I broke down my file cabinet into 5 colored zones and it made a world of difference!
A few years ago I did a complete overhaul of our household filing cabinet. I distinctly remember doing this while my son was a baby and took two naps a day. He's now seven-years-old and I really miss those naps! But I digress. I remember discovering the blog A Bowl Full of Lemons by Toni Hammersley and being hooked. She came out with this blog post on Filing System Organization and I modeled my system after hers.
I used her color coded system:
Green = Bills & Banking
Orange = Taxes & Income
Red = Medical & Pets
Yellow = House & Auto
Blue = Misc
Instead of using actual file folders in those specific colors like she did, I just colored the tabs. I had a bunch of colored paper on hand so I just cut out tabs that fit in the folder slots and I still have paper leftover for new tabs. I'm all about making organizational systems easy and efficient and I could just see myself needing a new file for the Bills & Banking section but not having a green file folder (gasp!)! so I wanted something that I could easily recreate without hassle. Not to mention that I had a big box of the standard hanging file folders in the drab green color so I wanted to use what I had and not have to buy new.
Here's how I broke down my categories and subcategories:
BILLS & BANKING (Green)
Student loans / Higher Education Trust
Utility bills (electric, gas, heating, lawn service, phone, internet, sewer and water)
TAXES & INCOME (Orange)
All current year tax related documents
Annual tax paperwork (1 folder for each year, going back 7 years)
Social Security statements
Professional licenses & certifications
Recommendation letters & resumes
MEDICAL & PETS (Red)
Medical info (1 folder for each family member including our kitty)
Dental (1 folder for each family member)
Life insurance policies
Paid Doctor's bills
HOUSE & AUTO (Yellow)
Car Note / Repairs
Home Improvements / Maintenance
Insurance & Policies (Home, Auto)
(Many of this info I also have in a fireproof safe including our will, passports and other vital documents.)
Memberships (Sam's, Costco)
Travel (info on upcoming vacations, maps)
School info (my son's school handbook, report cards, school correspondence)
I have made very few tweaks to this system as it just goes to show once you hit upon something that works for you, don't mess with it! These files are kept in a 2-drawer lateral filing cabinet in our office space. Next to the cabinet we keep our shredder and every 6-months or so I go through and weed things out. Some folks might not save utility statements once they pay them, but we like to keep them for 6-mos or so to track our budget and expenses.
Obviously this works best for our family and household makeup, but it won't suit everyone. All I can say is find a system that works for you and stick with it. I'm no tax expert on documentation and record retention so please consult with your accountant or tax advisor on what to keep and how long. As a reference you can check out Dave Ramsey's guidelines HERE.
How do you store your family's paperwork?