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Author: Tiffany BregoviDocument Management Electronic Organizing General Home Office Tax Prep

You Too Can Stay Organized for Tax Season!

It’s that time of year, friends, when one of the only two certain things in life looms large: taxes.

As a kid, April 15 was a holiday in our house. It was the day my accountant mother could breathe again after over 3 long months of helping her clients. I may have learned a thing or two along the way, so I’m happy to share some tips on how to get organized before heading to your accountant’s office, or, if you’re one of those brave souls who tackles the task on your own, before you sit down at the kitchen table amid a sea of paperwork. In either case, the key is starting early… as in January 1 early.

How to Prep to File your Income Taxes

Taxes can get pretty complicated depending on what kind of return you have to file. Do you have a business? Dependents? Itemized deductions? There are already a lot of great sources of information out there about which documents and information you need to gather. Instead, let’s focus on how to move through this year proactively so that when April 2020 rolls around, you won’t be scrambling to find all this documentation.

Start a System

The first thing you should do is have a dedicated folder where you can file any paperwork that you may need come next April.

  • Create folders for:
    • Tax Documents
    • Personal Receipts
  • If you are self-employed, you should create additional folders for:
    • Business Documents
    • Business Receipts

Execute the System

Know which documents you need to keep in each folder and make lists. If you need help with this, your tax preparer should be able to help you create a customized list based on how you file and the specifics of your financial architecture. Otherwise, here’s a great general resource: https://www.rgbrenner.com/resources/what-do-i-bring-to-my-tax-appointment/

Attach these lists to the front of each folder. Cross off items as they go into the folder.
Documents come in all year, so this is a great way to keep yourself informed at a glance. A few notes:

  • Things like property taxes may show up early in the year.
  • Income statements start arriving in the mail or your inbox in January.
  • Some personal receipts worth saving are:
    • Records of cash donations to religious institutions, schools & other charities
    • Records on non-cash charitable donations
    • Unreimbursed job-related expenses (e.g., travel, tools, cell phone charges, uniform cost/cleaning, luggage, services fees, trade journals, meals & entertainment)
    • Job search/moving expenses¹
  • For your business, you’ll want to save receipts for EVERYTHING, such as:
    • Advertising
    • Equipment & supplies
    • Meals & travel
    • Continuing education & professional development
    • Books & research materials
    • Dues & memberships
    • Subscriptions

Maintain the System

Now that you’re filing, try to stay ahead of the record-keeping by doing it monthly. This effort will help both you and your accountant simplify the process come March or April, so you don’t have to scramble to collect all the information and dollar amounts in a last-minute rush.

Pick your poison to start an electronic or written file for keeping records of expenses. I’m a lover of Excel, but some folks prefer Word or even handwritten lists. If you’re in the latter camp, I recommend buying a dedicated ledger book to record line items. Keep separate files for personal and business. Once a month, go through your saved receipts and enter them into your record. Remember to categorize the type of expense for each receipt.

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As you can see, it’s all about establishing a system that you can easily maintain throughout the year with minimal effort. It’s so easy to get behind with all the personal and professional obligations we balance. If we can stay aligned with the system and find an hour a month to maintain it, then when that April 15 holiday inevitably rolls around again, we can face it head-on with confidence and careful preparation.

¹ https://www.rgbrenner.com/resources/what-do-i-bring-to-my-tax-appointment/

Author: Geri FrankelClutter Document Management General Paper Productivity Tips

What TO DO with old TO DO lists

While working with clients on managing their paperwork and filing systems, and/or time management/productivity we often come across very old (meaning over a year) TO DO lists.To Do lists and what to do with them.

Are YOU haunted by these? Know they are out there lurking to challenge and shame you? I AM!!!

Here are some thoughts to guide you as you contemplate your next move against these demons.

Option #1: Look at them

Pros:

  • They can serve as a reminder about some still very important priorities that may have fallen off your daily and weekly planners. Scheduling the tasks back in your life can get you on track to achieve your goals.
  • They can give you a sense of accomplishment when you note what DID get done.
  • They can give you a GOOD LAUGH at the things you thought were urgent.
  • You can see that the world did not end because you were not able to get to a certain project.

Cons:

  • Viewing what did NOT get done can make you feel frustrated or ashamed or angry.
  • You are using time that might be better spent on doing your top 3 high priority tasks as you know them TODAY.

Option #2 Throw them out

Pros:

  • You avoid any negative emotions that might arise
  • You are able to move on from the past and be in the NOW

Cons:

  • You might miss out on a learning opportunity. Insights you might gain include:
    • That there are simply not enough hours in a day/week/month/year to do what we all yearn to do.
    • Accepting the concept of limits can be liberating.
    • Our to do lists are sometimes not in alignment with our core values and/or abilities.
    • We might be trying to prove something to ourselves and/or others and that might not be a good thing.
    • Perhaps we are avoiding confronting something that could stir up uncomfortable thoughts and feeling.

