Are you sitting in the midst of stacks of documents and receipts, trying to get organized before filing your income tax return? As you wade through the data, you might find yourself shocked at how much you paid for insurance, phone service, and the cable connection. You can't go back in time and change things, but it's never too late to take steps to change the future. With just a few simple actions you can lower the prices you pay for subscriptions and organize the bills and papers that quickly pile up.
Get Your Papers in Order
Set aside a day, or two, to get rid of your paper pileup. Investing in a good scanner or spending a few dollars on a smartphone scanning app, such as DocScanner or ScannerPro, is the first step. Next, you'll organize papers into three piles: file, scan, and toss.
This pile is for the must-save documents, like birth certificates and passports. Buy a fireproof safe and tuck them away inside.
Important documents you want to keep but don't need in paper form go on this pile. Receipts, for example, can be scanned or photographed and stored on a computer; Kiplinger discusses which tax records you need copies of. Banks and brokerages often store copies of your statements on their servers for several years, but you probably want your own.
Store scanned files on your hard drive and with a cloud service, such as DropBox or Evernote; Evernote lets you look at a scanned image and make the text searchable. If you're concerned about potential data breaches with cloud storage, load documents onto an external hard drive that you keep in the fireproof safe.
Worried about going completely paperless? Try this compromise: Keep a single large three-ring binder with plastic pockets or a file box with hanging file folders. Organize bills or statements by company and at the end of the year scan the documents. Only retain end-of-year statements in paper form -- everything else can be shredded after copies are loaded onto your computer.
Throw out or shred (office supply stores generally offer this service if you don't have a shredder) the documents in this pile. Papers to shred include anything with identifying information, such as account numbers and, if you're really risk-averse, credit card receipts even if they only contain the last four digits. Old magazines that you'll never get around to reading should be tossed or recycled.
Lower the Cost of Subscriptions
Now that you have your paper life under control, take time to review the subscriptions you pay for. Keep an eye out for expensive add-ons, like premium movie channels on your cable bill, which can either be sacrificed or replaced by cheaper alternatives. An online streaming service such as Netflix might cost less and give you access to more movies, for example.
Even if you don't have any add-ons it's worth calling your cable and/or Internet provider to see if there is a cheaper package. It might sound crazy, but sometimes simply asking can save you money. If you need to be a little more persistent, this post at Get Rich Slowly offers some guidance.
Cellphone bills are another expense that almost every family faces. A guide at LifeHacker suggests ways to reduce that expense. Recently several providers started offering cash to customers who switch service. At least in the short term, that may be the better financial option.
If you're making payments on a credit card bill, this technically isn't a subscription but the interest rate may prove to be negotiable. LearnVest provides a guide that helps you prepare before making the ask.
Stop the Junk
Once you've gotten organized and cut expenses it's time to take the last step and stem the tide of junk mail. The Federal Trade Commission suggests contacting the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service, which lets you request a five-year hiatus from receiving unsolicited commercial mail. You can do so online at DMAchoice.org or mail a request and pay a $1 processing fee. Not every direct mailer uses the DMA service, however. For instructions on how to opt out of other junk mail read the guide from Consumerist.