But sorting out your household filing won’t just save you the inconvenience of wasting hours searching for any documents you might need. It can also save you money.
Putting a proper system in place will help you stay in control of your finances and avoid charges for late payments.
Knowing where everything is can also make it much easier to switch to cheaper deals, rather than settling for standard tariffs and expensive renewals.
So here’s our simple system for filing success....
Get ready to organise
First of all, invest in some ring binders or filing boxes, so bills have somewhere to live.
Add those plastic, see-through envelopes, labelling each one ‘phone bills’, ‘energy bills’, ‘bank statements’ and so on, until all your household paperwork is covered.
Put your existing paid bills into their relevant pocket, aiming to keep them in chronological order.
Don’t be disheartened if you’ve lost the odd bill or statement along the way. The point of this reorganisation is to make sure everything’s kept safe in the future, so you can easily reference it when you need to.
Do the same for documents
Follow the same principle for your documents, like insurance policies, car documents, guarantees, home paperwork, manuals and so on.
Label plastic envelopes and store them all in a larger folder or filing box. If new documents supersede old ones then remove them as you go, so your folder doesn’t end up stuffed with irrelevant, dated paperwork.
Set up a holding pen
Bills, statements and invoices trickle in gradually through the month, so it’s easy to let one or two go missing.
To avoid this, use another plastic pocket as a ‘holding pen’ for paperwork that you haven’t yet had time to deal with.
Make sure you open your letters at least every two days, to check there’s nothing urgent, then add the contents to the holding pen.
When you sit down once or twice a month to organise your paperwork, write ‘paid’ on settled bills and ‘checked’ on statements as you see them, then move them to their appropriate plastic pouch.
Of course, that’s assuming that you have direct debits set up and simply need to check your bills and statements. If you settle bills as they reach you, you’ll want to sort through them on a weekly basis, to avoid any late charges.
How long should you keep paperwork?
If your house is falling prey to mountains of old pay slips, tax returns, bills and mortgage statements then you probably want to have a bit of a clear out, especially before enforcing your new filing system.
So how long should you keep your various statements and slips?
Generally speaking, hang onto bills and bank statements for at least two years, and insurance documents as long as they are valid.
When it comes to tax-related paperwork like pay slips, P45s and so on, HMRC suggests keeping them for at least 22 months from the end of the tax year they relate to.
So, as the tax year finishes on April 5, you’ll want to keep your relevant paperwork until at least January 31 two years later.
Whatever works for you
Of course, this system won’t work for everyone, so have a think about what will work best for your household.
The only golden rule is to keep it simple. If you devise some fabulously efficient but horrendously complicated system then you’ll only put off using it and let your paperwork build up again.