Mounds and mounds of papers and files are all over my desk, overflowing to the cabinet behind me, onto the couch, and taking over the floor, with even more boxes streaming into the hallway. The piles are multiplying—they’re spreading to block the front door!

Do you ever have this nightmare when you think of your tax files and bills? Do you feel like records and paperwork are taking over your life? Do you feel like there are just so many tiny details to attend to that you can’t ever deal with it all? You don’t know where to start, so you just…give up.

Me too. But then I remember how easy it is to get control back. The fastest way to get on track with money management is to clean up the piles and get organized. The fact is that most of that stuff would be easy to file away and it would be easy to make a budget—if you only had a system.

Organizing your money

Watching an old rerun of Dragnet the other night, I saw Officer Bill Gannon putting money into envelopes while Sergeant Joe Friday smiled sardonically at his efforts. Gannon had learned about the envelope budgeting methods in 1967. There are still systems like that around now, but setting cash aside is seen as so impractical that we tend to manage all of our money electronically instead.

What’s the alternative to an envelope budgeting system? Simple. Set up your own spreadsheet with a column for each of your major expenses. Make three rows. The first row will show the name of the expense, the second will show the monthly budget amount, and the third will show the annual amount. Each time you get paid, allocate part of your paycheck to the appropriate column, like this:

This way, you segregate your money before you spend it, without having to move it around. Only spend whatever is left…or don’t. Save it for something special.

Organize your papers

Sit down and think about yourself. Be honest. What would you never do when it comes to organizing your filing and papers? There’s no point in setting up some elaborate system you will never follow. That’s like a diet that cuts out all your favorite foods. It would be doomed to failure.

So what will you do?

  • Can you put things away in nice, tidy folders in a file cabinet?
  • Can you manage an expanding file with 21 pockets, all nicely labeled?
  • How about tossing your receipts and other papers into separate packets for each month and making notes about mileage or cash using a system like the Tax MiniMiser?
  • Can you toss your papers into envelopes and turn them over to someone else to organize for you each month—like an assistant, bookkeeper, tax pro, or online system like Shoeboxed?
  • Can you scan your paperwork each week and organize it in files on your computer? There are plenty of smartphone apps and computer programs that can help make scanning and filing easy.
  • What about just designating a drawer and dumping everything in there?

Decide on the best path for you. Once you know where you will be putting your papers, be sure to put them there. You will always find what you need when you need it.

Simply having things put away can make a huge difference to your stress level. I personally am hoping to find out how much. Soon. Very soon.

Eva Rosenberg, EA is the publisher of , where your tax questions are answered. Eva is the author of several books and ebooks, including the new edition of Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Eva teaches a tax pro course at and tax courses you might enjoy at