Last-Minute Tax Organizing Tips

By Carmen Coker

In the words of Dave Barry, “It’s income tax time again…time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”

Filing taxes = huge pain. We all know it. We all go through it once a year. And while there’s no way around tax season, there is a way to make the process less stressful – preparation. A little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in your tax filing experience, whether you do so weeks in advance or at the last minute. Not only can it help you get your tax refund faster if you qualify, but it can also help you avoid the high levels of stress normally associated with finishing your taxes.

If you’d love to come out the other end of tax season unscathed, then here are the best organizing tips to help you do just that. Think: T–A–X–E–S!

(1) Tally: Decide how many hours you need for tax prep. 

First, choose a final date, such as “I want to be done with my taxes by April 10th.” Then work your timetable backwards from that date, planning around your work schedule, family responsibilities, and extracurriculars.

Second, think about how long it has taken you in the past to complete your taxes. If six hours of tax prep has been enough previously, then this year will likely be no different unless you had major changes in your life. So pencil in two hours on your calendar for three days between now and April 10th, or maybe one hour each evening for the next week.

(2) Assemble: Gather all tax-related documents.

Search your files, baskets, and bins. Your objective? To find any and all receipts, canceled checks, and other papers that support an item of income or deduction. Plus, be on the lookout for important tax forms like W-2s and 1099s in the mail.

Don’t forget about the charitable donations you’ve made over the last year! TurboTax ItsDeductible™ is a free software that tracks and adds your donations year-round and accurately determines the value of your donated items.

(3) X-cessorize: Compliment your tax prep efforts.

I’m not talking shoes and purses here! It’s all about storage. Now that you’ve got each and every one of your tax documents assembled, they must be organized in one central location, so as not to get lost.

There are lots of different tax organizers that can keep your tax papers in order.  If you’re not into fancy-schmancy, then you can dress ‘em down with the oldie but goodie manila envelope.

(4) Evaluate: Assess how you want to file your return.

Will you prepare your return personally or will your accountant? Are you eligible for free help at an IRS office or volunteer site? Will you purchase tax prep software or e-file online?

There are many possibilities to consider! Weigh them all and find the option that best suits your needs. These variables may require modifications to your tally and time line. If so, refer back to #1.

(5) Schedule: Make a date to officially file your return.

If you’re doing your own taxes, make an appointment with yourself. If a tax rep is doing your taxes, promptly make an appointment with that individual. In either case, schedule asap – before the calendar fills up – and schedule a date several days ahead of the April 15th filing deadline, just in case a contingency comes up and you need more time to complete the filing process.

Remember: It’s never too early to start tax prep for next year! Looking ahead prevents a last-minute tax crunch and all the pressure that comes with it.

How do you get organized for tax season? I’d love to find out! Please share your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and other comments below.

Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. Thousands of busy people have benefited from her expertise featured by CBS, NBC, and Real Simple magazine – now it’s your turn! If you want to get organized and calm the chaos in your life, go to CarmenCoker.com for her free video how-to called the Secrets of the Super Organized™.

5 Tips to Financially Prepare for the Holidays

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For many people, one of the most dreaded things about the holiday season is not the fear of being a Scrooge. It’s just the reverse—the temptation to overspend. It’s easy to think, just one more toy for the little ones, or an extra pair of gloves, or the perfect earrings…and somehow during the holiday whirl we load up a bucket of debt. When the credit card bills start arriving in January, the last of the holiday happiness is officially doused, and it may feel like Scrooge got off easy by just having a few otherworldly visitations.

Holiday debt is much easier to get into than out of and can affect your finances through the first quarter of the year, or even longer. The average American household spends over $800 each holiday season on presents alone, and when you add in decorations, entertaining costs, travel, shipping, extra food and drink, and all of the other extras associated with this season, it’s easy to see how debt can creep in. The good news is that you have the power to plan for a perfectly budgeted holiday season.

