Feb 24, 2020

A Simple System for Paying Your Bills

I've been using the same system for paying our bills for years now. I do it once a month, and it's worked really well for us. One big caveat is that this only works if you've got your financial situation under control, meaning you're not dependent on your next paycheck to keep the lights on or put food on the table.

But if you have some savings, and you just need a monthly bill-paying system that takes less than half an hour, consider my step-by-step method below. Note that you can use this system with mailed checks, but I do almost all of my banking online, and that's the method I've detailed below.

A Simple System for Paying Your Bills

1. Pick a day of the month that works for you. I always pay our bills between the second and sixth of the month. If the beginning of the month is a weekend, I usually get to it early in the week, but if the month starts on a Wednesday, I've usually paid the bills by Friday.

2. Re-schedule your due dates. Many, if not most, companies will let you pick a payment due date that works for you. The due date should be approximately two weeks after your chosen bill-paying date. Mine are between the 15th and 22nd of each month. A few years ago, when my husband got Amazon's Visa card, I forgot about this convenience and found myself paying the bill in the middle of the month, until I remembered that there had to be a way to reset the billing schedule. It made the next billing cycle extra long, and now I can pay that bill at the beginning of the month with all of the other bills. Note that some companies may accelerate your next due date, instead of extending it, but it shouldn't take more than two billing cycles to get on track.

3. Go paperless. I made the transition to paperless statements and records over five years ago, and I'm so happy I did. It makes record keeping easier and saves the environment.

4. Make a list of the bills you pay each month (or every other month). You can get my customizable template in Google Docs. If you prefer, you can also download the template as a Word document by clicking this link.

5. Set up electronic bill pay through the bank. This means entering the payee information required by your bank to send your payments. It's a bit of a pain, but you only have to do it once. With some luck, all of your payees will be recognized by your bank, so it can send the payments electronically instead of cutting a paper check.

6. You're now set up to pay your bills every month. In the two weeks or so leading up to your chosen bill-paying day, you'll start receiving emails letting you know that your bill is available. Log in to each account, download the bills, and fill out your monthly list of bills. You can do this step as the emails come in (which is my preferred method) or all at once on your bill-paying day. On your scheduled day, take your list and use it to set up your payments for the month.

Note: Your bank and creditors will encourage you to set up auto pay, so that you don't have to go through this step every month. While you can certainly do this, I prefer my method for two reasons: 1) manually paying my bills each month ensures that I keep a close eye on our finances and know how much is in which accounts, and how much we're spending; and 2) I don't run the risk of a computer (or human) error messing up the auto pay and overcharging me.

7. Don't forget to pay yourself. The best way to save money is automatic deduction, so that the money is transferred to your savings account before you have the chance to spend it. We do this with our retirement and 529 savings. However, every month, I do have to transfer some money manually, such as the several hundred dollars (the equivalent of a car payment) to a fund reserved for paying cash for our next car.

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