December 5, 2007

Bills...Papers...More Bills...

This blog post actually started as a comment over on Phil's blog. But it started to get too long for a comment and I figured it made more sense here. In his list of chores he dislikes his number one is paying bills. I can relate as it used to be very near the top of my list as well.

I used to make a pile of bills to pay, and another pile of things to do, people to call, etc. Then I had a pile of things to file and I had stacks of paper and it seemed to take hours and I was grumpy about my bills and making ends meet and would worry and tie myself in knots. Serona and my kids could probably have told you the day I did bills as I was unpleasant. I went to a friends house one day and saw she had some folders on her kitchen counter I asked about them and she told me it helped her stay organized for kids activities. I thought I can do that and with my bills too.

About four years ago though I started a new system and it REALLY worked for me and now not only do I not mind paying bills but it would not even make my "chore" list because it never piles up. I share it because it is easy to use, I have recommended it to many friends who now use it and it is very simple. Also it is a great time of year to consider starting.

I took my friends idea and went another step further. Being a former debater I immediately think of these 32 pocket expanding files. when I think organization. So now each year in December I purchase a new one for the next year. I tape a piece of white paper to the front and write the year. Then 32 numbers. Next to each number I write the title of what will go in that slot. I place this on the center island in my kitchen where it stays year round.

When mail comes. I stand at that island counter - I throw out all catalogs, junk mail, credit card offers, etc right to recycling (behind me) or trash (next to me). Then I open all important mail and sort as I do. Anything that needs to be filed, paid, dealt with immediately etc. I immediately file anything that needs to be in its slot (medical statements, insurance statements, kids new calendars, church stuff, etc) - next I look through my need to deal with if I can't get to it at that moment it goes in my number two file which I check every few days when I have some spare time. If I can deal with it I will. Last I have my bill pile. I log onto my computer (also right there on the counter) and into my online bill pay. I open my bill pay and pay all my bills then.

Wait you say but what if you can't pay them all now but need to pay some after next paycheck (say in two weeks) or in a month. Well we are in that position too but my bill pay lets me postdate any payment I want. So I log in fill in the payments and type the date I want the money sent out of my account. I can even write checks to individuals and small companies and my bank sends them a check for me at no additional fee.

After all my bills are "paid" at least my responsibility for paying them is done. I file them in their slot. Done. Now you may cringe at the thought of doing "bills" every day but really that all together takes me 5 minutes, maybe 10 if I happen to get a lot on the same day. That is just a few more minutes than most people take to do their daily mail. And I no longer have really long grumpy bill times. Occasionally I really can't get on the computer and pay, or I want to question a bill, or check where I am going to get the money to pay for it, then I toss them in the front slot for bills and pay them next time I get my mail.

I have done this faithfully for 4 years now. The key to this working is two fold. You MUST keep it in a central location and you must use it regularly. After all this time I can tell you a few of my favorite things about this

1. Bills don't feel like work
2. I have a better grip on and understanding of my finances because I am in them daily
3. I am surprisingly organized now
4. I can find almost anything paper related in under 10 minutes. We recently had to find a credit card we opened in 2003 for just a single purchase. I went back to the 2003 file and found it filed under credit cards. I can find warranties, receipts, etc as long as I know what year I purchased it in - even I can remember something like that.
5. Taxes are easier
6. I save money because I have very detailed records of everything from cc and debit purchases to utility and energy use at my fingertips.
7. I am not grumpy about bills anymore
8. My kids are learning organization and how to use the system
9. I get rid of more junk mail because if I don't have a place for it - it goes in the trash or recycling
10. It is really easy and quick. This post is long and detailed so it makes it sound complicated but it really isn't.

When I shared this with my friends several asked for my folder list. Yours will look different based on your paper use in your life. But this can give you an idea of what I use it for and some of it does change from year to year. Here is 2007

1. Bills
2. To Do
3. Taxes
4. Homeschool
5. Active Kids file (I put church, current sport calendars, etc) then move them when season is over to trash or individual kids file
6. Serona Work
7-11 individual credit card and banks (citibank, discover, etc)
12 - Student Loans
13 - Mortgage
14 - utilities (water, trash, electric, etc)
15 - Phones (home and cell)
16 - Auto and Home Insurance
17 - Medical
18 - Household Expenses
19 - Serona
20 - Tenniel
21 - Rhiannon
22 - Ciaran
23 - Sirah
24 - Stationary, Envelopes and Stamps
25 - Craft/ Activity Ideas
26 - 401 K
27 - Stocks
28 - Travel
29 - Legal Records
30 - Warranties
31 - Receipts

So now I don't mind doing bills and we are fairly organized.



  1. Your Mom used a system just like that when we were first wed. However as you are aware she would not even use the computer to type up the labels let alone pay the bills.

    Family Forever

  2. Terrific suggestions! Thanks, Tenniel!

  3. You're doing something similar to what my husband does which he learned from a book called Getting Things Done. It has helped him so much in staying organized with work, etc. I just need to find the time to set up my file system so I can catch up with you all. Thanks for the good ideas.