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Important Documents: What to Keep and for How Long

You might be surprised how many people have important financial documents scattered all over the house – on the kitchen table, underneath old newspapers, in the hall closet, in the basement. If this describes your financial “filing system”, you may have a tough time keeping tabs on your financial life.

Organization will help you, your advisors… and even your heirs. If you’ve got a meeting scheduled with an accountant, financial consultant, mortgage lender or insurance agent, spare yourself a last-minute scavenger hunt. Take an hour or two to put things in good order. If nothing else, do it for your heirs. When you pass, they will be contending with emotions and won’t want to search through your house for this or that piece of paper. Here is a short list of what you need to keep and why:

Investment statements. Organize them by type: IRA statements, 401(k) statements, mutual fund statements. The annual statements are the ones that really matter; you may decide to forego filing the quarterlies or monthlies. When it comes to your IRA or 401(k), is it wise to retain your Form 8606s (which report nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs), your Form 5498s (the “Fair Market Value Information” statements that your IRA custodian sends you each May), and your Form 1099-Rs (which report IRA income distributions). In addition, you will want to retain any record of your original investment in a fund or a stock. (This will help you determine capital gains or losses. Your annual statement will show you the dividend or capital gains distribution.)

Bank statements. If you have any fear of being audited, keep the last three years’ worth of them on file. You may question whether the paper trail has to be that long, but under certain circumstances (lawsuit, divorce, past debts) it may be wise to keep more than three years of statements on file.

Credit card statements. These are less necessary to have around than many people think, but you might want to keep any statements detailing tax-related purchases for up to seven years.

Mortgage documents, mortgage statements and HELOC statements. As a rule, keep mortgage statements for the ownership period of the property plus seven years. As for your mortgage documents, you may wish to keep them for the ownership period of the property plus ten years (though your county recorder’s office likely has copies).

Your annual Social Security benefits statement. Keep the most recent one, as it shows your earnings record from the day you started working. Please note, however: if you see an error, you will want to have your W-2 or tax return for the particular year on hand to help Social Security correct it.

Federal and state tax returns. The IRS wants you to hang onto your returns until the period of limitations runs out – that is, the time frame in which you can claim a credit or refund. The standard IRS audit looks at your past three years of federal tax records. So you need to keep three years of federal (and state) tax records on hand, and up to seven years to be really safe. Tax records pertaining to real property or “real assets” should be kept for as long as you own the asset (and for at least seven years after you sell, exchange or liquidate it).3

Payroll statements. What if you own a business or are self-employed? Retain your payroll statements for seven years or longer, just in case the IRS comes knocking.

Employee benefits statements. Does your company issue these to you annually or quarterly? Keep at least the most recent year-end statement on file.

Insurances. Life, disability, health, auto, home… you want the policies on file, and you want policy information on hand for the life of the policy plus three years.

Medical records and health insurance. The consensus says you should keep these documents around for five years after the surgery or the end of treatment. If you think you can claim medical expenses on your federal return, keep them for seven years.

Warranties. You only need them until they expire. When they expire, toss them.

Utility bills. Do you need to keep these around for more than a month? No, you really don’t. Check last month’s statement against this month’s, then get rid of last month’s bill. Plus, most utility information is available online long-term.

One file cabinet may suffice for all of this. You might prefer a few storage boxes, or stack-able units. If this seems like too much paper to file or you want to get very sophisticated, use a scanner to store financial records on your computer. Remember to keep backups. You might want to have the hard copies on file just in case your hard drive and/or your flash drive go awry.

This guest post was written by the family financial advising team at Blough Financial Services. They handle accumulation and wealth management (mutual funds, managed assets, savings), lifestyle preservation (disability, life insurance, long-term care), and retirement savings (pensions, income annuities, social security). Contact them at 724-884-6487 or robert.blough.jr@ceterafs.com

BloughR-2908BloughR-2899Marianne Bio Pic 3

It’s Easy Being Green – AND Organized!

Kermit-the-muppets-3206566-1024-768As a professional organizer, I use the word simplify in my daily vocabulary. We’ve all heard the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”. But what not everyone recognizes is that ‘simplify’ is just a more palatable synonym for ‘reduce’. I’m, quite frankly, in the business of reducing.  It’s no mistake that ‘reduce’ comes first in the mantra. Our culture often obsesses about the end game, but recycling is actually the last step. The goal is to acquire less, creatively reuse what makes sense and recycle what you can. The good news is there are many resources locally and nationally to help!

