Manage the Mail

Have you ever opened your cupboard to get a coffee cup and found a water bill? I have. 

The stacks of mail around my house was at one time the bane of my existence. I didn't have a separate home office. I had a computer desk which seemed like a reasonable place for mail. I even purchased matching sorter thingys from Office Depot. So then I had a giant stack on the counter, a small stack on the table, and a couple smaller stacks wedged into my little sorters. About every 2 weeks, around payday, I would start searching for my monthly bills and spend a Saturday morning and half with a pot of Columbian Roast opening the dreaded mail. Once I found what I needed I'd declare victory and leave the rest for another day, a day probably two weeks away.

As more of our bills became available online it was less necessary to look at more pieces of the mail; not sure if I needed to keep it or toss it, I stacked them unopened. 

And my tale of woe over the mail continued...

The truth was, sometimes I ended up missing due dates because I couldn't find the bills. When I began to take an active approach to the business of our family, I did a wee bit of math. Turns out all those little late fees, a few dollars here and there, add up over the course of a year. Finally I decided to tackle the problem. I checked in with Flylady and read a few excerpts from my favorite Mom Organizing books and created a system that worked for me. 

First Rule: Junk mail never, ever comes inside. 

In all honesty about 50% on most days is junk mail and at least 3 days a week it's all junk mail. This step alone made life much easier.

Next Step: I created a binder system.

At a central location in my home. It's not sexy, it's not hi-tech. But it works for me. I have 3 binders, one bin, and a shredder. Every piece of mail belongs in one of these categories. 

First Binder: Monthly Budget

Every monthly expense goes in this binder: utility bills, credit card bills, bank statements, and debts or other bills. This binder also has the following components:
  • A list off all my acct ID's and passwords so I can go online to pay bills and have everything in one place
  • A calendar for the month with all income and bills marked due
  • Tithing Envelopes
  • It has a section for our Debt Snowball or Savings Goal (thanks Dave Ramsey)
  • Stamps

Second Binder: To Do

Church things, scouts, fundraisers, fun events, invitations, anything that I will need to remember, mark on the calendar or follow up on goes in this binder. This binder has the following additional components:
  • An annual and month by month calendar large enough for writing.
  • Contact information for all our local things, Scout Leader, Youth Group Leader, etc.

Third Binder: Coupon Binder

I love me some coupons. Virtually all our date nights and outings involve a coupon or a Groupon. A few good coupons and ads still come in the mail. Pizza, Frozen Yogurt, our favorite local restaurants advertise this way too. They need a home because I do not like my fridge covered in paper and magnets.

Everyone needs a Shredder. Credit Card offers and other sensitive items which are not being kept, must be shredded.

The other pieces of mail fit in the Filing Category. Pieces to be filed go into a bin.

My bin looks like this:
(Don't use a basket. Baskets are really just putting walls around the stack on the counter. Baskets are not a system - sorry.)


Filing is my husband's department. It's good to divide the labor. I handle the monthly stuff and he handles the long term. We sit down each week and go over it all. 

Our family is not unlike a business, we have assets, "employees" sort of to care for, goals, liabilities, and someone has to drive the train. Weekly business meetings are essential.

Files are divided into 3 categories

First Filing Cabinet: Short-term. 

These are things we need for a year. This years current health insurance policy, car insurance policy. All items for our taxes for the year go in this file.

Second Filing Cabinet: Long Term

These are items we are keeping for up to five years. Previous taxes, investments, account statements. ur kids college documents are another good example.

Third Filing Cabinet: Safe

After hurricane Katrina we learned a fire and waterproof safe is essential. So all our important papers are in a safe. Life insurance, health directives, wills, banking information, copies of our drivers licenses and credit cards, car titles, birth certificates, social security cards. 

It's all about having a system

All business run on systems. The flow of paper, from permission slips, obligations and invitations to  bills need a system. You can fight it but the paper will win. The papers always win. 

Everyday the mail is sorted into a pocket/divider in each binder. Most days it's opened and sorted by category immediately, but if not, every Saturday I spend a few minutes making sure it's current and sorted and balancing the budget for the past week as well as looking at the coming week.

Whether you model my system, tweak it or find your own, just take the time and put a system in place.

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