Here are five tips to prepare financially for the holidays:

1. Find a few places to cut back on spending and add your savings to your holiday fund. Everyone has someplace they can trim a bit—maybe it’s dining out less, cutting back on entertainment, or serving coffee and dessert at some of your holiday parties instead of providing a full dinner.

2. Commit to a cash-only Christmas. Don’t use credit cards for holiday spending. If you’re tempted to overspend, limit shopping times to just a few days during the season.

3. Plan a holiday checklist of tasks to accomplish and purchases to make, and keep your lists in your planner so they’re easy to access. On your gift list, make a note of gifts you purchase so you can avoid doubling up on gifts or forgetting some until the last minute.

4. Establish reasonable expectations in your children. Instead of asking for a long wish list, ask children to focus on just one or two things they’d like most.

5. Find a few fun activities you can do with family and friends this holiday season that don’t involve spending money. Attend a holiday concert, drive around to see lights, make homemade ornaments, or find a way to serve in your community. Having a few free (or low cost) activities scheduled into your calendar is one great way to stretch the budget this month.

As you begin the holiday season, remind yourself that spending money is not the only way to show love, friendship, or appreciation. Preparing a solid holiday budget and sticking with it will see you through the season and into a cheerful January free of credit card regret. And that’s something even Dickens would approve of.

Tips to Achieve Your 2014 Resolution: Finances

Do you find yourself making plans to improve your financial condition for 2014? If that is one of your resolutions, you are not alone. We found it as one of the top resolutions people make for a New Year. Now, we know money doesn’t mean everything and it can’t buy happiness, but having it controlled and managed can definitely ease your mind.

Our latest infographic gives you advice on how to better improve your financial situation for 2014. Small things like creating financial goals and keeping a spending journal can make all the difference.

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Healthy, Delicious, and Less Expensive

Gourmet GetawayLunch can be a big waste of money. Even if you find a way to eat all of your lunches for just $20 a week, you’ll end up blowing $1,000 a year on lunch alone. For a college student, that’s insane. That expense increases if you are also buying breakfast and dinner. The fact is, we have to eat and food is expensive. But it can be cheaper if you know how to cook.

You can prepare a decent meal for you and all your roommates for less than the price of one order of Chinese take-out. If you pack up the leftovers, you’ve got a practically free lunch. Homemade food tends to have far less sodium and fewer preservatives as well, so by preparing a few meals, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll also begin improving your health.

If you get the chance, ask Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Bea for all their favorite recipes, and see if they’ll be willing to help you prepare a few of them before you head out to college. If you can cook, you’ll quickly become a dorm room favorite, and you’ll have a little extra money for gas or a few dates.

4 Super Summer Organizing Tips

By Joshua Zerkel

Summer… ahhh. When summertime comes, there’s a palpable change in the air – a feeling of fun, relaxation, and freedom from worry. Or at least, that’s how it can seem! Of course, the details of life and work don’t just go away with the change of the seasons. Especially if you’ll be traveling this summer, things can get pretty complicated.  That said, there’s plenty you can do to prepare yourself for maximum summertime fun! Here’s a few ideas:

Forget about your bills. Are you spending time sitting down to pay your paper bills? This is probably one of the last things you’d want to spend your time on during the summer when you’re trying to relax. If you haven’t already, pull out each of your monthly bills, and set them up for automatic payment (wherever it makes sense to do so). What I typically recommend to my clients is to choose one of your credit cards to charge all your bills to via auto-payment, and then you only have to worry about paying one bill instead of several. I think this is a lot better than having your bills deducted from your checking account – if there’s an error, your credit card company can go to bat for you. Of course, this system works best if you pay your credit card off in full each month.

Plan ahead for maximum discounts. If you plan ahead, you can save a ton on summer travel. Use fare finders like Kayak (www.kayak.com) to help streamline your searches, and you’ll be able to compare deals from many airlines, hotels, and rental cars at once. Although they can be somewhat annoying, e-newsletters from your favorite hotels and airlines do sometimes feature sales and other bargains, so if you are planning on traveling using one of those vendors, you may want to sign up for their newsletters and then unsubscribe when you are done booking your travel – otherwise they can just end up as clutter in your inbox. If you’re not a big planner but still want to find great deals on last-minute travel, try Lastminute.com (www.lastminute.com). To maximize your time actually spent at your destination rather than your time getting there, look for direct flights, and try to travel with only a carry-on.

