Friday, 25 January 2013

Sorting out the filing

So this post has been a long long time coming.

When we moved into our current house 15 months ago, we finally got ourselves a filing cabinet. Before that filing was a bit hit and miss. We used a combination of methods that Mr PTC and I had used pre-marriage, neither of which worked, and none of which made sense for us as a couple.

Having a filing cabinet I was determined that things would get filed away neatly, regularly and in clearly categorised hanging files. Well, 12 months after getting the cabinet we have finally finished! I started 12 months ago, and then left everything for the best part of a year. We knew where the important stuff was, and we had a pile for filing, and that is how it got left for a WHOLE YEAR! I cannot believe that we let that happen.

Crunch time came with applying for our mortgage at the same time as the tax return becoming urgent. You can tell something is wrong when we normally do the tax return in the early Autumn (about the time we have all the relevant documentation to complete the forms), but this time we waited until January when the deadline is fast approaching. We suddenly needed bank statements from 2011 and proof of all sorts of things from the last 5 years for our mortgage. Eeeek!

So filing became a priority.

Well, we have finally achieved it. I have a huge box full of confidential waste (to be burnt as fire-lighter, or shredded), we recycled another huge box full of paper, and the rest is now neatly categorised in the filing cabinet.

My method.

1. Figure out categories. You don't need to keep everything. Certainly, keep bank statements, anything that proves your address etc, but you don't need to be keeping random bits of junkmail from mail order companies. Do, however keep any mail order company details you might need such as account numbers. Then write a list of categories.

For example

  • One file for each bank account (we have a joint account, savings accounts etc.).
  • Credit card statements
  • Council Tax letters
  • Tax returns
  • Warranties
  • Manuals (this might move to a file at some point).
  • Car stuff (includes MOT certificates, insurance certificates etc.)
  • Work (includes bonus letters, contracts etc).
  • Personal documents (paper counterpart to drivers licences, birth certificates, passports, vaccination records)
  • Household (includes our current lease, copies of the inventory from when we moved in).
  • Insurance (contents/home insurance documents

Basically if you have something that doesn't fit, make a category for it. It is a lot easier to find something that is in a labelled file, even if it is all by its lonesome. With our bank accounts, because we have so many, each file actually has the account number on it so I can quickly determine which one is which.

Label each hanging file appropriately, then put in alphabetical order. The exception to that in my book is that I put all of our bank accounts at the front, with everything else behind, but alphabetical.

2. Keep items for the relevant time period. Now for a health warning. I am not a financial adviser, so please take this with a pinch of salt. However, I was completely surprised that we would need to provide the mortgage company with details going back 5 years. This even meant utility bills to prove our address (for some reason bank statements were not acceptable for this for the particular bank we are using). Luckily we had that information, but in the past utility bills have only been kept for 1 year. In general, I would suggest keeping stuff for 5 or 6 years. If you own a business it needs to be longer (I think HMRC can check your business tax return up to 7 years after you filed the return, which makes it nearly 10 years after you actually received the bank statement etc.). If in doubt, ask the advice of a professional.

3. Sort and file. This is the last, obvious, and least enjoyable step. Yes, you really just have to sit there and do it. Once the files are in alphabetical order it is actually quite quick. You just pull out the drawer and sit there and file. Easy peasy. Honest!

That's it. Three simple {ahem} steps. Now I won't kid you this is a boring task, hence why it took me sooooo long. But now it is done I am actually keeping on top of my filing (it has only been 2 weeks). I know myself well enough that this won't last, so I will start using a 'to-file' box at some point. However, hopefully it will never get this out of control again as we now have a system.

To summarise:

1. Categorise: come up with a list of hanging file names and sort alphabetically.
2. Chuck away items that are too old. 5 to 10 years is a great point to start at. 
3. Sort and file.

Then sit back, get a cup of tea and glow with joy at having organised paperwork... or is that just me?

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com

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