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Organize finances in the new year

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM



Originally published: Jan. 6, 2002

I always want to start the New Year with my finances well organized. So I offer a look at my New Year’s “To-Do” list, with the hope that it may give you some useful ideas to get started on the right track.

To-Do No. 1: Set up a file box to get last year’s financial information out of my desk drawers. Use a black marker to label it “2001--Tax records.” What’s in it? File folders filled with:

* All of my paid bills, bound with huge rubber bands.

* A printout copy of my checkbook register from my Quicken software program, and a copy on a floppy disc or a Zip disc.

* Deposit slip duplicates and ATM withdrawal receipts,

* Income records, including paycheck stubs, dividend records--and coming soon, 1099s for interest, capital gains, etc., from 2001.

* Copies of receipts for charitable gifts and deductible business expenses.

* Copy of my property tax bill (paid in December).

All of this will be organized and waiting for me when tax time comes around, saving hassle and accountant’s fees.

To-Do No. 2: Start a new file in my Quicken for 2002 checks and records. (If you’re still using paper checks and writing out your register, then start a new checkbook register for the new year. Remember, the old one went into the file box.)

Or take this moment to purchase a copy of one of those popular software programs: Quicken Deluxe 2002 or Microsoft Money 2002. Installing them is as simple as slipping a disc into your computer. Either installation program does all the work for you. And if you get stuck, there’s a help number, or call your bank’s online banking department. Bank staffers will have all the software right in front of them and can help you enable your accounts to pay your bills online.

To-Do No. 3: Analyze my financial situation--and write it down! This is the time I take take a look at my personal balance sheet. Using a computer program, I can do it with a click of my mouse, and compare my progress to my financial goals.

If you don’t have computer to help you, just take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, list the market value of what you own. Those are all your assets, starting with your house and including all your investments, retirement plan account, mutual funds, etc. On the right side of the paper, list what you owe, everything from mortgage debt to credit cards. No matter what your level of assets or debt, it pays to start the year knowing exactly where you stand.

I’ll be checking my year-end statements from my retirement accounts and using Morningstar’s portfolio X-ray (free at www. Morningstar.com) to give me a complete analysis of my asset allocation. And my portfolio tracking software gives me a look at the last year’s performance.

But you can do this simply by comparing your year-end 2001 statement with your last statement of 2000. Don’t be afraid to analyze the losses, if that’s what happened. Seeing it in black and white--or black and red--helps you confront mistakes and learn from them. At least it works that way for me.

To-Do No. 4: Update all my lists--and there are a lot of them, since I’m an incurable list-maker! For example, I have a list of everything that’s in my wallet, along with credit card numbers and toll-free numbers to call in case a card is lost or stolen. That list includes my travel-related frequent flyer and airline club account numbers, and insurance cards.

I also have a list of all my contacts--the important people in my life. One list is in my desk drawer, and it includes names and numbers of all the professionals I depend upon: lawyers, doctors, broker, insurance agent, etc. This serves as a guide to my filing system. I’m so superstitious: I figure that planning for the unexpected will keep it from happening!

To-Do No. 5: As I do every year, I’ll be making a list of my goals for the year. It’s interesting to look back on those from previous years. Some things you just can’t force to occur, and I try to keep this in mind by setting no goal I can’t control.

I’ll be doing some new things in 2002, changing my life in some ways and expanding on projects started in previous years. What will you change to make sure you’re in a different--and better--place next year? Time is your greatest asset, but only if you use it well. And that’s the Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of directors of McDonald’s Corp. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. Send questions via e-mail to savage@suntimes.com. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast.



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