Often, when I'm out giving a speech, I'll ask people in the crowd about the excuses that are holding them back. Trust me, I've heard them all, but one of the most frequent answers is that people are just too disorganized to deal with their money.
It makes sense. Clutter makes us feel out of control. How can you confront your finances when you can't even find your bank and credit card statements amid the sea of paperwork in your home? How do you pay your bills on time when you can't locate them?
My newest book, "Make Money, Not Excuses," knocks down the most common excuses people make for why they aren't prepared for retirement, why they don't have the insurance coverage they need, why they spend more than they earn, and, in a nutshell, why they aren't rich (and, in the process, helps them turn those situations around).
"I go into hundreds of houses, and the thing that constantly surprises me is the lack of awareness of the connection between the clutter that fills your home and the problems that you have with personal finances," said Peter Walsh, the organizer on TLC's Clean Sweep and author of "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" (Free Press, 2006). A lack of organization in your home can lead to higher interest rates, bad credit, costly late fees — the list goes on. It also costs us time spent searching for things we've misplaced or rearranging the piles on our desks.
So why not get organized, and eliminate this excuse right now? It can be a tough project to tackle, but as you begin to make progress, you'll find that you feel happier — both with your finances, and with your life.
Weed out junk mail. Call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688) and remove yourself from the mailing lists of creditors. This phone number is run by the three major credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax and Trans Union — and calling will give you the opportunity to get out of those unsolicited credit card offers you receive in the mail.
If you're a little skittish and think you might want offers in the future, only opt out for two years; otherwise, you can delete your name from the list permanently. Note that the representative will ask for your social security number, and in this case, it's okay to give it out — you called them, and it's just for verification purposes.
Control what comes in. If you allow unnecessary mail, papers and magazines to cross the threshold and come into your house, the chance that you'll throw them away before they add to the mess is slim. So position a trash can in the garage and go straight from the mailbox to that can, tossing immediately anything superfluous. Walsh also believes magazine subscriptions should be limited to three and that you should keep no more than two back issues at a time. If you haven't read it yet, chances are you're not going to.
Bank online. This is a no-brainer. Managing your money online will literally change your life. It will take some getting used to and a little bit of time to set up your account, but once you do it, you'll truly save time (about two hours a month) and money (not just stamps, but late fees as well). If you have bills that reflect set amounts each month (think your mortgage or gym payment) you can schedule payments to go out regularly with plenty of time to spare. With variable bills, just log on and write out the check a week before it's due — the bank takes care of the rest. You can also keep track of your spending this way, so you know exactly how much money is going in, and more importantly, how much is going out.
Cut out the bargain shopping. We are a society that simply cannot resist a two-for-one deal, noted Walsh. "You can't buy and buy and buy, even if it's in little increments, and not erode the total amount of money you have. The concept of getting a deal is so eminent in this country that people just fill their homes with inexpensive stuff."
If you look around your apartment or house and see a lot of things but very little value, you're guilty of this. It's one thing to get a good deal on something you need, but quite another to buy something simply because it is a good deal. The key is recognizing a difference.
Launch a system. First, you should have a set place for your mail to hang out (for a day or two, no more!) until you get a chance to take care of it. Then, get yourself a twelve-month expandable file. Each month, file away bills after they're paid, said Walsh.
Keep your wallet and tote bag clear of clutter by saving receipts in a particular envelope or compartment, or even on an inexpensive accounting spike. At the end of the month, you can reconcile them with your bank or credit card statements and then — yes — throw them away.
With reporting by Arielle McGowen.
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .