Build Your Personal Information Center
Your Personal Information Center, or PIC, is a physical notebook or a digital file containing essential personal information and important records such as copies of utility bills, bank and credit card statements, medical history, wills, birth certificates, death certificates and other vital documents. The notebook makes it easier for you to collect all the important information on your family, home, finances, and medical in one place, so that in an emergency you can Take Your PIC and go.
Build your Personal Information Center (PIC) to be prepared for an emergency, organized for a move, or keep your bills and financial information orderly every day. The PIC will even be a resource if the primary bill payer needs someone else to take care of the finances.
What Goes in the PIC?
There will be three main sections to your PIC notebook.
1. PLANS: This section will be your first tab and contain:
a Grab & Go checklist;
your family communication plan and household information sheet;
the emergency kit supply list; and
the emergency supply list for your pets.
2. PHOTOS: This section will be the second tab and contain:
Up-to-date photos of family members and pets; and
The photos from the home inventory photos should stay with the inventory list of household items which will go under the Property tab in the DOCUMENTS section.
3. DOCUMENTS: This section is a series of tabs, one for each of these main categories:
Safe Deposit Box
Wills and Directives
any additional tabs you choose.
Decide whether you’ll start building a hard copy (paper) notebook or an electronic file. You may create both eventually but start with the format you feel will be easiest for you.
If You Start with a Hard Copy, You'll Need:
A 3-ring binder: heavy-duty, 2” or larger
Either an envelope or a plastic binder pocket
Optional: sheet protectors
I recommend a brightly colored notebook. It is easier to spot and remember to take when you evacuate (and more fun to build). There are other options rather than a notebook, such as an accordion file, but notebooks make it easier to find the paper you want and provides its own flat work surface. In general, notebooks only need two hands to work, while I’ve found that three hands are the minimum requirement for an accordion file — one to hold the document I’m adding, one to hold open the accordion file and a third one to keep the accordion file from falling over.
NOTE: If you want to use sheet protectors instead of 3-hole punching the paper, purchase tab dividers and notebooks made specifically to hold sheet protectors. They are wider than the normal notebook.
Prefer to Buy a Ready-Made Notebook?
Some products are made specifically for organizing personal and household information. You can find them as file folders, accordion folders, or notebooks. They may be a great choice as you don’t have to purchase the tabs and notebooks separately, but the downside is they may not be as flexible as you need them to be. You may not be able to add or change a tab so it better reflects your needs and situation.
Creating your own PIC allows you to make only the sections you need, change the name of a section to one you can remember better, and update the notebook at any time to something brighter, newer, or easier to use.
If you want to look at available ready-made products, use the search terms “important document organizer” or “emergency binder.”
Building your own PIC is easier than other notebooks or files, which may require you to write or type in all the essential information. You will take your statement, bill, or important document, 3-hole punch it (or a COPY), and place it in your PIC notebook. Or you can save it digitally in your electronic PIC (ePIC).
If You Start with an Electronic Copy, You'll Need:
Take a look at the apps and tools you already have. There may be additional bells and whistles that may help you create your ePIC.
A platform: Will it be Dropbox, Google Drive, or other cloud storage service? Will it be a note-taking app like Evernote? Is it secure enough? Can you easily scan a paper statement into your notebook? Will you be able to export the files or create a copy?
A scanner: Either a stand-alone scanner like ScanSnap from Fujitsu or the scanner in your all-in-one printer. There are even phone apps for that purpose (such as Genius Scan), and cloud storage services such as Dropbox include scanning capability in their mobile apps.
A naming system: Establish a file naming protocol to easily retrieve the document you want. Normally your electronic files don’t have to resemble a paper storage filing system (you name and organize your files differently) but in this case, I’d suggest you organize your ePIC in a similar manner to the paper notebook. We’ll talk more on that in the next section.
Prefer to Buy a Ready-Made Program or App?
There are products out there that can help you create something similar to a PIC. Some are specially formatted electronic platforms that are built for the function. The downsides are: you may have to pay an annual fee to maintain the information; you may not be able to export the data; or the app/software may not be maintained by the company in the future.
Which Should You Start With — Paper or Electronic?
It depends on your preference really, but here are a few pros and cons:
(Pro) Easier, less work to assemble, and potentially cheaper if you’re not already scanning your documents every month.
(Pro) You’re not dependent on your electronic devices working
(Pro) Others in your family can use it and refer to it regardless of computer experience
(Con) Bulkier and heavier to grab and evacuate.
(Security) Your PIC is as secure as your home and other personal information. Don’t leave it laying around.
(Pro) Easier to access from anywhere and any device, depending on platform
(Pro) Takes up less space on your shelf
(Con) Requires power for your device and internet access depending on platform
(Security) Your ePIC is as secure as the rest of your files.
