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Yep, it's that time of year again: Time to start getting your tax returns in order. A total thrill ride for most of you, I'm sure. There is one silver lining though: The possibility of a tax refund! So here's my question: If you're getting a refund this year, what are you going to do with the money?
Today I'll be sharing what I usually do with my refund, as well as a few tips for keeping your finances organized for next year. It may seem a bit silly to plan that far ahead, but trust me, starting now will make your life easier when it comes time to file all that paperwork!
So, the refund. In past years I usually put my refund towards one of three things: Paying off debt, purchasing necessary something for my home (like new furniture), or investing in a new computer. I started working when I was 18 years old and have either been a student or employed in a position that required heavy computer usage for most of the time since then, so new technology was always a logical investment.
It's a bit impractical to lug around a heavy laptop nowadays though, so I've been upgrading my mobile devices instead. I was one of those people who put off buying a smartphone forever, which is ridiculous because I can't imagine life without them now. They keep me organized and work as an ultra-portable TV set... what's not to like?
I recently upgraded my main phone to the Samsung Galaxy Avant, which is currently on Rollback at Walmart for $149. I'm also using Walmart Family Mobile's no-contract Unlimited Talk Text and Data/Web plan, which costs a mere $29.88 per month for the first line and includes 500MB of 4G LTE data. I don't know about you, but I think that's a seriously good deal! It's nice to be able to access my documents and e-mail on the go without having to worry about racking up crazy data charges.
If you want to check out their service for yourself, head on over to your local Walmart and look for a display with lots of blue boxes. If you're new to Walmart Family Mobile service (or want to use it with your own unlocked phone), you'll need to purchase a sim starter kit for $25.
One cool thing about Walmart's basic sim card kit—it comes with a standard-sized sim by default, but the center pops out into a perfectly-sized micro sim if that's what you need. I found this very handy as I tend to swap sim cards between my phones depending on what I'm doing, and they have differently sized sim card slots. It's the little things, people.
Anyway, one of the main reasons I wanted to upgrade my phone was so I could use it to do some on-the-go bookkeeping. I'm one of those people who will forget absolutely EVERYTHING if I don't make to-do lists or take care of it immediately, so being able to quickly log expenses when I'm out and about saves me a lot of headaches when it comes time to reconcile my records.
And so, without further ado, I present to you my tips for using your phone to keep records and reduce your tax filing stress next year.
TIP #1: Take pictures of your receipts.
Have expenses or make a purchase that's potentially tax-deductible? Take a picture of the receipt as soon as you get it! You should keep the hard copy as well, but having a snapshot of your receipts will come in handy if you lose one or want to have a digital backup. As a self-employed person I have quite a few of these, so if I'm in a rush I'll quickly snap a photo, upload the picture to a folder on Dropbox, and then sort them into subfolders by month when I have a bit of time to sit down at my computer.
TIP #2: Create a binder for hard copies of your financial documents.
I do a lot of digital record-keeping, but when it comes to storing hard copies of financial documents (like those pesky receipts), it's really helpful to keep them in one place so you're not hunting around for everything at the last minute. Three-ring binders are old-school but really ideal for this sort of document storage: You can flip through them easily, rearrange and add things to them as needed, and add dividers for different sections. In my binder, I have separate sections for each quarter and then sub-sections for each month, so it's really easy to find stuff. I also stick in one plastic sheet protector for each to corral small bits of paper (again, those darn receipts!) When the year is over, start a new binder! I like getting a new color for each year just to keep things fun. (My 2014 binder was purple and my 2015 binder is green, in case anyone cares.)
TIP #3: Use cloud storage to keep backups of your financial records.
Personally I use Dropbox, but any secure cloud-based storage will do. Having a records binder is great, but what if you lose it? What if there's an accident? Cloud-based storage allows you to easily keep backups of your documents and organize them by date. Even better yet, you can easily add to them or adjust them on the go from your smartphone or tablet.
TIP #4: Make your budget accessible electronically.
I'm a really big advocate of making a budget, and tracking all of your expenses/income in detail to maximize your finances. This is how I've managed to survive on a not-so-grand income despite having a bunch of student loan debt—watching those pennies carefully! And being able to log all of your expenses on the go makes it easier to stay on track. I'm a big fan of the You Need A Budget app for tracking personal expenses, and I use spreadsheets on Google Drive to keep track of business-related stuff. But no matter what you use, it's really helpful to be able to access your information whilst out and about!
The bottom line is that having easy access to your financial information on the go makes it easy to stay organized in the here and now, and doing little things to keep your finances organized on a day-to-day basis will save you the stress of trying to figure out everything at the last minute. So if you find yourself agitated about doing your 2014 taxes, implement an organizational system for 2015 today! It's not too late.
And if you're thinking of picking up some new tech with your tax return this year, be sure to check out Walmart Family Mobile! They have some other phones on rollback right now as well—for example the ZTE Zinger is currently just $19.84, which is awesome if you're on a tight budget or have someone in your family who's in need of a starter phone.
How do you usually spend your tax return? Do you have a system for keeping track of your finances electronically?
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, however any opinions expressed above are honest and my own. For more information, check out my full disclosure policy.