As you can see from the photo above, it is time to clean out my Finance Binder in preparation for the New Year! I have been using this system for the past two years and it has worked well for me. I am a paper person and prefer tangible methods of planning and organizing vs. online spreadsheets and other digital methods. (I’ll talk about this later but I do have a subscription to a Dave Ramsey online budget tracker that I find works well with my binder system). Since I prefer to receive my bills and send my payments through the mail, I need a really good way of keeping everything organized. This way, I am not searching for bills when it is time to pay them and if I need to call a company, I have easy access to previous month’s bills.
I researched and tried several ideas before I finally came to this method. This might not work for everyone. Or parts of this might work for you combined with someone else’s ideas too! Try different things until you find out whatever works for you and then stick with it!
Get a large 3 ring binder. I think mine is 2 1/2 inches but you could go larger. Remember that your binder will be full by the end of the year (see photo above for my end of 2015 photo). I like the binders with the clear pouches on the covers so that I can make it look pretty. I cut scrapbook paper to fit in the pouches. I wrote “Finances” on a large label and stuck it on the scrapbook paper before putting it in the pouch. On the side I used a marker to write “Finances” lengthwise. You could easily print labels instead of writing if you want too. You could also change out your paper if you get bored with it. I’ve kept mine the same for the past two years because it matches other binders I have put together on the same bookshelf.
When I open my binder, here is what it looks like. I always have a highlighter, pen, and stamps ready to go. I also keep the blank checks that my credit card company sends in the pocket in case I ever need to use them. I usually do not use them so shred them after they expire. As you can see the first set of dividers are clear and have pockets. I have three different types of dividers in my binder in three different sections but you can use whatever works for you.
My first set of dividers are labeled: Bills/Debt Checklists, Monthly Budgets, Savings Trackers, Expense Receipts, & Template Copies.
Bills/Debt Checklists is the tab I utilize the most. I keep a form that I can check off as I pay my bills. This is a quick glance list so that I know if there is something I still need to pay or not. Check = paid, blanks = not paid, X = no payment that month. I also have a debt tracker. I list the debt or bills that I divide payments throughout the year. Each month, I write what the outstanding balance for that debt is. Most of these will decrease throughout the year. Some, like the credit card(s), may fluctuate. And others, like dance class, will depend on class changes and costume costs. [I found and paid to download these printables at: Clean Mama’s Printables]
An EXCITING side note: As you can see, four of our debts are completely paid off right now!!! In 2015, we really worked hard to pay off our smallest debts so that we could put more money into our bigger debts or into extra expenses that came up unexpectedly. I have left them listed because any one of them could become debt again if we decide to use the credit cards or if we have unexpected dental or braces work that needs to happen. It is also really encouraging to see the accumulating X marks which show how hard we have worked!
Here is what it looks like filled out for the whole year.
Monthly Budgets is for when I want to print a copy of my online budget or if I want to do a simplified quick outline for the month. I do not utilize this tab very often but it is there if I need it. Like I said above, I use Dave Ramsey’s online Gazelle budget program. They are taking the website down sometime in 2016 and are not taking new subscribers so I won’t bother posting the link. However, they do have a new option at: www.everydollar.com. I have started my January budget in the new program and for me it will take some getting used to but I have been pleased with their old program and have every confidence that their new one will be good too. I like how it automatically calculates income and expenses for me. Since I am not a math person, this makes budgeting easy for me.
Savings Trackers are for when I am saving for something specific, like a vacation, or a big purchase. I will put a chart of some sort (check pinterest!) and keep track of how much I have set aside for that purpose.
Expense Receipts is where I keep track of payments or donations towards things that I can claim come tax return time. I find a basic expense tracking printable (check pinterest!) and I keep the receipts in the divider pocket for easy access.
Template Copies is where I keep original copies of blank forms that I know I will use again (like the ones posted above). This way I can just make new copies instead of having to track down which website or file I printed them from.
This section is where I keep my bills. I have a divider for each company that I receive bills from. I have extra dividers in case I need to add any bills later in the year.
When it is time for me to pay bills, I write the check and get them ready to mail, punch holes in the invoice, highlight the due date & minimum payment, staple the check copy to the invoice, and put it in the binder behind the appropriate divider. Some bills are automatically paid through my checking account so they will not have check copies attached. If a bill comes with multiple sheets (like the cell phone bill) I make sure they are all stapled together. Every new bill goes on top of the previous month’s bills. This way if I need to access the most recent bill it is right on top with no searching. Some of the invoices are full sheet and others are half sheets (after the part that is mailed with the check is torn off). The half sheets I alternate to either the top or bottom of the binder. For example, my mortgage invoices are in the top two binder rings and the electric invoices are in the bottom two binder rings. This helps the binder be more balanced. Here is what one invoice looks like when I am finished with it:
The last section contains two-sided folder dividers. These can hold whatever I might need them for: envelopes, payment booklets, etc. I also use them for bank statements that come in the mail.
We get paid once a month from our primary income source. Since most of our bills are due within the first week of the month, I sit down to pay bills during the last week of the previous month (i.e. I prepared January’s bills during the last week of December). In the past, I have had a folder that is kept right next to my finance binder. As soon as I get a bill in the mail, I immediately put it in the folder. When it is time for me to do bills, they are all in one place and I do not have to search for them. I then spend time prepping all my bills to go in the mail and utilizing my binder system routine. This year, I found a calendar file system! I have hung it right next to my bookshelf that holds my finance binder. I am going to put bills into the file as they arrive in the mail. I will also put receipts that I need to save or things that I need to look at later in the file. The calendar will be convenient for a quick glance of dates or info I need to remember (without having to pull out my day planner). The files can be torn off each month and added to a filing cabinet or box to refer to later. I have not decided what I will keep in them after I tear them off but I’m sure I will think of something! I found this calendar at Hobby Lobby but I am sure something similar could be found in other stores too.
I should also mention that I have always been responsible for money management in our household. I am just way more organized in this area than my husband ever would be. He prefers that I do it and I enjoy doing it. However, that does not mean that he has no say in the finances. My binder system and online budget make it very easy for me to show him exactly where our money is going. We have together made major financial decisions and being organized has been essential to lessen our financial stress!
I hope this binder system gives some of you inspiration! I would love to hear about binder systems that you have created and how they work for you! Feel free to share your ideas in the comments!