My recommendation:
Take an hour or two off and, armed with a legal pad or journal, bring those lists to a coffee shop/library or other secret hideaway. Review them in a loving, self-accepting way. Jot down any thoughts that arise.
Then, like you would with the old tub of cream cheese that is festering in the back of the frig, growing green and black molds, TOSS the old to do lists out.
Onward to what calls to you NOW!

Author: Elizabeth BoydDocument Management Goal Setting Organizing

Resolution Reset

Benjamin Franklin and Order

Was one of your resolutions for 2018 to get more organized? If so, you’re in good company. Getting organized is among the most popular New Year’s resolutions.   

Even if you didn’t expressly resolve to get more organized, you may have done so without realizing it via your other resolutions.  This is because organization is key to success with so many goals.  

Say for example that you resolved to spend more time with family, or achieve a fitness goal, or tackle debt. Being more organized means that you can gain time to enjoy family. Fitness goals are more attainable when you have fewer barriers between you and your workout – if it’s hard to find those workout clothes, it’s that much easier to throw in the towel and not work out.  

If your goals are financial, an organized mail and paper management system can be like found money. You can pay down debt instead of paying late fees after you finally come across that overdue bill. Organization really is crucial to achieving most goals.  

Resolutions are easy to make and all too easy to break. New Year’s resolution expert John Norcross found that 25% of us don’t stick with our New Year’s resolutions past the first week.  If you are still on track with your New Year’s resolution, kudos! If not, now is the perfect time to reset.

Resetting your resolution may be as simple as breaking it down into small steps. Have you written down your resolution?  If not, try that. People who write down their goals have been found to accomplish significantly more than people who don’t. It may be a matter of reworking your resolution so that it’s S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant / Realistic, and Time-bound).

Change that involves organization can be hard for the best of us no matter what strategies we try. If this sounds like it applies to you, you’re still in good company. Benjamin Franklin's 13 VirtuesConsider that Benjamin Franklin made a chart of 13 “virtues” to which he aspired. Order was the one he struggled most with, according to the chart he included in his Autobiography. He would put a mark on those days when he did not achieve the virtue, and there are more marks for order than for any other virtue.  

If you can relate to Franklin’s struggles, consider an option that didn’t exist in Franklin’s day: hire a professional organizer!    

Author: Denise MacMurtrieDocument Management General Holidays Meal planning Organizing Paper Productivity Seasonal Time Management

Making a List, Checking it Twice—Not just for Santa

The holidays are upon us! There’s so much to keep track of and so many things to do! How can this wonderfully busy time of year feel less stressful? Make a list! Or several!

I love lists! Just the act of writing a list helps me to feel like I have a clearer direction. A checklist is a concrete tool to help you empty your brain of all the things you need to remember…and then to prioritize them.

There are even more things to do and to remember than usual. I use different lists for each facet of the holidays.

If you like writing lists out on paper, keep one folder or notebook as a central location to record your plans. If you prefer going paperless, keeping documents stored on a computer or in a note-keeping system like Evernote is a convenient way to keep an ongoing record over the years.

The following are types of lists to help you stay better ordered as the activities and tasks fill your schedule:

Menus: Write out a list of the entire meal from appetizers through desserts, including those items being provided by other guests. That way, you have a comprehensive overview of the full meal and can fill in the gaps if there are any. Don’t forget to include drinks, paper products, flowers and table centerpieces.

Shopping list: Go through all the recipes you will be preparing and write out every ingredient into a grocery list. The key here is to write the food items according to sections in the grocery store. It helps dramatically when your list is ordered so you don’t have to revisit different sections of the crowded store.

Tasks: Write out all individual tasks required to prepare for the holidays so you can clearly see the extra demands on your time such as: cleaning the house, decorating, shopping for gifts, wrapping, and mailing gifts (by a designated date).

Holiday cards: Keep a master address list that you can update each year. Many people keep it in a format on their computer to print address labels. I like to sort names according to groups:  family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.

Gifts: Keep a list of all gifts you plan to purchase according to each person. In the margin, record the store or online vendor and price. You can plan your shopping route according to the stores listed.

Accessory shopping: While shopping for gifts, there are often other details easily overlooked. Designate a master list for details. For example, as you decorate your house or plan your holiday party, keep one list for all those particulars such as a replacement string of lights, a new set of holiday placemats, etc.