Dining on a dime. Once you’re at your destination, use a site like Restaurant.com (www.restaurant.com) for significant savings on dining out. With this site, you select the coupons you want from a list of restaurants, and buy just those. For instance, you can buy a $25 off certificate for around $10 – but if you use a discount code found on sites like CurrentCodes.com (www.currentcodes.com), you can get a discount off your discount – essentially bringing the price of a $25 off coupon to just a few dollars. Using these coupons, I’ve dined at some amazing restaurants with my friends and family, for a fraction of the cost of the people sitting a table away from me. What’s also great is that most of the restaurants on the site are small, independent venues, so you get to support local merchants while saving money on a fantastic meal!

Double your pleasure… by getting duplicates of the things you regularly need to travel with. For instance, instead of packing and then unpacking a toiletries kit, purchase duplicate items of all the lotions and potions you need, and keep a fully stocked kit in your bathroom. When you’re ready to travel, you won’t have to scramble to re-create the kit for every trip. Same is true for your electronics. If you have to unplug your laptop, cell phone and mp3 chargers every time you travel, it’s a huge timesaver to just get a second set of these gizmos, and keep them in a pouch or bag that can easily be grabbed and slipped into your luggage. I like the travel charger organizers from Kanagraoom Storage (www.kangaroomstorage.com).

Of course, there are many other ways to get organized to save time and stress during the summer. What are some of your ideas for having a simply organized summer?

Joshua Zerkel

Tax Organization

Tax Organizer

As the days count down to April 15, it’s time to start gathering your documents. The sooner you submit your taxes, the sooner you have peace of mind (and possibly your refund). As forms from your employment and bank accounts come through the mail, put them in a Tax Organizer and keep them together. Whether you take them to an accountant or do them yourself, you’ll be glad you have everything in one place.

 

Top 6 Tax Time Tips!

So…we just said hello to Baby New Year and now we’ve suddenly been rushed off to face Uncle Sam!  Yes, it’s that time of the year again; time to get your documents in order and send off your returns, and sometimes even more money!   My wish for all of you is to get a nice big check to do something fun with, but even if you don’t, the feeling of getting organized can sometimes give you a natural high.  Yes, I am an organizer and of course I’m going to say that, right?!  It’s true for everyone though!  Use the following tips to get all of your papers and receipts in order and implement them now for your 2013 return.

1)        Invest in at least 1 tickler file.  If you run a small business out of your home, like me, then get a second one.  You’ll be able to reuse these every year.  Usually there are 2 different options with tickler files, those labeled January through December and those labeled in categories such as dental/medical and rent/mortgage.  With the one labeled monthly, slip receipts and statements from each month into the corresponding pocket.  Conversely, with the one labeled with categories, slip all receipts and statements into each corresponding pocket.  Or just find whatever tickler file that you can and create your own labels!

2)       Start to sort.  Pull out that shoebox of receipts and piles of statements and invoices!  Separate them by month or by category depending on the kind of tickler file that you are using.

3)       Check your mail closely.  You should have been receiving your W2s and 1099s, investment statements and things of that nature since the beginning of the year.  Be sure to call employers if for some reason your copies have not arrived yet.  Put them in their own pocket in the front of the tickler file, or if there is no room, use a binder clip and attach them to the front of it.  The ticker file should have a flap that will keep those covered when it is closed.

4)       Print statements out.  I know it can seem like a waste of paper, especially if you have signed up for online statements for all of your accounts, however, if you go to a tax preparer or accountant to have your taxes done, they will most likely be needed.  Aside from the bank statement and your year end mortgage statement, print out, or ask for invoices from your doctors, dentist and pharmacy.  That way if your receipts have gone missing, you will still have invoices of what you paid.

