It pays to be prepared

Taking Inventory of Your Possessions

by Gary Foreman

How to Conquer Debt eBook

Let's play 'make believe'. Pretend that you just came home and your house was burglarized. Try to make a mental list of all the things that you own. Let's start with some of the most expensive items, your electronics. Could you name the model number of your TV? How about the stereo? I could barely remember who the manufacturer was, much less the model numbers.

Can you remember all the furniture, clothes, china? Unless you're a very unusual person, you'll have a hard time remembering most of the things you own. But that's exactly what you'll need to do if you have a fire or burglary. The police, IRS and your insurance company will all want to know as much as possible about the things that were lost or destroyed. A more accurate list will provide you with a better chance of recovering your possessions or being fully compensated for the loss by your home insurance or renters insurance.

Taking Inventory of Your Possessions

It's easy to solve the problem. Just take an inventory of each room of your home. The inventory can be a written list, individual photos or a video. The key is to get as much information as possible on your inventory. The best method is to use a combination of a list with photos or video.

Start in one room of the house. List the major items in the room. Copy receipts for major items if available and attach to your list. Make notes of when items were purchased and what they cost if receipts aren't available. Include serial and model numbers where appropriate.

Take pictures of the more valuable items. Use close-ups where details are important. You may have keepsakes from your grandmother that are of sentimental value to you, but that also have a cash value. You can't ever recover the memories. No need to lose the cash value, too.

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If you're taking a video, slowly survey the room. Provide a running commentary of what the pictures show. You can 'read' the serial numbers onto your tape if you'd like. It may be useful to have someone lift and turn smaller items so that all sides can be seen. Spend a few seconds on each item. Don't worry about how professional the tape is. Your hope is that no one will ever see it. But if someone does, you don't want an Oscar. You want a check!

Don't forget to include items in closets and cabinets. You'll want them on your list and your photos. If you're taking still photos, write a description of each item on the back of the picture. You might even want to use a photo ID number that you can reference on your list thereby tying the two together.

Related: What You Need to Know to Ensure You Have the Right Amount of Homeowners Insurance Coverage

You'll want to do every room of your house including the garage, tool shed and utility room. If you've shopped for a vacuum, washer or lawn mower lately you'll understand why. After twenty years of owning a home I've accumulated a fair number of tools. I know where to find them, but I sure couldn't list them all from memory.

After you're through making the inventory you'll need to find a safe place away from home to keep it. Your safe deposit box is a good choice. If that's not available, give it to a relative to keep in their home.

Keep a duplicate copy at home. You'll want to make additions to it as you purchase new items. Once you've done it the first time it doesn't take much effort to keep it current.

An inventory of your possessions is a little like fire insurance. If you're fortunate it won't save you any money. But if you do need it, there's no way to go back to yesterday to do it. Robberies and fires are an unfortunate part of life. We hope they never happen. But if they do happen, it's the wise person who is prepared to keep the damage to a minimum.

Reviewed December 2017

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Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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