Wallet organizing tips

When I was in university in Canada in the late 1980s, I had a hard time keeping my money organized. I had tried a number of different wallets and coin purses but I always seemed to have a heavy pile of $1 coins that I kept forgetting to use.

Everything changed when I visited Switzerland in 1990. Switzerland had 1, 2, and 5 Franc coins. The wallets in Switzerland were designed with a larger section for coins. In Canada, I only had access to purchasing American made wallets that were designed for American currency: $1 banknotes, not coins. Canada had introduced the $1 coin and had not redesigned wallets to adapt to more coins and fewer bills. I purchased a Swiss wallet and my organizational dilemma was solved!

Over the years, Unclutterer has discussed several ways to organize and trim down your wallet, but there are a few more things to take into consideration.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pay in cash, and the currency in the country in which you live has more banknotes (bills) than coins, choose a wallet with a smaller coin pocket and larger bill pocket. Consider keeping coins in a separate coin purse.

If the currency has more coins than banknotes, a wallet with a large coin pocket might be beneficial. However, if you’re likely to pay for lower priced items in cash, then a separate coin pouch will allow you to quickly find the coins you need without opening your entire wallet.

In many places debit/credit card payments are very popular, so popular that some people never carry cash. This also means that we need more places in our wallets to carry credit and debit cards as well as cards for all of those loyalty programs. For those who prefer electronic payments, choose a wallet with enough card slots to suit your needs. You may wish to consider a second wallet for your loyalty cards.

Tips for International Travelers

Transfer the currency from your regular wallet to a separate coin pouch or even a zipper-seal bag and place currency of the new country in your wallet. This is ideal if you wish to carry many of the loyalty cards and ID cards with you when you’re doing business or sightseeing within the country you’re visiting. This system works well if the banknotes and coins of the two countries are similar.

An alternative is to have a different wallet for each country. Transfer only relevant ID and credit cards between the two wallets. This option is preferable if the currencies between the two countries have differently sized banknotes and coins that will not fit well in your “home” wallet. Also, you may not need many of your loyalty cards or perhaps even your driver’s licence in the country you are visiting so it may be better to keep those cards in your “home” wallet and lock it in your hotel room safe. By purchasing a wallet in country or from an online site of that country, you’ll be able to get a wallet suited for that country’s currency. Many people must keep records of all of their purchases so a wallet with a separate section for receipts is helpful.

Tip for Handling Coins and Banknotes

For greater efficiency and speed in checkout lines, pass the cashier the coins first then banknotes. It makes it much easier for cashiers to put the money in the cash register and it makes it easier for customers to put money in their wallets.

Avoiding impulse buys: mandatory waiting times and a Possible Purchases file

You’ve gone to a store to buy something specific and then something you had no intention of buying catches your eye. Or, you’re online, and read about something that sounds useful. Maybe you’re talking to some friends, and they recommend books they’ve just read. What do you do?

Here’s what I do. Sometimes, the item under consideration is something I can tell immediately I need or love, and it fits within my budget. That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I just make the purchase right then.

But more often, I make a note of the item — by writing a reminder or taking a photo — and add it to my Possible Purchases file when I get home.

I actually have three Possible Purchases files. Right now, I have a physical file for things I’ve clipped out of the few catalogs I get, a collection of online bookmarks (also called favorites, depending on what browser you use), and a list of books at Amazon.com. I may buy the books elsewhere, if I ever wind up buying them, but it’s easy to quickly note them in an Amazon.com wish list.

There are many other ways to collect such information, too. For example, some people would choose to use Evernote and some might use Pinterest. Various sites, not just Amazon.com, provide wish list capabilities.

What kinds of things make it into my Possible Purchases file? Lots of cat-related stuff, for starters. I also have gift ideas, t-shirts, towels, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and whimsical stuff like a Lava Lite night light.

My Possible Purchases file fits well with the approach, recommended by many people, of creating some sort of mandatory waiting period before buying anything except your standard purchases of groceries and necessities.

