That impenetrable pile of checkbooks, bills and brokerage statements on your desk is trying to intimidate you. You know your finances are...

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DALLAS — That impenetrable pile of checkbooks, bills and brokerage statements on your desk is trying to intimidate you.


You know your finances are too complex and that efficiency would save time and money. But the pile likes being a pile, and it’s telling you to back off.


Don’t give in. If you can take control of your finances, your investment of time and money will return dividends in both for decades to come.


It’s all about simplifying.


With technology — such as automatic bill-paying, direct deposit and computerized budgets — you can take a lot of the drudgery out of your financial chores.


By working with an adviser to develop a comprehensive financial plan and by reducing the number of accounts you have, you can gain a better picture of your situation so that all your efforts keep you moving in the right direction.


The pile wants you to think you don’t have enough time to attack it. But that’s not true.


“Although people have good intentions, they get caught up in the trap of living their lives,” says Lynn Lawrance, a certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment in Dallas. “As a result, their important financial decisions take a back seat to living for today.”


The pile wants you to think it’s always working in your best interests. But that’s not so, either.


Take investing, for example. Studies show mutual funds that simply follow an index do better on average than more-complicated, managed funds.


“Society seems to view those who have a simple, nonhectic life as people who are not successful, retired, or frankly, just not motivated to improve their lives,” says Bryan Clintsman of Clintsman Financial Planning in Southlake, Texas.


That’s just the pile talking.


“Simplifying is not a quick task,” says Lance Alston, a partner and certified financial planner at JWA Financial Group in Dallas. “There’s analysis and research, and most people don’t have the patience or the disposition it requires to get to the end result.”


But it can be done. Here are ways to get started:


• Have a financial plan.


Lay out your resources, your goals and what steps you will take to achieve them.


“The easiest way to simplify your financial life is to figure out what your priorities are,” Lawrance says. “Then behave like they’re your priorities.”


Alex Booras can attest to that.


“By setting financial goals, we were able to keep fairly good control over what we did,” says Booras, who with his wife, Jane, have taken steps to cut the fat out of their financial life.


For the Boorases, Plano, Texas, business owners, simplifying their financial life meant defining their priorities in the social, mental, physical, spiritual and financial arenas.


• Take a financial inventory.


That includes looking at your income, expenses, bank and retirement accounts and Social Security benefits.


“Do you have a will? Do you have a living will?” Alex Booras asks. “Do you have long-term-care insurance?”


• Use debit cards to pay bills.


Just make sure you have sufficient funds in your bank account and record the debit so you’re not overdrawn.


• Automate financial transactions.


Pay your routine bills by having the money automatically drafted from your bank account. Again, make sure you have the money in your account and that you record the transactions.


• Reduce your accounts.


“One major credit card is all anyone needs, and this also reduces the chances of your identity being stolen and improves your credit score,” says Clintsman, the financial planner.


• Organize your personal papers.


“Set up an organization structure for your important papers,” Clintsman says.


• Set up folders for all accounts.


Get rid of the documents you don’t need.


Many people keep bills, bank statements, receipts and canceled checks and other documents far longer than necessary.


Save credit-card and bank-account statements for about a year if they don’t have tax or other long-term significance, the FDIC says.


“The rest you should maintain up to seven years,” the agency says.


• Use direct deposit for your paycheck, pension or Social Security benefits.


Make simplifying your financial life your priority.


“If in doubt about your priorities, your wallet will let you know what your true priorities have been,” Lawrance says. “If you don’t like where you’re at, change what you’re doing.”