5)       Call your Tax preparer or Accountant.  If you use one, you will want to call them now.  The closer is gets to the deadline, the less time they will have to help you.

6)       File!  Whether on line or by mail, make sure you get your envelopes postmarked before the post offices close on Monday April 15th!  Or plan now to schedule an extension with the IRS.

Do the best you can and I hope the leprechaun leads you to your own pot of gold in the form of a big refund check!

Thanks, Naomi!

 

Tackle Tax Organization Today

Tax OrganizerNow that it’s February and you have all of the documents you need to complete your taxes, there’s no excuse for not getting your finances squared away. Here are three steps to streamlining the process:

Manage Your Paper: even though we live in a digital world, doing your taxes still requires large piles of paper – paycheck stubs, bank and credit card statements, receipts from big-ticket items and home improvement projects, investment statements and IRA contributions.

As you gather all your documents for this year’s tax submission, get rid of outdated documents to make room in your file cabinet. Throw away any receipts that have already been reconciled, or that belong to things you’re not planning on returning. Move financial records from prior years to an archive box to store them on the off-chance you receive an audit, but where they won’t clutter up your frequently-accessed files.

Make a Checklist: before you assemble your tax packet, make a checklist of the documents you’ll need. Then match each form to the additional documents you need and cross it off as you put it into your tax organizer.

Get Professional Help: unless you have a degree in accounting, it’s most likely that doing taxes in the modern world is more of a headache than it’s worth. By the time you factor in two incomes, childcare expenses, home business records, and investment incomes, you have a mountain of paperwork to climb that can suck up your free time for weeks. (No wonder it’s so tempting to procrastinate on taxes!)

Using tax software or enlisting a professional accountant can help relieve much of the burden, and preparing your documents beforehand can cut back on extra trips back and forth.

You’re only a couple of steps away from peace of mind. Tackle your taxes today.

 

 

 

How To Keep Your Resolutions

The results are in – here are the top five resolutions from our 2012-2013 survey:

1.      Become more physically fit

2.      Improve financial condition

3.      Improve health

4.      Lose weight

5.      Read more/become more educated

Resolutions 2013 Infographic

In an interesting twist, we also asked our respondents about their resolutions’ duration, both which resolution they gave up first and which one they stuck with the longest. Losing weight topped both lists.

So what makes the difference between those who keep resolutions and those who don’t? It’s more than just willpower – there are several steps that you can take to keep your resolutions going long past January.

First off, make sure that your goals are realistic, and expect change in small increments. Losing 20 pounds by the end of January simply can’t be done in a healthy way (which goes against the physically fit goal). But developing a plan for diet and exercise designed to help you lose a more realistic five pounds each month can help you get on your way, and provide small successes to celebrate.

Try this mental exercise – whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid thinking about an elephant. Strangely enough, though, when tempted to break a resolution, you might spend mental energy trying not to think about the problem, staying in that uncomfortable place called indecision.

In one famous study, researchers put a toddler in an empty room with a marshmallow, instructing the toddler that if they waited 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow, they could have two marshmallows. Two-thirds of the kids ate the marshmallow. But a follow-up study showed that kids who could distract themselves by looking at the walls, reciting a rhyme, or playing a mental game, did much better at the test. They weren’t thinking about the marshmallow, so they weren’t spending energy deciding not to eat it.

Developing your own distractions can help you defuse the situations where you’re tempted to break your resolutions. If you’re used to hitting the vending machine at lunchtime, plan on running an errand instead, or take a short walk to the drinking fountain. Trying new activities to replace your old habits can also keep you from thinking about your resolutions.

Finally, keeping a resolutions journal can help you stay accountable to yourself for your actions. Each day, write down how things went, whether you were 100% compliant or whether you fell off the wagon. If you make a small mistake, you can also write down the situation where the mistake happened and plan ideas for how you can get back on track the next day. After all, falling off the wagon isn’t an excuse for running down the road in the opposite direction.