On The Christian Science Monitor website, Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar said:

Whenever I’m considering making a purchase of any kind, I simply stop for ten seconds and ask myself whether this is really a worthwhile purchase. … I don’t watch the clock on this or anything – I just do it for roughly ten seconds or so.

At the end of those ten seconds, if I’m still convinced that making this purchase is the best idea, then I’ll go ahead and buy it without guilt or remorse. However, I’ve come to find that the ten-second rule frees me from making a lot of unnecessary purchases.

On the Psychology Today website, Kelly McGonigal mentioned the benefits of a somewhat longer pause:

Neuroscientists have found that having to wait even ten minutes for a reward dramatically reduces the brain’s response to it. If you can walk out of a store, or switch to a different website, for just 10 minutes, you’ll see the “value” of that purchase more clearly.

And over on Mint.com, Mary Hiers recommended an even longer waiting period:

If you see an item that captures your interest, sleep on it. Make it a rule that if you see something you want that you didn’t specifically go shopping for, you’ll wait 48 hours before buying it.

For a slightly different approach, Dustin Senos quoted Larry Wall: “Don’t buy something until you’ve wanted it 3 times.”

Different strategies will work for different people — but finding one that works for you will save you money and help minimize clutter.

Thinking about buy-and-return habits

You go shopping, buy a bunch of things, and bring them home. Later on, you decide to return a number of items. That’s a great way to unclutter, right?

Well, sometimes — and sort of.

Certainly, you’ll want to return anything that’s defective. I bought some shoes online earlier this year and they looked exactly like what I wanted. But when they arrived, I found out they squeaked when I walked. Fortunately, I had bought them from a site that makes returns very easy.

On the other end of the spectrum, some returns are questionable, even if stores accept those types of returns. I don’t think it’s okay to buy a dress, wear it to a special event, and then return it. Nor do I think it’s okay to buy a nice TV right before the Super Bowl and then return it after watching the game. Some stores are fighting back against this practice, as The Cut reports:

Bloomingdale’s has had enough. … So they’re attaching three-inch black-plastic tags to visible places on clothing, like the front bottom hemline. … The new devices on Bloomingdale’s clothing are unhidable; once removed, they cannot be reattached. No more wearing and returning, unless you decide to pretend “visible tags” are a new trend.

But many other return situations are less straightforward. I’d never really thought about the problems returns can cause until I read a discussion on Ask Metafilter, where a number of members who worked in retail shared what goes on behind the scenes. Here are just two of the many perspectives:

I can talk about retail for clothing, two industries I worked retail in. For clothing, if the garment was still selling at full price, and showed no signs of wear, we would re-tag and sell it again at full price. If it were no longer selling at full price, we would re-tag and sell it at the current sale price. If it did show signs of wear but we were obliged by policy to accept it, we’d deeply discount it, donate it or just throw it in the trash.

I can tell you from my experience in working at Restoration Hardware and at a few convenience stores/pharmacies: a good portion of stuff is thrown out. Everything that is possible to put back on the shelf is (unopened, like-new packages, unworn clothing, unused cushions and the like) and all products that can be returned to the manufacturer are. This is, at least at those stores, maybe 40% of returns. Everything else is logged and thrown away. We are trying to find more avenues to donate returned items, but most items that are returned are thought of as liabilities. … If you’ve tried on headphones, they were chucked. I mean, would you want to buy something that someone else had put in their ears?

Another thing I just learned is that a number of retailers are using a program called The Retail Equation aimed at helping to eliminate return fraud and to control what the company calls returnaholics. Some of these returnaholics may have a problem with compulsive shopping and need help in fighting that condition.

But most of us can be more thoughtful about our initial purchasing behaviors. If we don’t buy things we don’t need we won’t have to return those things we later don’t want, irrespective of the reason. Additionally, do we have valid reasons for the returns we do wish to make? Or, are we needlessly creating more work for the stores, and causing good merchandise to wind up in the trash? Would donating the item to a charity that needs that item be a better way of handling the unwanted merchandise?