 

Reduce

Shop with the idea of ENOUGH in mind.  When you know what ‘enough’ is, your inventory of possessions stays consistent.  Whether it’s in your pantry or your closet, keeping a consistent inventory of items is key to staying organized.  Take this mindset with you to the grocery store and the mall and watch how decision-making changes.  Do I really need this? Where will I put it? And how will I pay for it? Are three questions that change the way things flow into your life. Thinking outside the box is made easy with great alternatives to purchasing new items. Instead of buying a new second car check out a car-share program. Instead of getting a new dress for a one-time event, try renting instead. It is as simple as using your local library or Netflix instead spending a beautiful inside organizing your books and DVDs.

One of the biggest barriers for people who are ready to simplify their lives is the idea that there needs to be infrastructure to accommodate an organized lifestyle. In reality a significant amount of change can be made without any fancy new bins, cubbies or built in storage. This is because everyone has things to get rid of, but many people try to find a place to put them instead. There are simple tricks to identify what is excess. One of my favorites is to hang all of my clothes in the ‘wrong direction’ at the start of a new season, then as I wear items, turn the hanger back to the ‘right direction’ when I hang them again. If by the end of the season I have not worn something, as proven by the hanger position, I get rid of it. You can adapt this trick to work with lots of aspects of your life: books, holiday decorations, cleaning supplies, files, dishes, and sports equipment. This is a way to prove to yourself that it is unused and ready to be let go.

Reuse

It has never been easier to resell, repurpose and reuse items. With eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle at your disposal, and even services that sell your items for you, cashing in on clutter is painless.  Pickups can now be scheduled online for the Vets, Salvation Army and Goodwill. These well-known locations are only the tip of the iceberg.  Sites like Earth911 pull together multiple resources so its one stop shopping to find the best home for your items.  These outlets coupled with the resurgence of the DIY trend, popular on sites like Pinterest and Etsy, make this a great time to give your unwanted stuff new life!

Recycle

It is possible to get stuck if you don’t know what to do with the items that you have already decided to get rid of.  No one wants their home to look like a recycling center because they are paralyzed by all the rules.  A green organizer knows the rules and helps you check with your local municipality to see what can be recycled. They also have resources for collections of special items. Some companies like ours take items to a warehouse where they are delivered to or picked up by proper companies.

Green organizers not only help you decide what to get rid and how to do it responsibly, they set up systems that work as long term solutions. When you want to get organized, think green! Reach out to an expert that can help you in making the right decisions about your stuff, your space, and your planet.

Check out the version published on Angies List: http://www.angieslist.com/articles/get-organized-going-green.htm

Spring Cleaning

We look forward to spring for many reasons; warmer weather, longer days, blooming trees and flowers, spring break, free Rita’s Italian Ice (for those of you Pittsburghers out there)… the list goes on. You might notice that the phenomenon of spring cleaning did not make that list. The human instinct to migrate outdoors to attend to our neglected homesteads as the weather gets warmer gets a bad rap, but as you might imagine, I am a fan of this time of year. I am here to tell you how you can make spring cleaning more fun and less stressful!

Maintenance
Once the snow melts and the ice thaws you might notice some areas of the house that need attention. It can be overwhelming! At my house we created a preventative maintenance schedule so that we can stay on track instead of waiting to address problems until they are hemorrhaging. There are good checklists on House Master if you do not already have one.

Simplifying
Changing seasons offer a great opportunity to downsize. Did not touch your skis all winter? Still have not worn that fur coat or those winter boots that you have been trying to for years? Have the kids become teens and grown out of their sleds or other winter equipment? Use the seasons as a test. If you went all winter without using something, you probably will not use it next winter either! You can apply this to things that are not seasonal. For example, go through your pantry, donate the staples that you never use.

Make it FUN!
I know, I know, you do not think ‘fun’ and ‘spring cleaning’ should be in the same sentence.  I always had the most fun with spring cleaning when my children were younger and always excited to help with projects like painting or gardening because they were also learning along the way. Re-frame spring cleaning as family bonding time instead of chore time. Introduce incentives. My kids participated in everything from dusting races to competitions on who could pull a bigger pile of weeds!

However, if you have an empty nest like I do now, you can still spice up your spring cleaning. If you are tackling the whole house, tuning all of the radios in the house to your favorite station so that you sing along as you take trips up and down the stairs is always nice. It is also satisfying to stick with one room or area until it is finished. The size is more manageable so the satisfaction you get from completing that space reassures you that your punch list is doable.

