I was not born organized. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Over time, I’ve had to learn systems to get and stay organized. I’ve read lots of books on the subject and work very hard at staying organized. There are still times when being disorganized has had a financial cost. Now, being organized is even more motivating to me, knowing it can save me time and money.

Make a menu

Do you ever get home from work at the end of the day, open the fridge and wonder, “What should I make for dinner tonight?” When the options seems unappealing or unappetizing or the ingredients aren’t all there, you’re left with a number of choices

  1. Go out to eat.
  2. Pick up some groceries.
  3. Get creative with the ingredients you have.
  4. Order in.

I find the most difficult part about making dinner is choosing what to have. If someone else would make the decision and have everything already there, the actual cooking would be the easy part. When I sit down and make a menu and a corresponding grocery list once a week, I’m making all of those choices at once. It removes the stress of choosing what to make for dinner when I know I have the ingredients I need. I also saves a lot of money if you can avoid eating out or ordering in on a regular basis.

Know what you own and know what you need

This gets even more complicated once you have children. Two years back I found a pair of rubber boots on sale in the next size up for my son. I bought them, brought them home, took them down to the boot storage area in the basement and low and behold found the same boots already down there! Now I keep a ‘needs list’  in my wallet so when I find a sale, I can refer to it and know what we already own. It doesn’t matter how big of a sale it was, we don’t need two pairs of rubber boots in the same size.

Have a filing system

Recently we found out we were being reviewed by the CRA and needed to send in a record of all of our charitable donations and tuition statements. Fortunately, I knew where to look. I went into the file marked “taxes 2008”, found the statements I needed and mailed them off within the hour. Without my trusty filing system, I may not have been able to find everything I needed which would have resulted in a an extremely costly re-assessment of our taxes.

Keep all of your receipts and tax records going back six years. Have a file for warranties, manuals and investments. When you need something, you’ll know exactly where it is.

Of of the most common New Year’s resolutions after losing weight and exercising more is the desire to get organized. Knowing that getting organized can help save you money makes it even more motivating.

Recommended Books

If you’re on the disorganized side and are looking to get more organized these books are a great place to start. If you want to be frugal you can order them through your local library. These resources are for people who didn’t inherit the organizational gene. If you’re already pretty organized, they probably won’t do you much good. If you need some help, these are a great start.

Books on Getting Organized at Work

  • One Year to an Organized Work Life: From Your Desk to Your Deadlines, the Week-by-Week Guide to Eliminating Office Stress for Good (link)
  • Getting Things Done (link)

Getting Organized at Home

  • Real Simple: Cleaning: Your Room-by-Room Guide to a Beautiful House (link)
  • ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (link)

Organizing Your Finances

  • The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook: A Foolproof Guide to Organizing Your Cash and Building Wealth (link)
  • One Year to an Organized Financial Life: From Your Bills to Your Bank Account, Your Home to Your Retirement, the Week-by-Week Guide to Achieving Financial Peace of Mind (link)

How has being organized saved you money?

Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

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  1. Ben on January 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I’m laughing to myself – Kathryn, you mirror my own life!

    What else – just organized the master closet with lots of new shelves and rods, so that’s allowed us to bring all of our clothes back from the far-flung closets and know what we actually have. Reckon this will prevent us from buying clothes we don’t need.

    Also, we try to gas up at the Superstore (seems to be about a cent/litre cheaper most days), which also generates 2c/litre in Loblaws bucks (plus 1% free groceries in PC points on the MC). Then tuck the receipt under the car visor so that’s it’s available next time we’re at the grocery store.

    And FT – maybe I just don’t have a good pop-up blocker, but those talking bobble-heads from St. Lucia are driving me nuts.

  2. Caitlin on January 19, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Being organized definitely saves you money! I wrote about ways clutter can cost you money last week, and the inverse is so true as well!

    I’m not a big fan of the menus, though. I need to give it another try, because my current method isn’t very efficient, but sometimes I just don’t (or can’t) eat what I planned to, and then it gets annoying.

  3. Mommy Quit on January 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I’m slowly learning that being organized can save tons of $$. I would like to say I’ve been a type A organized person since the day I was born but I’m not.

    It actually takes alot of work but the easiest one for me is menu planning (family of foodies here) and it really cuts down the shopping time in the grocery store and forces us to really use up every bit of produce in our fridge (before planning, we would be throwing out rotten vegetables almost weekly!)

    Now I just have to master organizing the home. We really hate housework over here. Thanks for the book suggestions!

  4. FrugalTrader on January 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the heads up about the pop up ads, I have explicitly selected no pop ups within the settings of my advertising account. I will look into it further.

  5. Ms Save Money on January 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I like to make things as simple as possible – so I try not to own anything that will turn into clutter. This by the way, saves me a lot of money.

    Also goes with food too – I only do grocery shopping once a month and also buy things that are easy and fast to prepare – no need for menus.

    Of course I don’t have a family so – it’s a bit different.