Of course, if you need to return defective merchandise, you’ll want to be very aware of the store’s return policy. I overlooked this recently, and bought some non-returnable “fits all sizes” socks, which didn’t come close to fitting me. I wound up donating them to charity. When making purchases, you’ll want to check for:

  • Whether the item is returnable at all.
  • How long you have to make the return.
  • If a receipt is required.
  • Whether you’ll get cash or a store credit.
  • If there’s a restocking fee.

Nine things to organize before a tragedy

Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.

What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?

Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.

Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:

  1. What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
  2. If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
  3. What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
  4. Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
  5. Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
  6. Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
  7. What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
  8. Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
  9. Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.

It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.

It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.

Money saving ideas that can create clutter

Uncluttering can lighten your load and put cash in your pockets if you choose to sell items you no longer want. You also can save money by repairing broken items instead of replacing them with new purchases. But, one of the downsides of selling (and other money saving ideas) is sometimes you can end up with more clutter than when you started. It works out this way because you likely add new items before the old items leave your home. And, if you don’t get them out quickly, they can linger and commandeer much needed space.

Does that mean you shouldn’t sell your lightly used items? No. But, you should think about ways you can avoid the clutter build up, especially when …

Stocking up on coupons and sales flyers

It can be tempting to stock up on coupons and sale flyers, particularly when you know you can save quite a bit when you go shopping. Couponing, like any other project, needs to be a regular part of your routine. If you don’t have a specific space to keep the coupons (along with the large quantities of things you get), they can start to fill every available room in your home, leaving you with less living space.

Try this instead: Share the couponing experience with a friend (or two) so you won’t have to store every sale or grocery store flyer. You’ll also save some time when you meet up with your couponing partners to process your coupons (be sure to add these meetings to your calendar).

Buying in bulk

Bulk purchases can offer big savings and a high volume of products that can last for quite a while. But, therein lies the issue. Because you have such large quantities of items, you will need to consume perishables (meat, poultry, dairy) and other items before they expire. These items can languish in your pantry or fridge and end up not saving you money in the long run. And, unless you have ample space to store everything, your purchases may begin to clutter other areas of your home.

Try this instead: If you find that you don’t use everything you buy before it expires, consider splitting the cost and sharing your haul with a neighbor or friend. This will give you a chance to use everything you buy and still reap the cost savings. Also, designate specific areas of your home for storing bulk items and do not go beyond those limits, irrespective of how good of a deal something is.

Returning recyclables for money

I recently read a New York Times article that described the author’s love of coffee and the clutter that came from it. She saved Starbucks coffee bags to take to her local store because she’d get a free 12-ounce cup of coffee (a savings of $2). I’m sure coffee lovers everywhere were rejoicing at the opportunity to get free java. As it turned out, she didn’t make it to the Starbucks closest to her home very often and her collection of coffee bags became a source of clutter that she ultimately trashed. I feel her pain. A few years ago, I amassed a collection of bath poufs (mesh sponges) I purchased from a local store that encouraged patrons to bring back old ones (that were fraying and no longer wanted) to get new ones free of cost (the store recycled them). I also didn’t make it to that store often and decided to pitch my collection. At the time, it seemed like a painful decision. Afterall, I was missing out on something free.

While you might not keep a stash of bath accessories or coffee bags, you could be more inclined to stock up on plastic bottles and soda cans. Keeping these two items out of landfills is a good goal to have and you can get some money for them. When you return plastic bottles and aluminum cans, you can collect $.05 for each one (depending on where you live). If you tend to save up recyclable containers so you can return them for cash, they can quickly outgrow your space and infiltrate several areas of your home.

Try this instead: Pick a spot to store the recyclables as well as container that fits that space. When the container is full, stop collecting and schedule a time to return them. If your container is overflowing and you haven’t had time to take them in to the recycling center, consider putting them out on the curb with your other recyclables.

Saving useless things to make something new

Do you save scraps of wrapping paper not big enough to wrap a gift with the intention of making something crafty with them? How about lonely socks (single socks with no mate) that you plan to include in a project you saw someone post about on Pinterest? Are you really going to create a window valance out of those hankerchiefs you never use? While you may be saving money by using what you already have to make something new, unless you actually upcycle them, they will begin to clutter your space and leave less room for more valuable things.