Ironing in 2013

Ironing in 2013

Monopoly Iron

Monopoly Iron

At the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show last week, one of the most popular aspects of our booth was the compact ironing board! You can see it this KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live segment. This was partially because it discretely folded up into a drawer and also because some of our visitors unsure what it was. This inspired me to do a little bit of research on ironing.

Turns out that Less than 29.7% of Americans still iron their clothes on a regular basis. This makes sense now that most fabrics have polyester and cotton components. This blend was created to reduce the need to iron and the term ‘permanent press’ was born. This switch towards ironless fabrics was somewhat commemorated by the game, Monopoly, getting rid of their iron token this year. It was a croundsourced decision hosted on facebook. Fans chose to replace the iron with a cat.

I also found a statistic that 40% of Americans who do iron, iron in their underwear. This makes perfect sense. It suggests that ironing is an afterthought and no longer a common household chore. However, most of us still dedicate valuable wall space to an ironing board hanger or mount.

If you are still ironing, why use valuable wall space for an unaesthetic ironing board? Check out some of our ideas for ironing board storage alternatives on Pinterest.

Spicey Organizing

Spicey Organizing

http://www.houzz.com/built-in-spice-rack

http://www.houzz.com/built-in-spice-rack

We often find clients who  have too much spice in there lives!  Oftentimes people want to cook more but are having trouble making time.  They over-buy in case they ever get the opportunity there will not be any barriers, they will have everything they need.  Some people identify providing with having everything they can possibly think of on hand.  It is their way of showing their love.  These people purchase spices (and other items) “just in case”. Others have inventory issues.  Either, they do not know or cannot see what they have.  This is a vicious cycle because spices tend to get lost behind other spices.  No matter what the root of the problem is, keeping spices in an appropriate place and for the right amount of time can make a difference.

Seven Day Challenge
If you want to find out which of your spices are actually active, try this trick.  Turn all your spices upside down and go through a week of your normal cooking habits.  When you use a spice, return it to the cabinet right side up and at the end of the week it will be easy to see what you actually use!  Active spices can go on a more available shelf or in a spice drawer.  A good rule of thumb is to keep the number of active spices to what can fit in the front row of your spice area.

A-B-C Order?
As an professional organizer, I get this comment all the time.  “You are so organized, you probably alphabetize your spices”. Truth be told, I have one shelf that is grab and go for active spices and then another shelf for less used favorites, which are sorted by size and are generally in alphabetical order.  Alphabetizing the spices helps me because often times the labels are covered by other spices but when they are in order I have a better idea of where to reach.  This is not necessarily for everyone but works well when not all of your spices can be fully displayed.

Stadium Seating Please
Keeping things visual is key.  That is why I put all the small jars together, in front of the larger jars.  It’s just easier to see.  My husband measured and cut a small piece of scrap wood so I could elevate the back row and see it better.  I do not recommend any of the shelf extenders that stack spices three deep because I find that I knock items off the shelf when I try to get to the back row. I will admit that I do get joy from buying the same brand when I can so the shelf looks tidy.

Keeping It Fresh
Spices last for a few years before they start to loose their kick, but they will never spoil.  If your spices are on the outs, I buy smaller jars for things I use less of and resist the urge to buy large amounts to save money by thinking of quality first.  Storage of large spice containers can be a problem.  To increase their shelf life, do not store spices directly next to heat because they will lose their freshness faster.

Check out my Pinterest for ideas!

There’s An App For That…

I have an App for thatIn my last blog post I mentioned how there is an app for everything? Well I thought that I should elaborate and tell you about some of my favorite apps that I find useful!

Shoeboxed (Free) The fastest way to turn a pile of receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation. Snap a photo of your receipt and create an expense report on your phone that will sync with QuickBooks, Wave Accounting, Xero, Excel, FreshBooks Outright, Xero or dozens of other tools. Great for those little business expenses that used to get lost in the shuffle. Be aware that there can be some fees incorporated into the app if you start using it heavily. Free Runner Ups: PaperPhobic, Expensify & Skyclerk

MyFitnessPal (Free) First of all, it is not just fitness. Although it tracks that, most intriguing is it’s ability to read a bar-code on an item and add it’s nutritional information to what you’ve eaten. Many restaurants are getting on board to input their menus into it’s already massive database of over 2 million foods. Plus, you can add your own foods, like your famous chili, and it will remember it for next time. You can access your info from a computer as well but you do not need Internet to use the actual app and the social aspect of it is optional. The app even helps calculate how many calories you need to eat/burn to reach your weight goals.

