Chance favors the prepared mind but doesn’t help when you face your accountant for those happy end-of-year get-togethers. The key to any tax return is documentation. Don’t wait until a day before your scheduled meeting to compile your invoices and bank statements. In the 21st century, we depend upon our computers to enhance profits and to manage our ‘lists’. Why not also consider them as an important part of our storage solution?
Keep a list of what goes in your cardboard banker’s boxes. Many people suggest you attach it to the outside of the storage box. We suggest you leverage your efforts. A checklist will not only remind you what to put in the box but what is inside when you stash it on some back shelf. Consider a digitized inventory list as both ‘tickler file’ (what needs to be saved) and final inventory of all stored items. Use your computer list to tag important ‘evergreen’ material like travel and entertainment receipts along with one-time documents like big item purchase records. Why distribute your important material across many separate boxes when you can create a digitized inventory and consolidate your physical storage in fewer boxes listed on one big spreadsheet? Consider several ‘user-defined’ columns (fields) that might provide that special bit of information without a physical search.
You can temporarily resort items according to specific column heading (fields) to bring items to the front of the list in seconds. Use a separate column for storage date (when you put the item in the box) as well as a column for the book or post date of the item in question. Consider a separate column on your spreadsheet for special notes. Remember you can compile the inventory of many boxes into one giant list that might cover the entire year or more. One quick temporary data sort and you can locate a cluster of items and locate them in their labelled box!
Remember payroll records including time sheets, registers, and W4/W2 copies should be stored for seven years. Keep a list of current addresses of each employee relevant to the tax year. Store this information in a color-coded box separate from other filing or banker’s boxes so that they can be located quickly. Consider including IRS W9. Form 1096, and Form 1099 in this storage area depending on whether you have employees or hire subcontractors. One benefit of using a computerized spreadsheet is creating one workbook and having separate worksheets. Once again, consider compiling the digital information sorted across years. Wouldn’t it be nice to peak at your tax-related information on a year-to-year basis at the click of a mouse button? If columns (fields) are carefully designed, you could sort all your payroll information by a specific employee name on demand and have an immediate inventory listing of what paperwork you have on file for that person.
A small business owner needs to project their sales and their estimated tax payments. Strategic use of column date (fields) and separately linked worksheets within a large workbook can help not only remind you what to store and where you store it, but simplify your ‘what if’ when you need to plan you future. There are many free or inexpensive phone applications that download data to a comma-separated values (CSV) file; this is another name for a spreadsheet file. Consider linking this data to a physical storage box with a single number! Consider adding one data field with a dollar amount. All these fancy money management software tools are nothing more than spreadsheets with pretty pictures. With a little planning, you can integrate your physical storage location with your operational data as each event occurs. Tickler files become inventory lists and inventory lists become summarized schedules that simplify your operations, your record keeping and preparing your 2013 tax return.