Try this instead: Be very selective about the scrap materials (and volume) that you keep and store them in one location. And, think about other ways to use those useless things yourself (wear unmatched socks at home, use scraps of paper as padding for things you’re shipping), or donate them to a school or daycare center in your neighborhood that wants them.

Saving things that need repairing

Depending on the item, you can save money by doing your own repairs (like hemming your pants or replacing buttons). If you pick a day every week (or month) that you’ll fix a handful of things, you can continually reduce the volume of your fixer-uppers. But, if this is not something you enjoy doing (or know how to do), you could find yourself overwhelmed with lots of things that need mending or fixing.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the cost of repairing an item may be higher than replacing it. According to Lori Bongiorno, author of Green, Greener, Greenest, “a good rule of thumb is to skip repairs that cost more than 50 percent of what it would cost to buy a new version.”

Try this instead:

  • Before you attempt a repair on your own, find out if the manufacturer offers that service for free. Some places, like Coach, will fix wallets (and other items they sell) without charging you or give you a new one (same value as your original purchase) if they can’t repair it.
  • Another option would be to keep the things that are easy for you to do and trade the things you don’t want to do yourself with another person. This could mean that you’ll take on a task they don’t like doing, so you’ll both get your jobs done without having to do the task you wouldn’t otherwise complete. Or, you can barter an item (they fix your thing and you give them a thing that functions well but you don’t want anymore).
  • You can also let go of those items altogether by using Freecyle. It’s not unusual for someone to accept an item that needs a little repair work.

Collecting things to consign

Clothing is often a popular consignment item. It can be hard to let go of some pieces, especially if the purchase price was pretty high. Consigning is a great idea if you have the time to take items to the consignment shop and your items are exactly what the consignment store wants (they can be very picky). But, you’ll lose out on the money you could be getting if you have bags and bags of things you intended to sell that are simply sitting around and cluttering up your home.

Try this instead:

  • Keep a basket in your closet or laundry area for things you want to consign. Once full, put them in your car immediately so they don’t linger in your home. If, after a reasonable amount of time (you’ll hate seeing them in your car) they haven’t made it to the consignment, drop them off at donation organization (or arrange to have them picked up) to get the tax write-off.
  • Have a clothing swap party and trade the items you no long want (or that don’t fit anymore) with friends and/or family.

Go ahead and try your hand at turning your clutter into cash. Just be sure the things you need to do are reasonable for your lifestyle and not too demanding on your time and won’t clutter your space.

From clutter to cash: Four ways to sell your unwanted stuff

Gardeners everywhere can probably tell a great number of stories about their attempts to get rid of weeds. It’s not always a fun task (though some of us may find it calming) and it’s one of those things that we often put off doing. In that way, it’s a bit like uncluttering. It’s something we may need to do, but it may feel like a big undertaking. Did you also know that a weed can actually be any plant that is unwanted, even if it looks pretty and has beautiful blooms? Likewise, anything in your home that is unwanted, even if it’s in great shape (i.e., not broken or tattered), can be like weeds. We just classify those things as clutter.

The difference between the two, of course, is that you can’t do much with the weeds once you’ve pulled them, but you do have several options when it’s time to unclutter and let go of unwanted items that are still in good condition. You can donate those things to a group or organization, pass them on to a specific person, or you can sell them. Though, you will likely not get the original value of the item, you will clear your space and get cash or a gift card in return.

Recommerce is not a new idea, but it is one that has become more popular in recent times. This can perhaps be attributed to a tough economy, though some people sell to get an updated version of the item they’re letting go of. Whatever your reasons are, consider the four selling options below as you weed and sift through your belongings. You might end up choosing to only sell some things, but this list will at least get you started.

Seller Websites

Many of us are familiar with sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy (e.g. vintage clothing) for selling (and buying) things. Those websites are still viable options, but there are many others that can help you transition your items to a new owner.

