DEAR HARRIETTE: I belong to a civic organization that is a lot of fun but very expensive. The dues are high, and the activities cost extra money. I have scraped together the funds over the years, but I am beginning to feel stressed out about it. I’m wondering whether it makes sense for me to continue to be a member. I am getting close to retirement, and I really can’t afford it. I’m already friends with a number of the women, so I know I will continue to stay close to them. It’s hard to part ways, though. What do you think? -- Out of My Budget
DEAR OUT OF MY BUDGET: Stand back and assess the situation from a sober vantage point. Review your monthly budget, and take note of how you spend every dollar. How much disposable income do you have left when you extract this organization’s dues and the costs of additional club activities? Do you see a significant savings when you take away those amounts? If so, it should be clearer to you what you should do.
When you look at the big picture, you can see what makes sense for you. As hard as it may seem at first to walk away from the organization, it may be worth it, especially if you can remain actively close to the few members you consider to be true friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a bit of a pack rat; I don’t throw anything away. I was making an effort to get rid of some old papers when I realized that I have tax papers and old bills dating back 20 years. I have them filed neatly, but I don’t know if I need all of this stuff still. Are there rules about when you can discard tax papers and bills? -- Clearing Out
DEAR CLEARING OUT: For the most part, it is safe to say that you do not need to keep most of your financial statements and tax returns as long as you have, some 20 years.
The generally recommended time to keep tax returns is three years, but in some cases you may need to keep them a bit longer. The IRS website says, “The length of time you should keep a document depends on the action, expense or event which the document records. Generally, you must keep your records that support an item of income, deduction or credit shown on your tax return until the period of limitations for that tax return runs out.
“The period of limitations is the period of time in which you can amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund, or the IRS can assess additional tax.” For specific information on the period of limitations, visit irs.gov.
For credit card statements and old bills, if you have resolved the payments and there are no discrepancies, you do not need to keep them after your tax returns for those years are no longer in question.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)