Connect the Dots
You can create your budget by going through your check register but income tax time is especially apropos because it’s when you are forced to take an inventory of your financial life. All the receipts of your life will be gathered in one place for review. It’s also an ideal time to set up a working file system. Why sift through collections of random receipts left crumpled in the bottom of your purse or shoved into your briefcase when you could quite simply pull out a few file folders and add up columns of related figures? The goal of an organized life is always to give you control. And that’s something that makes all of use feel powerful, isn’t it?
There are organizers who will tell you to put all related papers in file folders and place them alphabetically in a file cabinet or box. I think there’s a better way. Yes, you do want to sort your papers and keep all related papers together in file folders. But very often there will be many parts to a particular category or project. Keeping all related file folders together helps make you more powerful. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you are part of a large family and live in an automobile centric city like Los Angeles. Dad drives a Buick; mom has a Chevy; Junior restored a classic Porsche and baby sister drives a VW Bug. If each vehicle gets a folder to house DMV papers, purchase or lease agreements, repairs and maintenance etc. the family’s transportation information is going to be scattered throughout the file cabinet. What if we took something called a box bottom hanging file folder that was two inches wide on the bottom and placed all of the automobile information there in alphabetical order? There would be a tab on the hanging folder that announced the subject and individual file folders in alphabetical order inside. It might look like this:
Automobiles (file tab title):
(Individual file folders:)
Buick Le Saber
I can gather all kinds of information in this way. It makes working on a project that much easier when all the related pieces are in close proximity. Of course I‘m not suggesting you only use box bottom hanging file folders. The single variety will form the basis of your system. These specialty folders give you an option to be even more streamlined. In all of my books I give detailed instructions for setting up a system. Check out One Year to an Organized Life or One Year to an Organized Work Life depending on whether it’s home or work that poses your biggest challenge in terms of volume of material to be corralled. You’ll also find ways to use binders and project boxes for some of your projects should you be a person who craves variety.
America’s Favorite Soap Opera
You might think I’m about to write about The Young & the Restless or General Hospital but actually what I have in mind is The Continuing Nightmare of Tax Season! For many the dread, anxiety and headaches are as much a part of this time of year as hay fever, the basketball finals and the start of baseball season. I truly believe that the best way to break a destructive pattern is to understand how it began. Take a few minutes and grab a notebook you will enjoy writing in over time. After all I’ll have questions for you each month no matter the topic.
To get the ball rolling ask yourself the following questions:
· What was your childhood experience of money? Did you have enough or were your parents always hustling to make ends meet? Did mom and dad live on a budget or did they shoot from the financial hip making each month a crapshoot?
· Were either of your parents organized? Did tax time present any special strain on them in terms of gathering the information and doing the paperwork?
· Did your parents have different styles when it came to handling money or did they present a united front?
· Is your household run exactly like your childhood home? Do your kids hear the same complaints and experience the same arguments? Is it possible that at some level this reenactment is comforting to you? Or have you created something totally different as an unconscious form of rebellion against what you grew up with?
The Bottom Line
Whether it’s finance or organizing or any other aspect of life, we pretty much replicate what we saw as children or we rebel against it. What have you done in terms of finance? If tax time is a nightmare in your home, you won’t be surprised to observe it was like this when you were a child. The powerful thing about uncovering a connection to the past is that we are free to change the experience. Of course money represents a special charge, doesn’t it? Your change is more likely to be gradual than galvanic. It doesn’t really matter as long as you are always making incremental change for the better. A file system is the foundation for all aspects of your financial life. Tax time ease and a working budget are two of the positive by products. Give it a try. What have you got to lose but some of the drama, stress and strain of the past?