So you know exactly where those crucial papers are when you need them.
Step 5: File away
The ideal organizer for frequently used VIP info is an expandable accordion file. In such a folder, you can designate one slot for each category -- credit cards, home insurance, bank account information, medical records and so on. Then, in an emergency, you need only grab one thing and go, saving precious time as well as your vital papers. If you can, store the file in a locked cabinet.
Step 6: Create a master list
Rifling through files to find one account number or phone number wastes a lot of time. Instead, spend a little time typing out important account and contact numbers for insurance policies, credit cards, investments and the like. Print and tape the sheet to the back of your accordion file, and either store the original on your hard drive in a password-protected document or delete it altogether.
Step 7: Scan family photos
Your health may not hinge on grandma's wedding portrait, but your happiness could. Scan pre-digital snapshots you treasure most at a high resolution of at least 300 dpi and label them descriptively on your computer. Store negatives in archival sleeves and put those in your safe-deposit box or fireproof safe. Return the originals to their frames.
Step 8: Back it up
Most of us use computers every day for essential business and pleasure. Yet people often neglect to back up all those vital files. The safest bet: A professional backup service -- such as Mozy or Carbonite -- which, for a low monthly fee, stores your password-protected information off-site so a flooded, crashed or stolen hard drive doesn't become an even bigger disaster.
Step 9: Share your secrets
In the event that you can't retrieve your files and documents personally, tell two people -- your husband and your mom, best friend, sister or lawyer -- where to find everything.
Step 10: Keep up the good work
Enjoy a month of blissful organization, then think about how to maintain your system when you switch doctors, insurance or banks. Try designating a few minutes each month -- after paying bills, for example -- to ensure your files stay current so you, the family lifeguard, are always prepared!
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