Tips to save money, time and your health by organizing your bill tracking and payment system.
I will fully admit that the entire process of paying bills is something that I used to dread. Even when I knew there was enough money in the bank to cover everything, it was stressful. That’s in large part because I was so disorganized in my approach to the practice. As a result, paper clutter piled up, I would end “bill paying night” in a horrible mood, and there were usually late payments that had to be factored in. As I learned how to get my financial house in order, I realized that developing a budget was only part of the process. I also had to get organized. It is from my many years of doing this that I offer these tips on how to organize bills for less stress. I truly hope they help you as much as they have me.
Coordinate Your Billing System with Your Budget
Ideally, your billing system should be directly tied to your monthly budgets. While you can organize bills effectively without doing that (see how below), coordinating your billing system with your budget makes it much simpler. If you don’t currently develop monthly budgets, be sure and check out Creating a Budget for a Healthier You. In that post, I walk through how to take control of your finances by creating an attitude of abundance.
To summarize though, budgets can be developed by using nothing more than a pen and paper or a spreadsheet. You can also use an app or software if you want to go more high-tech. The bottom line is that every expense or categories of expenses should be a separate item in your budget. This includes expenses that are recurring, anticipated but periodic, and unexpected. They should be included in the monthly budget in which the bill will be paid.
Electronic versions of your monthly budgets should be kept in a Budget and Billing folder on your computer. Within that, create a folder for the year and then another called “Budgets.” That’s where your monthly budgets should live in a spreadsheet.
If you prefer to store your Budget and Billing information in the cloud, I can highly recommend Airtable. Google, Apple, Dropbox or Box accounts are other options as well.
Create an Electronic Bills and Receipts Folder
Whether you store your documents on your computer or in the cloud, you’ll want to create a Bills and Receipts folder within your Budget and Billing folder. Within that, create a folder for each month and then create folders by business or category.
Create a Physical Bills and Receipts Folder
For bills that aren’t electronic and come through the mail, create files in your personal physical file system with at least the following files for each year. Once the bill has been paid, file the bill here. These are examples of the most common bills that probably wouldn’t have the option for automation or to be electronic:
- Taxes (property and car registration)
- Medical bills
- Clothing or other retail credit cards
Set Two “Bill Paying” Days During the Month
In most cases, your paycheck cycle is going to be every two weeks or once a month. Set two days to pay bills during the month that are each close to one of the days when you get paid. For example, if you get paid on the 15th and the 30th, your bill paying days would be on the 1st and the 16th. On the 1st, you would pay all bills that are due between that date and the 15th. On the 16th, you would pay all bills that are due between then and the 30th. If you get paid once a month, you’ll still want to set aside two bill paying days. One should be in the middle of the month and the other at the end/beginning of the month. This will make sure that everything is paid on time.
In your monthly budgets, mark whatever your bill paying dates are in parenthesis by each expense. That way, you’ll know just by looking which bills get paid when. It may even be helpful to add up all of the expenses for each bill paying date so that you know how much you need to have in your account at those times.
Open and File Bills Immediately
For paper bills that come through the mail, open them immediately and have two baskets or folders near where you open your mail. They should be marked 1 or 16 or whatever your bill paying dates are. Place the bills in the appropriate basket or folder.
For electronic or paperless bills that you don’t have set up with automatic payments, set a few minutes every day for filing the bill notices that come through email into your Bills and Receipts folder on your computer. I do this in my five minutes set aside for reconciling my budget every day. Having this step as part of your daily routine makes it so you don’t have to go back and search for the bills in your email later.
Even for bills that you do have set up with automatic payments, you may still want to do this so that it’s easy to go back and find a record of the bill at a later point.
In order to truly take some of the stress off of yourself for how to organize your bills and to save money on late fees, you’ll want to automate as many recurring payments as possible. In a perfect world, these should be set for a couple of days before they are due. If you don’t want to give multiple companies access to your money, another good option for automating bill payments is to use the BillPay function through your bank. This allows you to pay recurring or one-time bills online. Either way that you do it, I strongly suggest setting up recurring payments for any regular bills. It makes keeping up with them an organizational matter and not a determinant of whether they get paid on time or not. Remember, late payments often result in unnecessary extra fees, which is something you definitely want to avoid.
Get Rid of As Much Paper as Possible
While there are some documents where a paper copy is needed, for the most part, you’ll want to get rid of as much paper as possible. That means opting for paperless statements or bills whenever you’re given the option. Bank statements are among my favorite examples for this because we can access our accounts online any time. That’s what we’re using for an accurate reflection of our accounts, not a paper statement that’s mailed once a month. Paper statements simply clutter up our space and eventually require shredding. That’s too much stress, time and effort for me. As an added bonus, many companies are willing to give you a discount or waive fees if you go paperless.
If you don’t know how to select paperless bank statements, you can usually do it through your main account page online. It may say something like “statement options” or “document center.” If you don’t see it in either of those places, look in your account settings.
If you really need to regularly look at your statements and don’t want to have to go into your account to access them every time, you can easily download them and store them on your computer or in the cloud for easy access.
Keep a Spreadsheet for Recurring Payments
This is the organizational option that I mentioned earlier if you’re not keeping a regular budget. Keeping track in a spreadsheet of what you know needs to be paid on a monthly basis and when it will be paid will at least keep you on top of your most significant known expenses. I suggest the following pre-populated format.
- Each month should have its own tab.
- Rows should be the name of the company or type of company to which payment is due.
- Each of the following should get its own column:
- Projected Payment Date. This is the date that you expect the payment to be made. This should be one of your two bill paying days.
- Automatic or manual payment. Indicate whether you have the bill set up for automatic payments or if you need to pay it yourself.
- Actual Payment Date. This should be noted after the payment has been made.
- Website link for accessing bills or payments if applicable.
The bottom line for how to organize bills is that having a system won’t make sure that there’s enough money in the bank to cover what you owe. That’s still up to you. It will though help to save time and money and lessen stress, which in turn will do wonders for your long-term health and wellness.