Now that you have an overview of the three sections and have decided to start with one format (either the print PIC or the ePIC), let’s jump in to building your PIC.
BUILDING YOUR PIC
TAB #1 — PLANS
Add a tab and label it PLANS.
Add the following plans:
Add your Grab & Go checklist (a list of items to take in case of evacuation). Make your own or purchase a 3-page checklist here.
Your family communication plan. Download a free copy using the Promo Code — FREE
The emergency kit supply list. Download a free copy using the Promo Code — FREE
The emergency supply list for your pets. Download a free copy using the Promo Code — FREE
TAB #2 — PHOTOS
Add a tab and label it PHOTOS.
If you have prints made, you’ll need an envelope or closed binder pocket to put them in. But since most photos are taken on a phone these days, just print out the highest quality photos you can and 3-hole punch them for your notebook.
Include family members living in the house and maybe nearby relatives. Your immediate focus may be your family, but maybe your relatives on the other side of the city, state or country are the ones you’re looking for.
When taking photos, place family and pets next to familiar objects such as doors, chairs. This gives an idea of height and size.
The same goes for pets. Get pictures of them from the sides, front, and back. Place them next to a chair, door, or other item that will help in estimating the size of the animal. Get a picture of any distinguishing marks like a white paw or orange spot over the eye.
Household inventory photos taken while creating a household inventory should go in the Property tab along with the list of household items.
TABS #3 through#13 — DOCUMENTS
Add 11 tabs for the categories below and any additional tabs you choose.
Safe Deposit Box
Wills and Directives
add any additional tabs you choose
As mentioned previously, the PIC notebook is easier than most other document products because you won’t be rewriting or typing in account and contact information. You will:
take your statements, bills, and important documents (or COPIES),
3-hole punch each one, and
place it in your PIC notebook.
Or you can scan and save it digitally to your ePIC.
Click Here to go to the Dhucks' store to get your copy of the detailed documents and copies to add to each section along with additional information to include.
You don’t have to collect ALL this information today. Plan to add the various statements and copies over the next three months. As you pay your bills, instead of filing (or shredding/tossing) your statements, 3-hole punch a statement, add it to the appropriate section. Jot down the additional information you need or highlight the information.
The goal is to continue to build your PIC over time, just like your cash stash and your emergency supplies. For more information on preparing for emergencies and disasters go to 31 Steps to Prep blogs or get my book 31 Small Steps to Organize for Emergencies (and Disasters) - 2nd Edition.
You might get most of it done in the first month, but if there are non-monthly bills or accounts, you should be able to collect the majority within three months. You won’t be adding every statement every month.
Scheduled an Annual Review
Schedule an annual review in your calendar now. You won’t necessarily replace all your statements, bills, and records. You’ll check what you have, update what you need, and add anything that’s missing.
Check that your address, email, phone number and other important contact information are up-to-date with each account. You might even check it this year as you add each statement. Yes, that will mean more time in the bill paying mode, but preparing now will mean less stress in an emergency and possible prevention of late fees due to an inability to contact you.
Add a 2-gallon reclosable plastic bag to your PIC or your emergency kit. If you’re evacuating, place your PIC in the bag to keep it dry.
Keep your information secure.
Due to possible identify theft, writing down your username and password, as well as security questions, has not been recommended. However, since each account should have a unique password, and each password should be at least 12 characters long, it is next to impossible (at least for me) to remember all the passwords. Since we are talking passwords here, another recommendation for keeping your accounts secure is to make your password a sentence (again at least 12 characters long). Keep the phrase positive or uplifting. Might as well give yourself a mental lift while you’re paying those bills.
If you have trouble remembering your passwords or questions, you could include it here in your PIC if you feel it is appropriate. Keep the hard copy notebook and the ePIC as secure as you would other personal and financial information.
If you write down your passwords DON’T keep the list next to your computer. If you include usernames and passwords along with other financial information in this PIC, don’t label the notebook “Personal Information,” PIC will do. Or keep it unlabeled. Store your PIC in a secure location that is easy for you to grab but not for others to gain access to it.
If you’re comfortable with electronic information, there are two password manager apps I recommend: 1Password (1password.com) and LastPass (www.lastpass.com). To find the current “best” password manager, use the search term “best password manger” or something similar and look through the articles written by reputable sites.
For more ways to keep your accounts secure and stay safe online
go to staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/securing-key-accounts-devices/passwords-securing-accounts. The National Cyber Security Alliance website, staysafeonline.org, has other online safety tips and resources. Check it out.
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If you want help in getting your files under control, consider joining my monthly Paperwork Party™. It's virtual. You can be anywhere your paperwork is and still get your questions answered. By seeing others working on their paperwork, you'll feel motivated and energized to focus on your paperwork. I'm there to answer any questions you have as you sort, file, or organize your papers. You're not alone!
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