Tip of the Month: All That Paper!
How much paper are you saving?
Do you have utility bills from six years ago - from a place where you no longer live? Unless the utility bills are a tax record (because you have a home office), why keep them that long? Do you have newspaper clippings from years past - including medical information that is now out of date, recipes that don't reflect how you eat now, and other information you could easily find on the web if you ever needed it again?
In order to keep your paper under control, it helps to do the following.
1. Have a personal paper retention policy. To do this, think about WHY you are saving each type of paper.
How long will you save those utility bills? One year, so you can see the annual pattern of your expenses? One month, because you're not going to use them for budgeting or such - all you really need is proof that the last payment was received? Seven years, because they are tax-related expenses?
Here are some websites that provide suggestions on how long to keep your papers. And please consult with your financial advisor and your tax advisor, if you have such professionals helping you. (If you have a new-found urge to clean up those papers, I don't want you discarding papers you really need.)
- IRS: How long should I keep records?
- Consumer Reports: How Long to Keep Tax Records and Other Documents
2. As you add paper to your files, consider whether another paper can be removed. As you add a utility bill. can you remove an older one? As you complete another tax return, does this mean the supporting papers from another year can now be discarded?
3. Do a periodic review of what you've saved. Does that recipe file need to be pruned? Do you really still want to save those clippings?
And as you are getting rid of paper, it would be wise to shred papers such as these: charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired credit or charge cards, and credit offers you get in the mail. That list comes from the FTC; you can see other lists of what to shred at these sites:
And a bonus tip
One type of paper you SHOULD have is estate planning documents: a will, an advance health care directive, a financial and medical power of attorney, etc. As my friend (and estate attorney) Robin Crawford points out, it's amazing how many of us trust our politicians to decide what will happen to us and our property - which is what we're doing by not having the proper documents made out.
So please, if you haven't taken care of this, do so now.
Quote of the Month
Just because it's alphabetized and tucked away in a drawer doesn't mean it isn't junk.
— Don Aslett