A Final Step
Your Calendar: Look through your lists regularly and write tasks into dates on your calendar in order to keep track of what is being accomplished. Write in your planner in pencil to make easy alterations or use an online calendar to easily move tasks around.

Remember:  this is a busy time of year. Everything takes longer than expected. In the end, we may need to let go of a few tasks.

The ultimate goal is not to feel harried by the time the actual day arrives so you can enjoy the celebration with those you love!

Author: Janet BernsteinClutter Document Management Filing General Home Office Medical Move Management Organizing Paper Productivity Project Management Receipts Shopping Tax Prep

How Evernote Changed My Life (And How It Can Change Yours)

My Evernote conversion occurred about five years ago. Stuffed in the back of my junk drawer (yes, I also have one) for several years, lay a handwritten recipe for the best maple balsamic salad dressing obtained from a restaurant in Vermont. Frustrated with my lack of organization for something so valuable, I downloaded Evernote and my life was forever changed.

I created a notebook in the Evernote app and titled it “Recipes,” took a photo of the recipe within the Evernote app et voila! Wherever I am, on my phone, tablet or laptop I have a screenshot of the recipe. I quickly saw how transformational this would be in both my personal and professional life. When a friend recommends a great restaurant, it goes into the notebook I created titled “Recommended Restaurants”. I also do this for movies, books, wine, travel destinations, decorating ideas. All those great details we scribble on the back of napkins never to find again.

If I’m surfing the web, I can use Evernote webclipper to clip an article or page and put it into the notebook of my choice. I can also dictate notes into Evernote and draw using the Skitch app.

I also have a notebook for each of my kids. I have a screenshot of their health insurance cards, health records, photos of their artwork from Kindergarten so I could get rid of those large poster-size monstrosities, er, I mean works of art. The list goes on.

For my business, I’m able to share notebooks with my team and with our clients. We often take notes during an organizing session and share these with our clients. Evernote also eliminates the need to email documents back and forth. Instead, the whole team can collaborate and has access whether they are working remotely or in the office to notes, documents, photos, etc.

I’m barely scratching the surface of Evernote’s endless possibilities. For more information and to create your free online account check out www.evernote.com

Author: Elizabeth BoydDocument Management Home Office Organizing Paper

TAME THE PAPER TIGER – WHAT TO DO WITH DOCUMENTS

Purging is an often recommended and common sense first step to organizing. When we’re dealing with documents, most of us aren’t always sure what to toss, what to keep and for how long. Here are some guidelines to get you started on handling common types of documents. Your situation may be more complex, if, for instance, you have chronic health problems, or have a business. When in doubt, ask an accountant, attorney, daily money manager, or other trusted professional. When it comes to those documents that you should keep, consider that most of the documents can be scanned and the hard copies discarded.

 

TOSS

  • Bank withdrawal and deposit slips, ATM slips
  • Expired warranties and instruction for items you no longer own
  • Statements for closed accounts

KEEP SHORT TERM

  • Receipts for minor purchases, keep until you’ve used the items
  • Credit card receipts, discard after you’ve verified against the credit card statement
  • Pay stubs, keep until you receive annual Form W-2
  • Utility and cable bills, either toss once next one arrives or keep up to a year (longer if needed for tax purposes)
  • Credit Card statements, discard after one year unless needed for tax purposes
  • Quarterly brokerage, IRA, mutual fund statements, keep until you receive the annual statement
  • Bank statements, keep 1 year
  • Car registration and insurance, keep until updated
  • Medical Explanations of Benefits, keep 1 year, but if you qualify for medical tax deductions, 7 years.

KEEP LONG TERM

  • Deed, keep as long as you own the house
  • Records showing what you spent on home improvements until you sell the house (proves value to potential buyers and could offset expenses of home value has increased significantly)
  • Car title or lease, keep as long as you own or lease the vehicle
  • Receipts for major purchases keep until the warranty expires
  • Receipts for big-ticket purchases, keep as long as you have the item, in case you need to make an insurance claim
  • Insurance policies, keep as long as effective
  • Documents for tax purposes, such as receipts you’ll itemize, (IRS recommends keeping 7 years after filing, in case you need to file an amended return or if questions arise)
  • Records showing how much was contributed to and withdrawn from IRAs and 401(k)s
  • Documentation of the cost basis for investments, whether purchased, inherited, or received as a gift, as long as held, then retained for 7 years after included in tax filing

KEEP PERMANENTLY

  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce papers
  • Military records
  • Birth certificates
  • Wills, Power of Attorney, etc.
  • Death certificates
  • Proof of repayment of student loans, mortgages and other debts
  • Copies of all tax returns with W-2s, which could be useful to correct erroneous Social Security earnings mistakes