Help… How Do I Organize My Receipts?

by Guest Contributor

One of our readers, Lynne, asks our organizer Jessica Duquette:

Message: Desperately need help with deciding how long and where to keep the following:
1. receipts
2. bills
3. cards (birthday, mother’s day, anniversary)
4. inspirational writings, quotes, etc.

Jessica says:

Jessica Duquette - Professional OrganizerGreetings, Desperately, you are not alone! Most of us were not born with the filing gene. The good news is, in the past ten or so years, the office supply industry, along with the ever-growing organizing industry has made great strides in developing cool and inexpensive solutions for our day-to-day woes. I just wonder…how did our moms do it without all the nifty items we have now?

So…

Here are a few recommendations for you.

Receipts

Most people keep WAY too many receipts! Remember, there are only a few reasons to save a receipt; for warranty or insurance purposes, if the purchase has tax consequences or if you think you might return the item in the near future. Here is my recommendation for each of these: (please check with your CPA or tax preparer for the final word)

possible returns: I have my clients make a special folder called Internet/Return Receipts. This folder is like a way station for receipts that you may need to access in the near future. I would keep it handy, either in the front of your file cabinet if you have easy access to your files, or in a desktop file holder in the ‘command center’ of your home. No command center?

Office OrganizersQuick tip: use one of these to hold the frequently-used files, such as contact and emergency numbers, school and sports information, directions, tickets to events, etc. You can make a separate file for each of the kids, or one for each family activity.

This pretty one is only $30.00 at Neiman-Marcus.

(By the way, these are NOT affiliate links.)

Or the more utilitarian version from Decoflex ($14.95). (You can find these at any office supply store.)

Decoflex FolderHere’s how I suggest using this handy folder:

If you order something online and are waiting for it’s arrival, or if you are not sure you want to keep something you have bought at a retail store, you don’t have to go digging around through the piles or furiously looking through your purse or the floor of the car, just toss the receipts in this one handy folder. When you know you are going to return something, then you can tape the receipt to the item and put it by the front door so you can take it to your car— again, no frantic looking, it’s all in one place! You can also keep any rebate information in this folder until the rebate check comes. Just remember to clear out this folder every 3-4 months so it doesn’t get too full.

warranty proof of purchase & inventory: Another reason to keep receipts is to prove you purchased the item for one reason or another. This category includes items that are under warranty, such as electronics or large appliances, or expensive items such as artwork, antiques, jewelry or any item valued over $250.00. (please check with your homeowner’s insurance company about your policy) for insurance purposes.

I call this folder Inventory and I would keep it in your regular file cabinet, as you won’t be needing this file very often.

Some people prefer to keep their warranties and the receipt in a separate folder with the manuals. That works, too!

For the inventory receipts, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of the file in an offsite location, in case anything happens to your home. You can scan the receipts and email them to a friend, or keep them in your gmail account if you have one, or you can make copies and keep it with a friend or family member.

Receipts with a tax consequence: Don’t know what to keep and what to toss? Join the club! Unless you’ve just read the most recent version of the Federal Tax code (a mere 13,000+ pages!), it’s pretty confusing, but we all just do the best we can. My advice is to ask your CPA if they have a record retention schedule for individuals. If they do, I would just put it right in the front of my files so that I can refer to it easily when I need to. Meanwhile, the rest of us can rely on Real Simple Magazine’s breakdown for keeping receipts or Bankrate.com’s printable chart.

Again, before you start tossing or shredding willy-nilly, I would fax the schedule to your CPA for approval. Each CPA has their own opinion and each state has their own regulations. Believe it or not, even though you can be audited and fined for non-compliance, there is no such thing as an ‘official’ record retention schedule from the IRS. The closest you can come is IRS Publication 552, Record Keeping for Individuals (.pdf version)

Speaking of shredding, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure you have a cross-cut or diamond shredder in your house to protect your identity. We’ve all heard horror stories and identity theft is one of the fastest-growing non-violent crimes these days and it’s only getting worse as the thieves get more sophisticated. I don’t mean for you to get paranoid, just please be smart.

(And I wouldn’t buy the cheapest shredder, they break easily and it’s frustrating to use, if you can swing it, I would go for one around $50-60, I promise you, it’s worth it.)

By the way, if you are in the habit of making donations to charity or your local thrift shop, please read this informative post on charitable giving and tax deductions from my blog, The best Tax Deduction system for your thrift shop donations.

Bills

Mail SorterI keep my bills right in my face in a mail sorter so I don’t forget to pay them on time. When they are mixed up with other paperwork they have a tendency to disappear.

