Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
A Quick Lesson In Stress-Free Bill-Paying
I was working with a client the other day who was "bill-pay-a-phobic" -- every month, he so dreaded having to sit down with his accounts that he would procrastinate to the point of racking up late fees. It's not that he was unable to cover his monthly expenses -- he just didn't have a good system in place. But we instituted few quick changes to how he handles his finances, and now his bills are paid on time with almost no effort!
There's nothing about the act of bill-paying that's any more inherently onerous than, say, filing or making follow-up phone calls or taking care of any other to-do -- why then do we dread it more than other tasks? It's funny the effect an outlay of cash has on people. We love to spend money in the abstract -- but when the time comes to ante up, we panic. A good deal of financial procrastination is simply buyer's remorse -- we don't want to face our spending habits, those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases that now seem so foolish.
But even without regretting the purchase, there's still stress involved with bill-paying. You might worry about rising interest rates or dropping home values, the security of your paycheck or how much is being withheld to cover taxes -- or any of a number of other issues that are entirely beyond your control. So much of what happens in the world of finance these days seems out of our hands, and uncertainty is always unnerving. The good news is that you don't have to worry about getting your bills paid on time, not with the right system (and as Forrest Gump says, "That's good! One less thing!") Here are a few tips for making that monthly round of check-cutting a lot less stressful.
- cut down on your expenses (it goes without saying that the fewer bills you have, the easier it is to pay them each month -- of course you need electricity and groceries and a home to live in -- but I'm sure that if you examine your statements and receipts, you'll find at least a few recurring items that could be trimmed from the budget -- memberships you don't use, subscriptions you don't read, services that duplicate one another, excessive numbers of multiple credit cards, each with just a few charges on it -- these bills do nothing but complicate your finances each month -- it's time to clean house in the bill-paying sense -- if you don't need it, lose it, and make your monetary life a lot easier right from the start)
- align your bill-paying dates (part of what makes bill-paying such a pain in the neck is having to do it multiple times each month -- one round of bills come due on the 1st and another on the 10th, then more on the 15th and a final batch near the end of the month -- it's no wonder staying on top of it all takes so much of your time! -- what most people don't realize is that most companies can adjust your billing cycle to end on whatever date you like -- of course, your utilities and mortgage will always be due at the start of the month, so why not have your phone, internet, credit cards, insurance, and other monthly bills arrive at the same time? -- that way, you only have to engage in one round of "pull-out-the-checkbook" each month)
- pre-pay for the year (with set fees like insurance premiums, memberships, and flat-rate services, you can often save money by paying for the entire year up front -- and even if there is no discount attached, you'll still save a lot of time by skipping monthly billing -- if you have the money in-hand and know you'll be with that company for at least 12 months, ask if you can pre-pay your account for the year -- just make sure that you'll be refunded the pro-rated amount if you cancel your service before the end of that period)
- consolidate (a number of years back, Matt and I decided that we were tired of having to keep track of so many different bills -- we examined our options and decided to pay as many bills as possible with our credit card, so we would only have one check to cut each month -- it turns out that almost anything can be charged to your Visa or Mastercard -- of course, gas and groceries and haircuts, but I'm also talking about your mortgage, your insurance, and even your utilities -- I'm allergic to "convenience fees," so we only do this if there is no additional cost for a credit card payment -- and it only works when you pay the card in full -- but it's amazing how much this one change simplified our finances -- it also makes budgeting easier, because we can review every purchase for an entire month with one glance)
- set up auto-pay (another step toward lifting the yoke of bill-paying from our necks was shifting everything to auto-pay -- I came to realize that there was no good reason for me to ever have to write a company a check again, when I could have the bill either auto-charged to my credit card or auto-drafted from my bank account -- my preference is for the first option, so if a company makes a mistake and takes too much money, I can dispute the charge before the cash comes out of my account -- I really only use bank auto-drafts for paying the over-arching credit card bill -- a lot of people are scared of auto-pay, because they're worried they'll get ripped off -- but if you are reviewing your statements every month and reconciling your accounts like you should be, the chance of this happening is almost non-existent -- and if you're not, you're just as likely to have an error go unnoticed, even when you pay all of your bills by check)
- create a monthly routine (now that you've simplified bill-paying as much as possible, you just need a good routine for staying on top of it all -- set one day a month aside for bookkeeping -- start by reviewing all of the bills you've received, both paper and electronic, for errors -- then reconcile your credit card and bank statements, double-checking to make sure that every bill on auto-draft was paid -- finally, write and mail checks for the remaining bills that must be paid manually, if there are any -- and don't forget to record those in your register -- three simple steps and you're done until next month!)
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posted on: 10/6/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips
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Can We Have Some Order Here?
by Ramona Creel
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I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!
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