When you spend enough time planning your resolutions, your mind is free to enjoy the benefits those resolutions provide. Here’s wishing you the best of luck with your resolutions this year!

5 Tips To Jumpstart January

Real Life Adventures Ring-bound Daily Planner RefillWe have a thing for January. It’s National Get Organized Month. All that sorting, stashing, planning, and relocating are right down our alley. It’s what makes us tick—not because any one of us individually is perfectly organized, but because for a whole month the dream feels almost attainable. And even if we never find that perfect state of organized nirvana, the efforts we make at the first of the year make a huge difference.

The list of things we could do in January is enormous, but sometimes we need a little jumpstart to get going. (Like that rusty, yellow 1973 Ford Pinto my brother drove to college.) Anyway, here are a few little things to get you started:

What’s In Your Freezer?

Now that the holidays are over, you’ll want to empty your freezer and see exactly what you have in there. Throw out anything that’s freezer burned or expired and make sure you aren’t hiding something wonderful behind your leftover turkey. You may be able to center your next few meals around the discoveries you make. Better to eat it while it’s good than waste it later.

Update Your New Planner

January is a good time to transfer important numbers, dates, and information from your 2012 calendar to your new 2013 calendar. Make sure you aren’t missing important items like birthdays, anniversaries, and your children’s healthcare specialists.

Prepare for April 15th

By now you’ve probably got most if not all of the paperwork you needLovisa File Box w/ 12 file by Bigso Box of Swedentofile your taxes from your employers, banks, and investments. Now you just need to gather the information that has accumulated throughout the year. Determine your medical expenses, travel costs, home business expenses and income, etc. and store it in a file box so you can easily file your taxes for the year.

Set An Achievable Short-term Goal

Most of us are focused on long-term resolutions at the beginning of the year. That’s fine, but who wants to wait a whole year before they get the satisfaction of having completed a goal? Take one of your long-term goals and break it down to pieces that you can accomplish in a month. Maybe in January you want to run or walk 3 to 4 days a week. That’s a short-term goal for the month with just enough flexibility built in to make it achievable, and it will move you toward your longer-term goal of developing a healthier lifestyle. Hint: if you schedule the days you plan to exercise in your planner and on your wall calendar, you’ll improve your chances of getting it done.

Start A Compelling Novel

Sure it’s not a way to get organized, but if you’re like the rest of us, your days will soon be getting longer and you’ll want to be outdoors and on the run. While you still have longer evenings void of major yard work, pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read and escape reality for a few minutes each day. When you close the book and re-join the real world, you’ll feel a little more refreshed.

However you choose to start your new year, we hope you do it with a smile and with a positive outlook. Having an upbeat attitude toward life goes a long way.

Good luck and happy 2013.

 

Recipe for Receipts

By Monica Friel

Of course there are many different ways to deal with the deluge of receipts that continually fill up your wallet and pockets, but what is the best way to organize them? That answer really is individual. When we work with a client who has “receipt clutter” we offer several suggestions, here are a few:

File them. The good old fashioned way of storing receipts is to file them away. However, it’s not necessary to save every receipt. Keep what you think you may need for returns, personal records, and of course for tax purposes_the rest can go.

Stash them. You can also create a convenient space inside a drawer to keep all of your current receipts. This way, when you empty your pockets/purse, there’s a quick and easy place to put them. Be careful to make sure you clean out this spot frequently or it will be another source of clutter and chaos.

Scan them. Scanning is a great way to keep any receipt you may need, without the clutter. Be careful not to randomly scan them on to your desktop, but to place them into carefully marked file folders so that you won’t be sifting through them again in the future!

Photograph them. Use the camera on your smartphone to take a photo of your receipt and save it. Lemon is an app that helps to organize and back-up everything that’s in your wallet.

Toss them. When in doubt, throw it out. We don’t need every receipt for every purchase. Depending on how well you itemize and budget your spending, you can keep either very detailed records, or none at all. Toss what you don’t need, because if you keep too much, you can’t find what’s really important.

