Editorial Policy

When Spring Cleaning, Don’t Forget about Financial Clutter

Kristin McGrath

April 19, 2012

Behind my desk at home lives a box. Inside the box lurks my financial life, organized within tabs like “Bank accounts,” “Car stuff,” “Receipts,” “Investments,” “Tax things,” “Insurance,” “Misc.” and “VERY IMPORTANT.”  This is the box I will grab first if my apartment ever catches fire.
Over the past five years, this box has grown heavy. So, last weekend weekend, in the spirit of spring cleaning, I decided to go through the box and sacrifice some of its contents to the shredder. This is something I had been putting off (like many other financial chores) — generally, my interactions with the box involve opening it furtively and shoving in papers that I figure I’ll need when I grow up someday.
I’m happy to report that the box lost a lot of weight and will be easier to carry out in the event of a fire. And, today, I came across this article from financial counselor and CBS contributor Ray Martin, which lists financial documents that it’s OK to throw out. I was relieved to discover that Martin’s list matches the documents I shredded.
  • Receipts: I save receipts in case I need to return things. I’m pretty sure, however, that Banana Republic isn’t going to take back that dress I bought in 2009. All 61 receipts in the box went into the shredder.
  • Bank deposit slips: I had lot of these hanging around, although Martin says you can toss them as soon as the money appears in your account.
  • Credit card and bank account statements: I’m ashamed to say I found a handful of bank account statements in unopened envelopes. From 2008. Martin says the expiration date of bank account statements is generally one year (although it’s a good idea to keep any that contain images of checks). As for credit card statements, you can toss them after checking them for accuracy.
  • Old tax returns: Martin points out that the IRS has a period of limitations when it comes to reviewing old returns. To be on the safe side, I shredded only the returns from before 2006 — after scanning them and saving the images on two separate flash drives. The thick stacks of paper made a very satisfying noise as the shredder devoured them.
  • Utility bills: I found a cache of electric and gas bills from St. Louis, which I left in 2009. It was a good idea to keep them for a few months (I had to dispute an inaccurate charge after I moved out). But three years? Into the shredder they went.
With financial spring cleaning in mind, here are some of the best money blog posts of the week:
Man vs. Debt gives some dramatic suggestions for parting ways with clutter.
I Will Teach You to be Rich describes the debilitating condition of personal finance dread.
Couple Money explains when to call your partner out on over-spending.
Give Me Back My Five Bucks wonders if she could ever truly become a minimalist.
Dual Income No Kids Finance lists some bad habits that can cost you.
Funny about Money emphasizes the importance of regular insurance checkups.