by Cheryl Ford, Sr. Organizing Specialist and Designer
I.R.S. - “ I Refuse to be Stressed”
It has been said that two things in life are certain…death and taxes. This time of year, the latter seems to be on everyone’s mind and it can be very stressful. It may be a good stress if you have a refund coming, or not-so-good stress if you think you will owe money and have to decipher all the forms and translate “IRS speak.” So, how DO you get through tax time without adding any gray hairs or simply wanting to crawl into a hole? Look at the big picture and just think of it as an organization project, part of your yearly “spring cleaning,” and by taking one step at a time. You could apply some of the basic steps from Laura’s book “Eliminate Chaos- The 10 step process to Organize Your Home & Life.” I’ve listed some of those steps below and how they can apply to filing your taxes.
Step 1:Dedicate Time
If you think you can prepare and file your tax return all on the eve of April 15th, you’d better make sure you are not living in a time zone of a different planet. Even if you only need to file the short form, the information needed still takes time to collect and verify. Set aside several hours for the preliminary round, sometime in early February, after you have received all of your year-end wage and financial statements.
Step 3: Establish a Staging Area
Find a nice big table in a quiet area to spread everything out on. Gather a few supplies like sticky notes, file folders, and a device that has a calculator in it. A little tray of snacks or a glass of wine might keep you from distracting yourself with a trip to the kitchen or getting low on energy during the session.
Steps 4 & 5: Sort and Purge
Dive into the years’ worth of paperwork and ask yourself questions about whether to keep, toss, recycle or shred the item. For example; will this piece of paper show how much money I took in (or lost) from various sources such as wages, a sale of shares of stock, or selling a house? Will it show that I paid some kind of tax on something; such as yearly property taxes, excise tax for licensing a car, or sales tax for buying a new washer/dryer? Will this piece of paper prove that I have children in daycare, college or that grandma is living with us? Will it show that I had an unusually high amount of medical bills this year, or that I gave money to the Humane Society or donated six bags of clothes to the Goodwill? If you can answer yes, then it probably is a keeper.
Most receipts and documents that can be eliminated include those for groceries, drycleaning, flowers you ordered for Valentines day, for your daily trip to the coffee shop, along with others that fall into the “non deductible expense” category.
Step 6: Group “Like” Items
Now it’s time to take the keepers and group them further into helpful and appropriate categories. Using titles similar to the following, sort and label them with sticky notes into:
Money In / Income
Money Out / Expenses
Taxes Paid / Credits
Who I Supported Financially / Family Members
Money & Things I Gave Away / Charitable Contributions
You may have more or fewer categories, depending on your exact situation. Briefly look through the items in each of your categories, and check to make sure that you are not forgetting documents that may be hiding in other parts of the house, or that were not mailed to you in January. Stack your piles criss-cross fashion, walk away and come back to it for a second round (after collecting missing information) in a few days or a few weeks. Now that wasn’t too stressful was it?
Fast forward. Round two is not just around the corner. It is here. It’s time to go back to the table, unstack the piles of categories, fill in the blanks of missing parts or pieces, and trot it all off to your accountant. You could also try a less expensive method of figuring and filing your taxes by loading up a version of “Turbo Tax” and let your fingers do the walking. It is almost goof proof, as it just asks you to answer a series of questions about your categories, and will prompt you for any forgotten information or possible illogical data. If you do make any mistakes, or forget to input a number, it is very easy to jump in at the right spot, make the correction, and move on. It will even do a final review of the return before you print or submit it electronically. If you keep using “Turbo Tax” from year to year, you will have access to all of that data, enabling you to compare one year to the rest or remind you of an important financial transaction that may have slipped your mind.
Hopefully you are well on your way to surviving another tax season. Now it’s time to mention the last very important step in Laura’s book in regard to handling your future tax returns.
Step 10: Maintain
To assure that you wont even think of getting stressed when January of 2014 rolls around, (it is one of those things that is certain), maintaining your tax documents and categories throughout 2013 is essential in preventing that stress.
The easiest way to get started is to label just one file with “Taxes 2013” and place it in a fairly prominent spot within your weekly or monthly bills and record keeping. Each time that you create or receive a piece of paper falling into one of the tax related categories that we discussed above, plop it into the file, and toss the ones that don’t. In essence you will be pre-sorting and pre-purging, bit by bit, months ahead of time, and saying “I Refuse to be Stressed.”
~ Cheryl Ford
Organizing with Laura Blog
Keep up with our blog on Real Estate.com. Here is a list of topics from February:
"Like" us on FaceBookfor more fun tips and bursts of inspiration or "follow" us on Twitter.
Upcoming Classes and Seminars
Topic: Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life
Date: March 7, 2013
Time: 7:00-8:30 pm Place: Des Moines Library Address: 21620 11th Ave S. | Des Moines, WA 98198 Investment: Free Sponsored By: Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties
Topic: Right-Sizing: Less Stuff = Less Stress
Date: March 11, 2013 Time: 7:00-8:30 pm Place: Fairwood Library Address: 17009 140th Ave S.E. | Renton, WA 98058 Investment: Free Sponsored By: Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties
Topic: Clutter Clearing & Feng Shui for a Stress-Free Life
Place : Newcastle Library Address: 12901 Newcastle Way | Newcastle, WA 98056 Investment: Free
Sponsored By: Master Builders Association Of King and Snohomish Counties
Topic: Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life
Date: April 30, 2013 Time: 7:00-8:30 pm Place: Monroe Library Address: 1070 Village Way | Monroe, WA 98272
Sponsored By:Master Builder's Association of King and Snohomish Counties
Click HERE for additional classes being offered in 2013!
Bookmark this page and check back often for places where Laura will be speaking that you can attend at no charge or for a nominal fee.
Giving & Receiving is a Good Thing
Remember last spring and fall when you cleaned out the garage, or went through your kid’s closets prior to shopping for school clothes? After the holidays, did you part with decorations and lights that year after year you just never got around to putting up? Hopefully you donated the tools, the clothes and the decor to your local non-profit thrift shop, or a women or men’s shelter. The “giving” part was a good feeling for you and your newly organized spaces and the “receiving” part was good for those less fortunate and in need of everyday items.
In the process of giving, if you made a list of your items, and got a dated receipt from the charity, then you are a good candidate to use and take advantage of the free software called “It’s Deductible.” In a nutshell, you go to the website, look up the items you donated; like “women’s ‘t-shirt” or “men’s dress shoes”, and check the box to determine the value of the item. You will be surprised at the values and how they add up quickly. Repeat the process with each donated item and you will have a neatly documented list and total dollar amount of your donations to put on your tax return. Refer to the details and restrictions explained on the website.
It's Never Too Late to Ask for Help
If you are getting stressed over gathering and organizing your tax documents, maybe its time to ask for some help. Why not hire us to tame your tax time paper piles and set you up to be stress free for the 2014 tax season. We are sure you'd love to move on with more enjoyable things to spend your time on.
Pick up the phone or send us an email and tell us what is on your project list, big or small, and we'll let you know how we can quickly accomplish your organizing projects so you will have "More Time for Life®".
Give us a call at 425.670.2551, 509.392.7064 or 877.342.8592 to discuss your needs and see how we can put together a team to help.