Organizing Bills and Receipts

Simple Filing System for Bills and Receipts

I use a simple filing system for my bills and receipts that is easy to setup and maintain.  But the best part is that I am able to find a specific bill or receipt quickly.  This has been a great time saver when I need to find a receipt for an item that needs to be returned under warranty or I need to review a years worth of statements from a specific company to see why my monthly bill has gone up over time.

I did not create this system as this was the filing system used at the small computer consulting company that I worked for after college.  They kept several years worth of Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable records in filing cabinets that were centrally located and I was always amazed at how easy it was to find any billing record when needed. 

I implemented their filing system strategy at home for my personal bills and at the small offices that I did bookkeeping for.  The process is the same for both the home and small office.

Gather Supplies

There really aren’t a lot of supplies needed, but it’s good to have them available before you start the actual organizing and filing of your papers.  What I use are:

  • Manila File Folders – to store receipts, invoices and statements.  Each company that you purchase items or services from will have its own file folder.
  • File Folder Labels: I handwrite my labels to save time, but if you have poor handwriting, it may be better to use a label maker or to print labels from the computer.
  • Pens, a stapler and plenty of staples.
  • An empty filing cabinet drawer or desk drawer to store your files.  I personally prefer storing the current year files in the second drawer of a 4-door filing cabinet as I can easily see inside the drawer without having to bend down or to stand on my toes.
  • Bankers boxes for storing older files or to temporarily store papers that need to be sorted through later.

Once the supplies are gathered, it is time to start organizing.

Sort, Label and File

The process of organizing your bills isn’t difficult, but it may be time consuming.  At this time, I would concentrate first on organizing the current year’s bills.  Older records can be sorted later.  Here is what you need to do:

  1. Create a file folder that will store bills and receipts that still need processing or need your immediate attention.  You can label the folder “To Process”.  Place items that you do not want to lose such as today’s incoming mail or a bill that must be paid by tomorrow in this folder.  Place this folder in the front of the drawer that you designated to store your current files. 
  2. Sort your bills and receipts by Company Name.  I find it easiest to create piles on the floor or a large table with each pile representing one company.  Papers that need to be disposed of or that belong elsewhere can be stored in bankers boxes until you are ready to sort though those.
  3. Pick one pile and sort it by date.  If you have receipts or invoices that need to be matched up to a statement, do so at this point by stapling them together.
  4. Get a file folder, make a label for it with the name of the company that you just finished sorting and place the pile of papers inside of that folder.
  5. Place that file folder in your drawer and keep the files sorted alphabetically by company name.  Be sure to leave your “To Process” folder that you created in Step #1 in the front and file the rest of the folders behind it.
  6. Repeat steps 3 thru 5 for each company.

Maintaining your File System

For the rest of the year, you should file your items as soon as they are processed.  Each time you receive a receipt, invoice or statement, process it as soon as you can and then file it.  If you prefer to process your items once a day or weekly, place new items in your “To Process” folder so that they do not get misplaced.

In January, transfer your files out of the drawer and into a bankers box or another drawer.   I prefer bankers boxes as I don’t have to worry about running out of filing cabinet drawers and I can lift, move and stack them easily. Mark the outside of the box with the contents and year.  For example, you can label it “Bills and Receipts – 2012” or "Accounts Payable - 2012".  Begin storing new paperwork in the drawer that you just emptied.

Finding a Specific Receipt, Invoice or Statement

Now when you need to find an old receipt or a set of statements to research, just go to the drawer or box for the year that the item was filed in and grab the folder for that particular company.

I hope that if you implement this filing system, you will find that you are more productive.  I find that if I have too many papers piling up on my desk that I can not concentrate as well.  My mood is always better when I have a clean desk and an organized office space.


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