My Gratitude Journal ($0.99) This is one of my personal favorites! Just write down five things you are grateful for each day. You can add photos, rate the day, record the weather and bookmark days. I have seen my attitude change by using this app. Even when I am not having a great day, it forces me to see the silver lining. Free Runner Ups: Gratitude Diary & iGratitude

Daily Tracker ($9.99) This app tracks just about anything. Whether you are organizing your notes or to-do lists, counting calories or pushups, tracking sleep or expenses, Daily Tracker can do it. If you’re feeling like you already have an app for everything this is the next step, because it allows you to track all of your information within one streamlined app. It also syncs with the cloud. It is definitely pricey, but has great ratings.

Period Plus (Free) Ladies, we have all been there. The doctor asks and you have no clue. You make a mental note to start writing it down but never get around to it. Period Plus knows can even predict your periods, fertile days and ovulation dates for the next 12 months so if you are hoping to get pregnant, this is also a handy tool. Plus you can also track breakouts, breast tenderness, cramp intensity, weight and more. Do not worry, there is a password too. Free Runner Ups: iPeriod, Period Tracker Lite, My Days, Pink Pad Period, Monthly Cycles & Period Diary

Stylebook ($3.99) A visual wardrobe organization and closet management tool that can make a cupboard sized closet seem more like a walk in! Whether you want to make sure you do not wear the same outfit to that second job interview, are packing for a getaway, or want to remember what the clothes you put in crawlspace look like, this is the app for you. It is fun to edit the background out of your pictures and design magazine style outfits. You can include accessories as well! Free Runner Ups: I Wear…, Closet Lite, My Fashion Closet & Stylish Girl & Cool Guy

Task Rabbit (Free) Always wishing you had time for that one last errand or another hand around the house? TaskRabbit can help. It connects you with friendly, reliable people right in your neighborhood who can help you get the items on your To-Do list done, and you set the price. Task Rabbits go through a thorough application process and a screening so you can be confident that they are trustworthy people.

CardMunch (Free) You know when you get the business card of someone you really intend to follow up with, but then lose it? That does not have to happen anymore with CardMunch. Take a picture of the card, it will be converted into a contact entry that can be synced with your address book and if the person has a LinkedIn account, the app will ask if you want to connect.

Some other cool apps I stumbled upon in my research were LastPass, ReQall, Timr, Remember the Milk, BillMinder and HomeRoutines. I’ll let you investigate those on your own!

Get Organized Month!

Getting Organized is one of the top three New Year’s Resolutions every year.  Now that we are a month into the New Year, motivation may be starting to fade. The best thing you can do to keep energized is to add a big dose of accountability!

There’s an app for that…

It is true.  If you are a smart phone user, there are apps for everything from tracking exercise and adding up calories, to tracking mileage and even an app for posting daily gratitude journal entries. Receiving automated nudges from a tool that is almost always by your side is a powerful way to stay on track.  Below are some of my personal app suggestions.

Go Public with Social Media

Studies show that the combination of accountability and group mentality yields powerful results when it comes to meeting goals.  Posting intentions and progress reports make you feel like you have a team behind you cheering you on.  You might even find friends who are working on a similar goal. People from all of your different networks are able to reach out and support you when you share your story.

Dig Deep

Re-connect to the why.  When I have clients that are starting to give up on something, I often ask, “why did you want to do it in the first place?”.  I follow up with a series of why questions to identify the core reasons for making the resolution in the first place.

For example, if I want to work out more in 2013 and you asked me, “why?”, I may say I want to be more fit.  If you asked again, I may say, “I need to stay active”.  Ask a third time, I may explain that I need to be fit to keep up with my husband and kids. The fourth “why?” really makes me think and get to the core; I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with my family and do what we do for a long, long time.  That is what gets me to go out there and get fit!

Most importantly, even if your resolution has had a rocky start, you can’t consider it doomed! Any time of the year is a great time for self improvement. Now get to it!

Holiday Stress: Worth It or Not?

Traditions change. Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but it’s true. If you think about it, year by year new traditions and expectations are added to our holiday celebrations. Relaxation and joy are sometimes replaced with guilt and stress while we try to keep up. Awareness is the first step to making a change.

If you want to make a change start by thinking about the details of your traditions and ask yourself these questions:

  • Think back on how many family traditions got started.
  • Think about the “why” behind each tradition.
  • Is the tradition aligned with your family values?
  • Is it something you “should” do or something you “want” to do?
  • Try to think about the joy/stress ratio for each tradition and ask yourself if the stress is worth it?

Slimming down traditions by asking these questions or at asking these before connecting to new traditions might be a great way to add peace to your holiday season.

