I've been trying to organize my personal finances for awhile by moving to a "Paperless Office" (PO from here on out), but I haven't been able to reach anything that satisfies my need for intuitive organization and ease of use. My goal of this PO is not to eliminate, but to keep myself from constantly purchasing unwieldy filing cabinets. I've been doing this by scanning all my expenses, deposit slips, bills, etc. Before taking this project up, I had organized my expenses solely on my bills in a small filing cabinet. The way it would look like is this:
Filing Cabinet - Bills - Rent/Mortgage - 2008 - January Bill - February Bill... - ... - ...December Bill - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - Electric - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - Gas - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - Phone - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - Insurance - Vehicle - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - Health - Base - 2009 - Accident (Aflac) - 2009 - 2010 - Projects - Website - Garden - School - English 301 - Art 303 - Etc - You Get the Idea
I liked how things were working with this, except I couldn't keep a record of some of the major communications that I'd get through letters, such as policy changes, rate change letters, account adjustments, things of that nature.
Then I learned that it's a good idea to keep track of ALL expenses (which I do by using a spreadsheet), and to compare them to the monthly bank statements, so I've been making an effort to keep track of each expense, deposit and major communication (not so much the marketing material) by scanning everything and having the file structure like this:
C:\Users\User\Documents\Finances\Accounting \2009 \01 \2009-01-13 - Receipt - Store.pdf \2009-01-22 - Mortgage - Bank.pdf \2009-01-25 - Bill - Service Provider.pdf \02... \... \...12 \2009 Cash Flow.ods \2010 \01... \... \...12
This set up makes it great for chronological tracking, but then it's painful to trace things based on a specific vendor/service provider/bank/organization. Sure, there's a file search function, but I've always found it lacking, regardless of parameter settings. I've thought about setting up a separate section for bills and base expenses, so that it would look like this:
C:\Users\User\Documents\Finances\Accounting \Bills \Bank \2009 \2009-01-01 - Mortgage - Bank.pdf \2009-02-01 - Mortgage - Bank.pdf \2009-02-15 - Privacy Notice - Bank.pdf \2009-03-01 - Mortgage - Bank.pdf \2010 \2011 \Phone \2009 \2009-01-12 - Bill - Phone.pdf \Expenses \2009 \01 \2009-01-03 - Receipt - Grocery.pdf \2009-01-06 - Receipt - Mom & Pop Shop.pdf
My only downfall with this is that I can't go through a single folder to set up a spreadsheet for comparing against my bank statements, yet when going single folder (Monthly Expenses+Bills+Communications), it's a little more difficult to separate the wheat from the weeds. Some of my problems stem from the purchase of big ticket items, like a refrigerator. I can scan the receipt and place it in the monthly expense folder, but it seems so wrong to put the Owner's Manual inside of a folder that contains expense documents, and when I really need to read it, how will I even remember it's in that folder?
If you're curious, here are my goals behind this silly madness:
- Good Documentation (Prevents Desperate Bill Collectors from Demanding Payment for What's Already Paid)
- Auditing (I Won't Notice $10 Trickling Out of My Account Unless I Deliberately Check)
- Budgeting Aid (Helps to Provide Framework of Establishing Budgets *On the Fly!*)
I know the "perfect" organization scheme doesn't really exist and is going to be subjective to each individual, but I'd like to know what you've done to organize your finances and how it's worked for you? I'd especially like to hear from those that are trying to get away from the behemoth filing cabinets ^^
P.S. I've read this about tracking expenses and income, but it's not quite about keeping organization of personal finance related documents. One of the answers addressed GnuCash, so I'm thinking about integrating it with whatever organization scheme I go with, so I'd also like to hear from GnuCash users too, please =D