Managing Home Bills and Documents

Managing Home Bills and Documents

One of my least favourite jobs is catching up on my filing and paperwork. If I was a little more disciplined I wouldn’t let it mount up – I wait till the “To Be Filed” tray is full – but it’s such a boring task and I can always find something more interesting to do.

Part of the problem has been that my filing system was just too cumbersome. I had a couple of folders for bills, three for different bank statements, one for tax and so on. As various bits of paper arrived, I’d sort them and put them into their folders. It sounded good in theory but as soon as stuff mounted up a little the effort it took to get things sorted was too great as I’d need to pull out a stack of folders. So I put off, it accumulated more, the task became bigger and… well, you get the picture.

Recently I decided on an new approach – one folder per year. I grabbed a set of dividers from the local stationery store – the kind that provides for a dozen different sections – and divided the paperwork. This approach has two significant advantages for me

1 – It’s easier as everything is filed in one place. When a new piece of paper comes in I have one place to put it.

2 – Under Australian tax law, I’m obliged to retain certain records for five years. Now, at the end of their retention period I just need to empty one folder. Under my old system, I’d have to got through several folders to get rid of the papers.

A recent Dear LH asked about how to organise piles of paper. I’ve always preferred putting things into boxes rather than piles but getting the “box” system right eluded me till recently.

There was a time when I used a filing cabinet but that was way too messy and difficult to find things. I prefer binders and I think this new approach, of having a binder per year, makes staying organised easier. I’ve recently added a multifunction printer with a sheet feeder to the office so I’ll probably digitise from the start of the next financial year.

What’s your approach?


  • The best I’ve seen, where you don’t need to keep originals, is to scan and shred the moment it arrives. You can then store it safely, set up online reminders, tasks, etc to remind you of when it is due and you can mark when it has been paid.
    Where you DO need to keep originals you still scan it but, like this article archive it into a box.

  • I use Yep! on the Mac to digitise and tag my documents as they arrive. It names and stores the pdf files based on date/time which is fine. Here’s the challenge: I can’t access the files (in a coherent manner) on a windows pc. Any thoughts as to the best way to achieve this with the files already scanned as well as of course going forward? Optimally I would like to see a web based app that can access network files and read the extended attributes on the files. Thoughts?

  • I have so much paperwork I’ve not bothered to deal with at home, so many unopened statements from the bank and charities (WHY do they send tax return information in September?! Pointless!).

    I like the “year-per-folder/binder/box” approach. I can box up everything I actually want to keep in one big “Pre-FY11-12” box and start fresh with this FY.

  • @CJ: Check out Evernote – Mac/Windows/Android/iOS. It even OCR’s the text so if you forget what you spent say $118.52 on, then you can just type that number into Evernote and it finds the exact receipt for you.

  • For bills, it’s easiest just to schedule a payment with online banking and shred the bill.
    St George Bank (and presumably others) allows you to view your statements online, going back at least two years, so there’s no longer a need to keep paper copies of those.
    For what’s left (mainly receipts for tax or warranty purposes), it’s best just to scan them and put them in a box, as Jeremy says. Where I’ve needed to make a warranty claim, the store has so far always accepted a printout from a scanned document.
    I was able to configure my scanner to drop PDFs straight into Evernote, so they’re searchable, taggable, automatically backed up and accessible on a PC or Mac (or my phone).

    • For bills, it’s easiest just to schedule a payment with online banking and shred the bill.

      I can’t agree more. I’ve long found the best way of managing bills, is working out how much my average monthly due will be, then splitting it up into whatever frequency my employer pays me. I still find that I need to review my bills just to make sure I’m on top of them, but it stops any nasty surprises on my accounts!

  • It’s an area I struggle with too – even though I don’t have a business to manage, and don’t do any contracting work.

    The best means of filing that I’ve found over the last couple of years was to grab (decent) archive/bankers box, and a couple of dozen suspension files. My archive box lives in a generously sized cupboard in my dining room, with individual files sorted into record type (payslips, utility bills, superannuation, etc). I’ve found the key to making sure that documents get promptly filed is to ensure that easy access to the box (i.e. don’t dump “to be filed” documents on top of it) and to manage what gets filed so it doesn’t end up cumbersome and over filled.

    At the end of each financial year, I transfer the contents of each suspension file to double plastic bags to keep moisture and nasties out, then pile them up in a (cheap) archive box from Office Works, labelled with the applicable financial year – then bury somewhere in the garage.

    While I seldom find I need to retrieve documents from previous financial years, I’m definitely not a fan of destroying any such documents for a few years until I’m sure they won’t be required.

  • Best thing (ok one of the best…) I ever bought was the ScanSnap document scanner. Process now is paper comes into house.
    Paper goes through the ScanSnap, which scans both sides at once at 600DPI and does OCR and saves as text searchable PDF.
    Paper goes into security shredder bin at work 🙂
    Saved files automatically client-side encrypted and duplicated to JungleDisk offsite cloud storage.
    Job done.

    I have archived several years worth of old docs, and anything new goes this treatment. I’ve gotten rid of my 3 drawer filing cabinet and now have one small file-folder for things that do really need a paper copy original..

    And of course switching as many as I can to emailing me invoices etc, bypassing paper.

  • Scan, file and shred. Searching through paper stuff manually is a joke, and keeping both electronic and paper copies is ridiculous.

    It’s also insanely simple to keep offsite backups of your important documents this way. It’s almost a given that most people don’t – but should – keep offsite copies of important (paper) documents.

  • A box. Every piece of paper I need to retain goes into a box… at the end of the year I seal the box, write the year on it.. and stack it with other boxes. Is it organized? nope. If I need to find a specific piece of paper it means I’ll have to go through the entire box. However, should I need many things, I can get those online such as bank statements or past bills. So really the box is only if the IRS needs it and in that case, I really don’t care how much effort it takes them to sort through it.

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