 

Back to School: Organizing the Paper – Part Two

PART TWO: THIS YEAR’S PAPERS…

Let me start by saying I would like to pass legislation stating anything that comes home from school and needs my attention should be allowed to be returned to school the next day. It is usually the active papers that are the problem and having a guideline on what is active, what is reference and what is archive is crucial. Getting clarity on this from teachers and students will make all the difference. You will be able to have a streamlined system and you can help your child with this skill. Many times kids are paralyzed with paper too and tend to carry everything in oversized backpacks and overstuffed desks and lockers because they don’t want to be embarrassed by not having what the teacher wants and inevitably this creates a situation that papers get lost in. This skill takes time and support not just verbal instruction. Do it together to build better habits.

Every home needs a LAUNCH PAD or CONTROL CENTER for school papers.

Here are some components for a good launch pad:

  • A one step space for EACH child’s backpack

This will save the day for you. Have a place to hang that backpack and create a procedure for going through it after school. Make sure it’s loaded for the next day and many stresses will disappear with putting that one step into place.

  • A place for important ACTIVE papers

Use a red folder for active papers, I think of them as HOT. Everyone in my house knows where the HOT file is and that it is important and things that belong there are typically safe and not lost!

  • A work space for HOMEWORK

I am a big believer in the dining room table homework area. I like to have that activity under my nose because I have found it’s easier for me to answer questions and keep things on track if they are centralized in the home rather than hiding in a bedroom. So many parents think the answer to a distracted student is a desk in their room but 9 out of 10 times that desk is on Craigslist a year later because it becomes a clutter catcher and not a work space. Using the dining room or kitchen table has other added benefits, it helps to get homework done before dinner because things have to get put away in order to eat. I realize this won’t work for everyone, but take the ideas to your home and see what does work.

  • A place for SCHEDULES and INVITES

Along with the HOT folder I have a folder for soccer schedules the directory and invites. This is one clear plastic wall pocket that I nicknamed ”my brain” because when stuff gets in there I don’t have to remember it all. I put important info in my phone or on the calendar but I keep the details there until the event is over then I toss it.

  • ONE family calendar

Our family calendar hung above the wall pocket (my brain) and everyone could see it in my kitchen. It is where all the info resided for everyone. If you want your activity to be counted, it better be on there. I delegated a bit here because frankly I couldn’t keep it all straight.

As time went on smart phones came into play so the calendar on my phone was THE calendar and everyone entered info on that. I can remember the kids asking if they could do something and passing the phone to them so they could see if there was time available and what was going on that day. Like the HOT file, the calendar gets respect because if it’s not on there I can’t really get it scheduled or done, so everyone quickly knew to get on board and get their events in the calendar.

  • Night time routine for readiness

When you get this in place you will be a rock star! It is so easy to do, but so easy not to do. Think of it as PEACE for you and your students. Just take ten minutes to go over what needed to be completed that day, what is needed for the next day and put it away or where it needs to be for the next day. It will calm everyone down, and set the stage for a more relaxing evening or bedtime as well as a smooth morning exit.

 

For examples of launch pads or family control centers, check our Back to School board on Pinterest

Spring Fling: The Bathroom

GETTING STARTED
There are so few places where we get to completely relax. The shower/bath should be a place of total rejuvenation. Today we’ll turn this grime collector into a cleansing oasis.

'Twyford Bathrooms' photo (c) 2011, KBBNewsPics - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

TODAY’S TASKS

* Remove any product you don’t use or love – especially if there is less than an inch of product left in the bottle.
* Remove anything that is old or worn out – look at razors, scrubbers, and even the shower curtain.
* Clean the tub and make it shine.
* A certain peace comes with less decisions. Try living with one shampoo, one conditioner, and one soap this week. What did you miss? What was OK?

A NEW WAY TO THINK
Are you looking for a quick fix or magic potion when you collect shampoos, body washes, and lotions? In your search, you may have found several duds. If you can’t seem to use the last drop of anything, you may struggle with completion issues or with feeling that you are undeserving. Saving everything simply puts obstacles between you and your best things.

I had one client who creatively solved this problem by concocting her own shampoo by marrying the last few drops of several favorites to simply get rid of a collections of bottles. It was quite an effective solution.

If you don’t want to combine nor throw away usable soaps, you can keep one of the bottles inside your shower and store the rest outside of the shower. You can move on to the bottles in storage after you’ve successfully finished the one in the shower.

Your reward today is just too obvious, pamper yourself with your favorite little potion!

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