This Wire Mesh Letter Sorter from Staples is only $9.00.

For me, it works best to have a rhythm about paying, so I use my online calendar reminder and set it for every Thursday. I get an email that reminds me to pay any bills that are due before the following Thursday. Honestly, I live my life by my reminder emails! Microsoft Outlook has a great reminder system, but I also hear that Google Calendar works wonders for event reminders as well and it’s free!

Google Calendar

Greeting Cards

I am not a big collector of greeting cards, but I am imagining you mean ones that you have purchased but not yet sent. There are some really nice solutions out there for greeting card holders that divide the cards into categories such as birthday, thank you, anniversary, etc. You can even sort them by month so you remember who gets a card each month of the year. Very handy. They are cost-effective enough that you can use a separate one for cards you have received, but I would encourage you to be careful of not piling up the collection of cards you have received. What happens whenever we have TOO MANY or TOO MUCH of something, all of it loses it’s meaning to us. It just becomes another clutter pile, rather than a collection of meaningful items. You may want to weed through and keep just a few of the ones that are really special and put them in your treasure box of sentimental items.

Card organizerIf you are not a “greeting card person” (like me!), Hallmark has a fantastic selection of online greeting cards that you can send via email. I like that it saves a tree and leaves no clutter! (If the receiver wants a memento, they can always print out a copy.)

This greeting card organizer box is only $5.00 from Barnes & Noble.

Inspirational Writings, quotes, etc.

I have been thinking about this solution for the last few weeks and I have come up with a 3 tiered approach for these. (By the way, I keep my favorites on post-it’s in a little mail sorter on my desk. Every once in a while, I pick one up and read it. It’s not neat and ‘Martha Stewarty’, but it works for me!)

First and again, remember that when you have too much of something, all of it loses it’s potency and meaning. Whatever you are amassing just becomes a large lump of clutter that clogs your visual field and drains your energy. I would recommend weeding through and keeping only the quotes and sayings that deeply touch your heart. Trust that when it’s time for you to know something or hear something, it will be revealed to you. Sometimes, making room allows new inspiration to come in to your life.

The favorite quotes that inspire for a lifetime I would print out in a nice font on the computer or in calligraphy if possible and you can buy a frame that fits your budget and hang it somewhere where it will always remind you of it’s message.

framesFor other quotes that are more of a temporary lift, you can hang them on your fridge or bathroom mirror on a post-it. Some people use Children’s artwork frames for this purpose, at $25, they are a bit pricey, but the holidays are coming up!

And finally, for the long-term classics, you can simply keep a folder called Inspiration in your file cabinet and pop the quotes in there any time they come your way. * This is a good place to keep the quotes that come in and out of your changeable frame!

Well, Desperately, I hope this helps!

Remember, I am on your team,

Warmly,

Jessica Duquette from
It’s Not About Your Stuff



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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mcewen December 16, 2006 at 11:36 am

A word to the wise – I have noted that till receipts [the one's given by the checker in stores] often fade way before 3 months [although that might be because of sunlight[?]] Cheers

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2 Mike W November 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Check out this website. It stores all of your receipts and warranties as well as looking after your finances. No more faded receipts! With warranties, it will even warn you when it’s going to expire. Best of all it’s free.

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3 Mike W November 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Sorry, new to this, thought the website box above would show! Check out http://www.docketbank.com!!

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4 Chaotic Mom December 16, 2006 at 2:10 pm

This is a VERY cool post, and well timed for me. I’m in my office today, specifically tackling the filing papers. YEAH for The Organizer’s advice! ;)

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5 Rona December 16, 2006 at 11:44 pm

I really appreciate you responding to her question. This is very helpful information. And I love the organizer from Neiman-Marcus.

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6 Angel Cope December 20, 2006 at 8:28 pm

One thing i do with clothes I buy for my girls, especially if I buy them and there is going to be time before they wear them, is staple the receipt to the tag. Parisian is an example that if I keep the receipt I can return it next year and still get my money back. So I buy clothes at the end of a season, and staple the receipt. If it doesn’t fit them next year, I have the receipt right where I need it. This is great for any clothing or anything that has tags.

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7 Shawna May 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

I like to keep my receipts online so I can easily search for them or sort by date, amount, etc. If it’s something that I have to find a place to file it away then it will likely stay on my desk forever!

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8 Shawna May 26, 2008 at 12:37 pm

A great place to do this is http://www.mythings.com .

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9 Otis September 18, 2009 at 4:56 am

This is the only way forward if i’m honest…

http://www.billbandit.co.uk

Ingenious. Wish i’d found it sooner =]

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