Receipts can be a nuisance, so spend a few minutes thinking about what the best system is for you so that you can stay on top of all those random receipts.

Thanks Monica for the great advice. If you liked this article, give it a cheer and/or like it on Facebook

Monica Friel

 

Preparing for Your Financial Future

Financial Plans SupplementSaving money is incredibly important. You never know when you’re going to need an extra thousand dollars or more. You may end up laid off and looking for work. You may have to pay for an unexpected home or car repair, or you may have medical expenses you never dreamt possible. If you’re struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck today without adding strain to your credit card, how are you going to manage things when an emergency arises?

For years, we’ve been told by financial planners to have at least three months worth of mortgage payments in a savings account just in case we lose our job and need to hang on to our house. Yet, we learn of people every day that are caught off-guard even though they had good-paying jobs and plenty of opportunity to save.

The trouble is, none of us likes to think of the worst. We’d rather start saving for hard times tomorrow instead of today.

Planning for emergencies is the first step in preparing for our financial future. We need a safety net in case the bottom falls out. Once we have our emergency fund, we can start saving for retirement or a college fund for our children.

Start with a budget. It’s hard to save money if you aren’t sure where your money is being spent. Take a month and track every dollar you spend. Keep a record of where your money is going and then decide if any of those expenses aren’t necessary. Cut your spending there first. For example, if you’re spending more than you’d like on fast food, give yourself a set fast food budget for the month and set aside the money you save for the things you really want.

Financial Plans SupplementWhen you’re saving money and living within a budget, it pays to track your finances tenaciously. That’s easy to do with the Financial Plans Supplement for your planner. It’s a comprehensive set of supplemental forms to take the strain and guesswork out of your finances.

No amount of planning can prepare us for some things, but every little bit helps. Take some time today to look over your finances to see where you can start saving for tomorrow.

Preparing for your future is a very personalMoney 911 - Paperback matter. For some great tips and advice, check out Money 911 by Jean Chatzky. It’s a great help when you want to prepare for retirement, buy or sell a home, pick up the pieces of your personal finances, or get back on your feet-and stay there.

 

 

Healthy Lunch

Gourmet GetawayIf you’re thinking of eating healthier and saving money, lunch is a great place to start. The site Accounting Principals surveyed 1,000 people and found that each year, the average American spends $1,092 on morning coffee and $1,924 on going out to lunch. That’s more than $3,000 – think of the groceries that you could buy!

So rather than sending your older kids out with money for the fast food chains, get them involved in the process of selecting their own lunch. As you prepare your shopping list for the week, let them pick some ingredients for a variety of sandwiches, or let them take healthy leftovers. When shopping, take a look at your family size when buying ingredients like sandwich meat, cheese and lettuce – if your family doesn’t eat the meat before it rots in the fridge, you’re not saving as much money as you could.

 

Being Your Own Accountant

With the recent changes to the world economy, more and more professionals are earning their money through contract work rather than full-time employment. Unfortunately, with self-employment, you have to do your own accounting. Whether your home-based business is your main source of income or just for a little extra on the side, keeping track of your business expenses can save you money at tax time. The IRS has a helpful list of available deductions, including using your home as a business and business entertainment. Once you know what you can deduct, you can start maximizing your savings next year with tax document organizing tools.

 

Organizing Tax Documents

During tax season most of us will spend some time digging through our filing cabinets. Most likely, there will be all sorts of documents from past tax years – medical bills, W2s, interest statements, and, frankly, some things that we’re not sure why we’re keeping. This tax season, go through your old documents and throw out expired statements. Most documents can be shredded after three years, or six years if you run your own business. Check with your tax professional.

 

Tax Time Preparation

Tax season is upon us – do you know where your documents are? Tax documents from your employers start arriving in January (by law, employers must send W2 forms before Jan. 31). If you want to get ahead of the game, or if you misplaced a document, check to see if your employer provides online access to your tax documents. Many banks and other financial institutions also provide electronic versions of the documents you’ll need for your taxes.