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Beating the bill-paying blues

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My friend “Sarah” mentioned a few weeks ago that she had 19 bills to pay each month.  19!  No wonder she’s having trouble keeping track of them all!   Sarah said that she had received notice from the hydro company that her service was going to be cut off because she hadn’t paid her bill.  Upon hearing this, another friend recounted a similar story.  How did these responsible women come within days of losing their electricity?

In ages past, bills came in the mail.  Occasionally, one would get lost, but most of the time, they arrived in the box.  There may have been a few other pieces of mail there too, but the chances of not seeing the bill there were pretty slim.

Now, with most companies delivering their invoices electronically, many items seem to go “poof” into cyberspace.  Between spam filters and computer malfunctions, important messages are not always received.  Those that do get through seem to get buried under Facebook notifications and advertising.

How can we make sure that everything gets paid on time without spending every waking moment looking after our finances?

Pre-authorized payments

This option is my least favourite, but it’s the easiest in the long run, so I’ll start here.  Many companies will let you set up a pre-authorized payment for their invoices.  They send you the bill (electronically or by paper), and then take the money out of your account on the due date.   One of my elderly clients had this set up a number of years ago.  She did it because she just couldn’t see very well to write out cheques anymore.

Personally, I would NEVER give out that kind of control.  It’s one thing to set up a pre-authorized payment for a fixed amount each month – I do that for a few things with companies that I trust.  When I know how much is coming out on which day, I can make sure the funds are there when the time comes.  However, when the amount changes, it becomes a whole new nightmare trying to make sure there is enough money in the right bank account.

The other problem is dealing with possible overcharges.  Mistakes happen.  It’s a lot easier to fix the mistake before a bill is paid than afterwards.  If the money has already been withdrawn from your account, what leverage do you have left?  It can also take a long time to get an amount refunded when you really need that money right away.

Use your calendar to keep track of due dates

This one is much better and yet still simple.  If you use a paper calendar, write when your bills come due each month.  If the phone bill is usually due around the 23rd, put a note on the 20th to pay it.  That gives you 3 days to track down how much you owe if the bill gets lost.  If you use an electronic calendar, then you should be able to set up a recurring appointment to indicate a bill coming due.

Another alternative would be to set aside a specific day of the week to pay all the bills that are coming due that week, and write all those bills down for the same day.  The first Saturday might be water & hydro.  Second might be phone and TV.  Don’t forget the amounts that only come once or twice per year – like insurance and property taxes (if you don’t pay them monthly as part of your mortgage).  Those will need to be special entries on your calendar.

Use your to-do list

If you don’t want to clutter up your calendar with your bill due dates, then put them on a to-do list.  There are a lot of web sites and apps that will allow you to do this.

If you use a calendar or list, don’t forget to look at it.  🙂

Use software

This one is a little more involved than the first three options, but once you have good software set up, it will make your life easier in the long run.  I honestly don’t know how anyone functions without having a record of where their money is going, which is something that financial software provides.  Of course, I am an accountant, so perhaps it’s pre-wired into my brain to use such things.

A good software program will let you set up your bills and indicate how often you are required to pay them.  I login to the program I use every week, download my bank transactions, and pay everything coming due in the next 7 days.  The whole bill paying process takes about 5 minutes per week.  Watch for a detailed review of the financial software that I use coming up next week.

Get all your electronic bills delivered to E-post

E-post is a secure digital mailbox where you can receive your bills.  Regardless of whether you use a calendar, to-do list, or software, if all your electronic bills are on one website, then you have fewer places to login to, and this will make your life easier.  Some online banking packages even let you bring your E-post account into your online banking account making a truly one stop shop in terms of bill payments.

The only problem with E-post is that not all companies are on board.  Some insist on sending their own e-mail to you and forcing you to login to their site to get your bill.  For those companies, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I still opt for paper bills.  I don’t want the hassle of yet another login and password.

How do you keep track of the bills that you need to pay?

May 23, 2013

1 responses on "Beating the bill-paying blues"

  1. Hello there Leanne. Just thought I’d drop you a comment on this post (seemed as good as any) to say that I’ve read some of your posts and I’m enjoying the blog! Expect to see a few more comments from me! 😉
    Shaun Hoobler recently posted..hockey training program
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