  • Electronics. Gazelle.com will take your gadgets (mobile phones, tablets, desktop machines) — even broken ones — and send you a check, an Amazon gift card, or transfer funds to your PayPal account. NextWorth.com has a similar service and payment options, except that you can opt to receive a Target gift card. That site also has a referral program. If you decide to sell your electronics on eBay, be sure to check out their Technology & Electronics Selling Guide.
  • Books. If you used Gazelle or TheNextWorth to get a new tablet or Kindle, you may be thinking about purging a few books. You can sell them on Amazon, SellBackYourBooks.com, or Cash4Books.net, to name a few. You will need the ISBN number (typically found on the back of the book or inside the book on the copyright page). Payments are made via check, PayPal, or an account of your choosing.
  • Anything. Yardsellr.com uses the power of your social networks to help you sell your stuff. Log in using your Facebook account and let your friends see what you’re selling in your online yard sale. You will be paid via check or funds transfer to your PayPal account. There are no seller fees, however, Yardseller does markup your asking price. Check out their FAQs for more information.

Pawn Shops

Pawn shops can be a good option for specific things you may want to sell (like guitars) so do a bit of research to find out what is successful through these stores in your area. Selling to a pawn shop may work well since they can often take a wide variety of things, though, because they resell your item, you might not get top dollar. But, they will take the item off your hands immediately and you will get paid at the time of drop off.

Consignment Shops

If you have high-end clothing, shoes, jewelry, or antique pieces, a consignment shop in your neighborhood will consider selling your items and giving you a percentage of the sale. These stores tend to be pretty picky about the items they will accept and prefer to purchase things that are in excellent condition and seasonally appropriate. Some shops will require that you call to make an appointment, so be sure to check their guidelines before going.

A new type of consignment shop has arisen in the last few years that does things slightly differently. ClothesMentor.com will buy your gently used and laundered women’s clothes, accessories, perfume, etc. The transaction takes place at one of their stores (use the store locator to see if they have a shop near you) and you will be paid immediately for the items they purchase. Plato’s Closet works in a similar way for “teen and twenty something guys and girls,” and you can either accept cash on the spot or trade your clothes for a new outfit. They also don’t require that you make an appointment.


So, bartering is technically not selling, but it is a way to let go of things in return for a service that you may need. I read an article recently about someone who bartered a scooter to have her shed painted and dry walled. You may want to have a written agreement about the details of your exchange, and keep in mind that there are tax implications with bartering (read How the IRS Taxes Bartering for more information).

Of course, you don’t have to sell your things at all. You can simply donate them or give them away to a specific person. You wouldn’t have to take your clothing to a re-seller shop, create online seller accounts, upload photos/descriptions of your items, or manage buyer inquiries. You can arrange for donations to be picked up free of cost or meet up with the person receiving your donation. Whether you decide to sell or donate, you’ll unclutter, free up some much needed space, and do something good for yourself.

Unclutterer now appearing on Women and Co.

Last month, I started writing articles for the financial advice website Women and Co. I’m not one of their regular bloggers (they have a full-time staff), but someone who will have featured articles from time-to-time on their site’s homepage. The focus of my writing is to provide tips on how being organized and uncluttered may help to improve your money management.

Once the technical aspects are settled, we’ll put a widget in the middle column of our homepage linking to my articles as they appear on the Women and Co. site. In the meantime, these are the articles I’ve written so far:

How to Create Emergency Binders
In this piece, I provide directions for making two binders — a Basic Emergency Binder and a Worst-Case Scenario Emergency Binder. There are checklists for what to include so your loved ones can find all the important documents and information needed to help you and your family in all types of emergency situations.

Make Some Extra Spending Money: De-Clutter Your Home
Without much effort, you can likely find some cash in your clutter — and not just an unexpected $5 in the pocket of your old coat. In this article, I provide detailed steps for how and where to sell your clutter.

How to Pack a Cooler (and Save Money) for Your Next Road Trip
If wanderlust has set in and you’re looking to hit the open road, this post may help you save some money when you head out of your driveway. Even though gas prices are high, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on some of the treats that make road trips fun.