  6. Kathryn on January 19, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Wow, I’d love to go grocery shopping once a month. I find I go at least once a week to pick up the fresh stuff. In the summer I go to the farmer’s market which is slightly more pleasant. One of my least favourite chores is grocery shopping. I’ve made quite an art of it getting in and out quickly. I may have to do a post about that one day.

    It’s nice to hear I’m not alone in missing the organization gene. I wonder sometimes if it’s closely tied to the mapping gene. I seem to be missing that whole area of my brain.

  7. Chris on January 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I would have to say that the #1 organization trick that helps my wife & I save money month after month is a simple spreadsheet that serves 2 key purposes: 1) it allows us to track our daily spending, and just as importantly, 2) alerts us to the latest day when our household bills (monthly or otherwise) should be paid in order to avoid late-payment charges, and some cases even take advantage of early payment discounts (City of Toronto water bill, for example).

    For us, late payment & interest charges had nothing to do with cash flow problems, they were 100% the result of laziness, forgetfulness, or procrastination!

  8. tom on January 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Once a month, how do you keep your produce, bread, milk products etc from going bad?

  9. Ms Save Money on January 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I don’t really drink much milk but yes I do have it, it’s Milk packaged using the Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) – which can last for weeks and months. :) Very safe too. And technically doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

    I buy fruits and veggies too – but generally lasts about 2 weeks – which is fine with me since I can always go home and pick produce from my parent’s gardens on the weekends when i go back. I also stock caned tuna, crackers, salted plum, fish flakes (from japanese food market), rice, spaghetti noodles, spaghetti sauce. This basically lasts me for an entire month.

    But I also eat out too – twice a week during work week – & at parent’s house or friend’s house on weekends.

  10. cannon_fodder on January 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I’d say I have definitely had my “disorganization” gene “mutate” as I’ve aged. It has been easier because I’ve learned to like it – in other words I do it due to the fact I want to rather than need to.

    I do find it frustrating that I file things away and keep them for future reference while my wife throws most things away. When something breaks it becomes hard to get any favourable resolution if you have thrown away your receipt.

    My wife had the unfortunate incident happen to her that may have been directly related to her less organized attitude. Last year she realized when asked for ID that her licence had expired years ago. While she had received annual plate licence renewals she didn’t remember getting the drivers licence renewal. Because of that she had to take the written, the road and the highway tests!

    She was a nervous wreck because of the 3 point turn, the parallel parking (we don’t own the fancy self-parking cars but it is also rare we would need to parallel park) and the simple fact that our driving skills lapse into less than ideal examples.

    She had to take 2 days off work for the tests. That is a pretty significant cost but a lesson learned.

    I find at work that people spend a lot of time searching for emails or files on their computer. If you think about how much productivity is lost in Canada alone in one year it probably would be close to $1 billion. While I find Google Desktop to be far superior to Windows Search our company won’t allow it. I didn’t know I was living in the Republic of China.

  11. Chris W. Rea, BasicallyMoney.com on January 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Kathryn. I’d like to second the recommendation for Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”. I have to admit I haven’t adopted his _full_ system described therein, but there pieces definitely incorporated into my DNA and working to my advantage.

    For instance, one guideline from GTD that I liked a lot goes something like this: “If something needs to be done and takes less than 2 minutes, _do it now_.” Small things I used to procrastinate doing now get done right away, and that frees me up from the stress of thinking about doing them. So when I want to relax, I can really relax, and not worry about the little things piling up.

  12. Future Money-Bags on January 24, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I am young and don’t have a tonne of investments and I have no debt:
    But What I have begun doing, is starting Excel spreadsheets.
    Here I will calculate everywhere my money goes!

    Rent, food, entertainment, trips, transportation, bills, insurance, ETC.
    This includes out-of-wallet money, credit card usage, debit card usage
    (though I use CC 95% of the time)

    I also keep track of how much money I make each month, how much expenses I have, and any other source of income or expenditures.

    This is a GREAT way for me to keep track of my spending habits. Although I already saved over 50% of every paycheck I receive into the bank, sometimes I was finding that I didnt’t know where my money was going..

    So now that I have began this, I have raised my ‘spending productivity'(?) by noticeable increments!
    I now save 60-70% of my income every month.

    Also regarding organized, I do have drawers in my room for my business, and a small filing cabinet for every catagory of paper. Be it receipts, bills, bank statements, insurance, dental; etc.

  13. mp on January 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Each Sunday I organize the following weeks dinner meals so that I know what to take out of the freezer when. It means we don’t eat out as much or have take out as often and save more money than I can imagine. Dinner out now is a romantic treat rather than a “Crap I don’t know what to make for dinner, let’s go out” thing.

    I take 5 minutes a day to track expenses in my budget spreadsheet, download bank transactions etc. That helps me curb my spending.

    Finally, being organized at work means I save time – little time is wasted looking for things on a messy desk, being more prepared for meetings so they go faster and I don’t waste time on unproductive things and I’m finishing projects on time.

    I’m far from where I want to be but being organized at home and at work, but I’m getting much better at it. Even a little organization can save time!

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