Where is the best place to start on a journey to get and keep your finances in order? Gather your financial paperwork, including whatever pertains to your credit cards, phone and utility bills, bank statements, insurance and mortgage payments, and any other financial debts and obligations you’re required to pay on a monthly or yearly basis. Let’s begin:

  1. Organize your documents, sorting them by name and placing them in separate file folders with the name of the company and the year (e.g., Con Edison 2018). Keep tax returns in their own folder and label them the same way (e.g., tax year 2018).
  2. Analyze your insurance coverage to make sure you have homeowners’ insurance or renter’s insurance. Remember that flood and disaster coverage aren’t always included in regular policies, so talk to your insurance agent to make sure you have the right disaster coverage for where you live.
  3. Life insurance might be offered through your place of business, but if not, consider speaking to an insurance agent to see whether you need it. It’s a good way to ensure your debts are covered should anything happen to you. Check to see whether you’re getting all the discounts you are eligible for. An online safe driver course may save you money on your insurance—check with your insurance company.
  4. Make a will, which is an especially important document if you have children. You can name guardians to watch over them. A last will or living trust is also critical if you own significant or complicated assets.
  5. Create a budget and stick to it. It’s not difficult to create one, but sticking to it is another matter. Write down your non-fixed expenses such as meals out, entertainment, clothing and other discretionary purchases. Compare your actual spending to your budget to see where you’re getting off track. You may want to try using budgeting and expense-tracking software such as Microsoft Money.
  6. Reduce fixed expenses. Determine where you can save money without sacrificing your quality of life. Check to see whether your company has a preferred cellphone provider that offers discounts on all employees’ personal plans.
  7. Reduce your debt by consolidating and paying down debt. Pay at least double the minimum plus the finance charge every month. Transfer balances to one or two cards with low APRs to help you keep track of credit card debt. Destroy or freeze your other cards so you don’t use them.
  8. Set up an emergency fund. Having two to three months’ worth of income on hand in case of emergency is important, but in tight economic times it can be difficult to do. Try putting every five-dollar bill you get into a box, or even emptying all your change into a jar at the end of the day.
  9. Find a safe place for financial documents: real estate deeds, trusts, wills, 401(k) accounts, IRAs and other important financial documents. A trusted friend, attorney or family member should know where this place is. Make copies of driver’s licenses, passports and credit cards, just in case of their loss.
  10. By determining what your financial obligations are, you can make arrangements to pay down debt and/or reduce your overhead, if necessary.

It feels great to get a better handle on your finances. Seeking and obtaining legal help with financial matters is always wise as well.