene.
In my file drawer I keep a folder for each of the following:
- medical (one per family member)
- past five years of taxes (one per year)
- financial (investments, accounts, etc.)
- receipts for purchases under warranty
- scrapbook (for things like our family Christmas card, a magazine clipping a family member was in …)
- Stamp prices increase on January 22, so stock up now if you want to save a few pennies.
- Check ink levels in the printer and copy paper supply.
- See how many checks you have left and order more if needed.
- Restock envelopes, post-its, pens, paper clips, staples. (You know I head to the dollar store for these.)
Put kids art and school work in one location
While I’m still in charge of making sure the kids get their homework done and library books returned on time, I put everything that needs to be completed or returned in the basket on the left.
Fill out the calendar
While I have my kids’ school calendars out with fundraising events, homework and holidays, I plug them into my phone. Is it just me or do they really kick it up a notch after the long holiday? Some of them I put on our family calendar, above, for my husband to see as well.
Marcello travels a lot, so for us a family calendar is necessary so I know when to expect him to be home or away. (Read: Should I make dinner or pour cereal in a bowl?) We prefer the old school paper method and I keep it hanging by our back door with our menu. I print out all the months for the coming year and stick them in the clip board.
Clear out photos and video from last year on desktop
I know this is a touchy subject. Some people feel panicked about deleting pictures off their desktop or phone. Some feel overwhelmed about what to do with all the photos they’ve taken over the years. As a graphic designer, I have large files I need to save and the space is just not there for me to keep every photo and video I’ve ever taken. This is how I clean up my computer, phone and camera for the new year:
- Upload photos and videos from my phone and camera to my computer.
- Select my absolute favorites (be ruthless) and color correct them if needed.
- Save my favorite photos onto an external hard drive with the labeled year. Make a DVD with the same photos. And finally upload them to Flickr. (That oughta keep ’em safe!)
- Make a yearly photo book.
- Put all the year’s videos into a one-hour video.
- Save the video to my external hard drive and on a DVD.
- DELETE all of them off my desktop, cell phone and camera for a fresh start.
This year I ditched my bold colors and patterns for clean, white folders and binders. I’ve got enough color and clutter going on here from sharing the office space with the playroom, so opted for simple. And as a bonus, the plain white office supplies are the cheapest!
The binders I keep on my desk are for all my checklists and favorite recipe printouts. I have also included the printables for the spines if you’d like to do the same. I added some other options in case they’re useful too — budget, family and calendar.
After your desk and computer are all cleaned up and organized, you will be much more motivated to work on your new budget. I wrote more than I was originally thinking when it came to budgeting for the new year, so I’m making it a separate section.
Draft an updated budget
If you have a salary, you might need to adjust your income to a different amount in accordance with new insurance prices or 401K contributions. I tend to wait until the end of January to update our budget so I know what our exact income will be.
If you do not operate on a salary and income varies month to month, look back on the previous year and take note of any trends and add up your overall cost to live. How much do you need to save to live for the entire coming year? Where exactly will anything above that number go?
Go through each expense you have with your spouse and question if there is a way to eliminate it or lower it. It is important to 1) be realistic with your budget so that you can meet it and 2) assign each dollar that comes in. Dave Ramsey says: Give every dollar a name — mortgage, credit card bill, groceries, car repairs. Name them all.
TIP: To stay on top of our monthly budget I sit down and update it every Monday with what we have spent and calculate how much we have left to spend. It’s not enough to only evaluate at the end of the month when the money has already been spent.
Make a file of irregular expenses
One thing that has helped our family significantly in meeting our monthly budgets is to make a list of irregular yearly expenses and the dollar amount. I’ve added to it over the years and without it I know I would miss half of these things and go over budget. I’ll share with you my current list of irregular yearly expenses:
JANUARY: homeowners association fee, flood insurance
FEBRUARY: family member birthday, car registration, taxes, end of winter clothing sales (I buy them now for next year), Valentine’s day
MARCH: family member birthday, Easter
APRIL: family member birthday, car registration, homeowners association fee, Amazon Prime membership
MAY: auto insurance, Mother’s Day, AAA fee
JUNE: Father’s Day
JULY: homeowners association fee
AUGUST: family member birthday, school supplies, end of summer clothing sales (I buy them now for next year)
OCTOBER: homeowners association fee
NOVEMBER: capital one member fee, auto insurance, kids Christmas PJs
DECEMBER: Christmas, Christmas cards
Establish your financial goals for the year
Set your family’s goals for the year, and write them down in order of priority. Be proactive and realistic about them. The more you pay off, save and contribute when you are younger, the more you will have when you are older. When you start this habit, it’s important to check on last year’s goals for encouragement (Yay! You did it!) or to reinstate some old goals (Well, we’ll rip it apart this year!)
This year our goals are as follows:
- Pay off one car.
- Pay an extra mortgage payment a year, spread out over 12 months.
- Contribute more to our 401K.
- Give above our 10 percent tithe.
- Save for a new camera.
- Save for a vacation.
I’m not sure if we will be able to meet all of these, but we’ll never know if we don’t try! If you need help determining where to start with your financial goals, check out these 7 baby steps.
Here is a printable checklist to summarize the points discussed:
Do you have any specific financial goals this year? Did you meet your goals last year? Is your office chaotic, organized or chaotically organized?
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