Tax time: Three basic steps to get you closer to filing your taxes on time

If you’re good at procrastinating and do it often, putting off doing your 2011 tax returns would be a very simple thing to do. I know it’s even easier to procrastinate doing them when you suspect you owe the government money.

There’s no need to let stress about completing your taxes take its toll on you, though. Getting started with just a few easy tasks right now can alleviate some of your anxiety, help you to be better organized, and assist you with meeting the federal and your state’s tax deadlines. The federal deadline is Tuesday, April 17, 2012, and most states have the same deadline — but pay attention if you live in Nebraska, Louisiana, or West Virginia as your state deadline is earlier in the month. (And lucky are those of you who live in the seven states without an income tax and who only have to file federal forms.)

Make life easier on yourself and try these basic tasks this week:

  1. Per U.S. law, you should have already received copies of your tax statements from your employer and investment/banking entities. If you haven’t already done so, grab a large Kraft envelope or file folder and place all of these tax documents into one place. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder as “2011 Tax Statements.” If you have numerous statements, list them on the front of the envelope or folder.
  2. If you are filing complex tax returns — listing deductions, credits, claiming expenses, etc. — group all of your supporting tax receipts and paperwork and place them into another large envelope or file folder. Don’t worry about sorting or grouping these documents at this stage of the game, simply gather. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder “2011 Supporting Tax Documents.”
  3. Call and make an appointment with an accountant or tax preparer if you are filing complex tax returns. Look up the number right now and pick up the phone. If you don’t know an accountant or preparer, ask for recommendations for people you trust, or consult a review service like Angie’s List. If you have no deductions, credits or other items to claim on your tax form, learn more about e-filing through the federal government and your state (do a Google search for “e-file state of X” with X being your state), or download “ez” forms from the federal government and your state.

My hope is that you have already filed your taxes and the information in this post is completely irrelevant to you. However, if you haven’t, stop procrastinating and take these first steps to getting your taxes done on time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled appointments

As much as I dislike going to see my dentist and doctors, I go for all of my preventative care appointments (every six months or once a year or whenever is recommended) to keep my medical costs low. I know from experience that regular checkups are less expensive than emergency care, which sincerely plays the largest part in all of it. These regular appointments are also there for early detection, so small problems don’t become large ones (also saving me money).

The easiest way to stay on top of these appointments is to schedule your next visit before you leave your dentist or doctor’s office. The same is true for hair appointments, car maintenance, and your pet’s veterinarian visits. Along similar lines, appointments for annual servicing of your heater, chimney, and other house work can be scheduled for the next year before the technician leaves your home (assuming you liked the work that was done). If your family enjoys going skiing every winter and you have a favorite place to stay, make your reservation for next year when you settle up your account for this year’s trip. Even though you have no idea what you’ll be doing 12 months in the future, it’s better to get an appointment on both of your schedules early. You may have to move the appointment, but you at least have one to move if you need to.

Regularly scheduling appointments will free up your time (you don’t have to call multiple times to try to get squeezed into someone’s schedule or call multiple providers hunting for someone who can help), alleviate stress (you don’t have to worry about your heater not turning on the first cold day of fall), and likely save you money over the long-term.

Eight year-end tasks to keep you organized

The presents have been unwrapped, turkey leftovers fill the refrigerator, and we’re back at our desks finishing year-end responsibilities. Whether at work or at home, there are tasks that we complete before December 31 that help to keep us organized in the new year.

Even though it’s difficult to get back to work after a few days vacation, the last week of the year can often be extremely productive because so few people are in the office. There usually are fewer disruptions and it’s easier to work for longer blocks of time. If you’re taking time off from work, now is also a good time to focus on year-end responsibilities at home.

The following are tasks we complete at the end of the year, but you might tackle different tasks to wrap up 2010 and prepare for 2011. Share your end-of-the-year processes in the comments, as they might be something we all should be doing, too:

At Work:

  • Year-end fiscal reports. Pay all bills, submit all receipts, reconcile all accounts, and complete all fiscal reports the accounting department requires.
  • Year-end professional goal reports. Review annual goals and accomplishments, and write performance reports the human resources department requires.
  • Review benefit package and changes. Many changes in insurance plans and other benefits occur at the change of the calendar year. Make note of these changes so you aren’t surprised by the differences.

