For the past few months, I’ve been pursuing a paperless personal finance system. I’ve scheduled electronic transactions with my bank, and I scan important documents when I receive them. My method is still very much in “beta”, but I hope to write about it later this year.

My sister-in-law, Tiffany, isn’t a computer geek, but she’s been trying to get her financial documents organized, too. So when she saw an advertisement for Suze Orman’s Ultimate Protection Portfolio, she figured it was worth $66.24 to make her life a little easier. She ordered the kit, and has spent the past week putting it to use. When I dropped by her house today, she showed me the system.

The Ultimate Protection Portfolio
The Suze Orman Ultimate Protection Portfolio comes in a big blue plastic case, which is ostensibly water-resistant. (I didn’t actually put this to the test.) Inside the case are:

  • A custom accordion-file system with ten pockets designated for specific areas of your personal finances. The outside of each pocket contains “Suze’s Advice and Checklist” for that particular topic. For example, the Credit/Debt pouch advises, “Review your credit report at least once a year to make sure all information is accurate.” The pockets are wide and cozy and will contain a lot of information.
  • Ten short booklets with topics corresponding to the the pockets in the accordion file. Each booklet is 48 pages long (except Estate Planning, which has 80 pages) and contains a brief overview of the topic. The Investment Records booklet, for example, covers financial advisers, mutual funds, and risk tolerance (or “fear factor” as Orman calls it). The information in these booklets is from 2005.
  • A Protection Portfolio CD-ROM containing financial forms, record-keeping software, and a tool to help draft a will. You must have an active internet connection to use this software.
  • A special integrated organizer with pockets for passports, social security cards, and more.
  • A variety of forms and checklists, including an emergency contact list.

“That’s a lot of stuff,” I told Tiffany. “I can see how it would be nice to have everything in one place. What do you think of it?”

“I do like the fact that everything’s in one place,” she said. “But this is an expensive way to do it. I don’t regret buying it, but I do feel like I could have made something similar myself for less money. It might be worth it if the books were any good, but I think they’re lame.”

“I can see that,” I said. “I looked through a few of them. They information is solid, but it seems pretty basic. And they tend to skip over a lot. I think they’re just designed to get people started.”

A Do-It-Yourself Alternative
Tiffany was probably right when she said she could make something similar for less money. The Ultimate Protection Portfolio is worth the $66.24 if it motivated her to get things organized, but in retrospect there were cheaper options available:

  • At its heart, the Suze Orman Ultimate Protection Portfolio is simply a good old-fashioned expanding file. We probably have one in the garage. Maybe you do, too. Even if I had to buy one new, Amazon has a variety for around $10.
  • The ten booklets seem excessive. With a quick trip to the public library, you can pick up many great personal finance books for free. (They probably even have a couple Suze Orman books, including The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke and Nine Steps to Financial Freedom.)
  • You can buy Suze Orman’s Will & Trust Kit for $13.57 from Amazon. It’s even sub-branded “The Ultimate Protection Portfolio”, so I’m willing to bet it’s the same software.
  • Instead of an integrated organizer with pockets for your passport and other important items, you can simply stick these all in a large zip-loc freezer bag and place them in one of the slots of your expanding file.
  • You can find many free, printable emergency forms on the web, including these at Organized Home. If you own a copy of Quicken, it may actually contain an Emergency Records Organizer utility. Often it’s most convenient simply create your own.

For about $25, you can build your own custom emergency records portfolio. I admit that this system won’t be water-resistant, and it won’t have Suze Orman’s advice, but I’m willing to bet that you won’t notice the difference. You’ll still have peace of mind knowing all your important household and financial documents are in one easy-to-reach central location.

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