At Home:

  • Reconcile financial accounts. Now is the time to get all of your financial paperwork for the year completed so you’re ready to file your taxes when your forms arrive.
  • Year-end personal goal and resolution review. Review all you accomplished over the course of the year and create goals and resolutions for 2011.
  • Back-up all digital data. Even if you do this daily, it’s good to take a final snapshot of the digital year.
  • Review beneficiary information on all investments and policies. If your family has grown or changed in the last year, now is the time to make sure your beneficiary information is current. Additionally, it’s a good time to do a general review of these investments and policies.
  • Review systems and routines. Are the systems and routines you follow meeting your family’s and home’s needs? If not, now is a good time to create new practices to implement in the new year.

Holiday season perfect time to sell or donate items

Does your son have a Thomas Train set he ignores? Is your daughter’s Radio Flyer wagon gathering dust in the garage? Are you storing golf clubs you never use? Do you have a formal gown you wore once and don’t plan to wear again?

All of these lightly used items — and thousands of others — are in high demand on Craigslist and eBay right now. Buyers are looking to save a few dollars, and sellers are hoping to make a little money. With the economy sloshing around in stagnant water, there is increased activity on resale sites during the holiday season.

If you’re interested in getting unused items out of your home and selling them on Craigslist or eBay, I highly recommend checking out the extremely thorough article “Sell It Now — how to make hundreds of dollars in 37 minutes” by Ramit Sethi. The article is targeted toward eBay, but works just as well for Craigslist. It’s especially helpful if you haven’t ever sold anything on a site like this.

If you aren’t interested in taking the time and energy to sell your lightly used items, now is also a great time to donate them to charity. Remember, charities aren’t dumping grounds for used stuff, so only consider donating goods that are still in excellent condition. Also, give your local charity a call before making a donation to confirm they have a need for your specific items.

Specialized saving accounts

Last winter, when one of our cats was diagnosed with a rare cancer, my husband and I took the cat to a renowned pet oncologist. Some of our friends, the pet lovers in our group, said they would have done the same thing to help a member of their family. Other friends, mostly people who don’t have pets, called us fools for considering the thousands of dollars in cancer treatments the oncologist might have recommended.

We ended up not having to make a treatment decision because the cancer was untreatable, and Basie cat passed away a few days later.

A couple weeks after that, my husband and I sat down and talked about setting up a medical saving account for our cat Charlie and any future pets we might adopt. We put $500 into savings and have been depositing $20 per month ($10 each) into the account since that time. Commercial pet insurance can be more expensive than what we’re doing, and, like traditional health insurance for people, it doesn’t cover all medical procedures and treatments. And, if we never need the insurance, we wouldn’t get the money we paid the pet insurance company back or with interest or be able to apply the premiums to another pet.

Simply, we created the specialized saving account for our pet because we never want to be in a position again where money has to be strongly considered along with treatment options.

After making this decision to create a medical saving account for our pet, we started to realize how this way of budgeting could help alleviate stress associated with other areas of our finances. We immediately created a specialized saving account for our automobile — $20 a month now goes into an account to cover service needs for our aging car. We also made a window replacement fund since we have a house mostly made of glass and a toddler with an amazingly strong throwing arm.

How to create a specialized saving account: When you acquire a new responsibility, you deposit an eighth or a quarter of your saving goal into a dedicated saving account as the account’s start-up fund (or a multi-use account that you keep records for what money in the account is for what purpose). Once the saving account is open and initially funded, you set up an automatic transfer through your bank to put $10 or $20 (or whatever amount you choose) into the new saving account from your checking account every month. This automatic deposit removes the temptation to spend the money on something else.

These specialized saving accounts reduce your stress, allow you to cover large expenses when they arise, and help you to live with an uncluttered budget (a budget where you spend less than you earn). Do you have specialized saving accounts? Would setting one up help you to prepare for an emergency expense? What reasons do you have to create a specialized saving account?