Paying bills can sometimes feel like fighting a never-ending battle. Every time you get one in the mail, it's a reminder of the fact that even after you pay, 30 days later another will come. To make matters worse, bills often get mixed in with your junk mail or lost in the shuffle from your mailbox to the kitchen counter top. If you don't have a good system in place for keeping your bills organized and paying them on time, it could cost you a lot of money in late fees. It might even hurt your credit score.
In theory, keeping your bills organized seems like an easy task. In reality, however, it often proves more difficult. There are a number of reasons why. For example, bills don't all come at the same time. You might get your gas bill around the first of the month and your cable bill a week later. Similarly, the due dates are probably all different. Your rent or your mortgage payment is likely due on the 1st, but if you have a car payment, it may not be due until the 7th or later. On top of that, if you have roommates or a spouse who shares the responsibility of paying bills, things can get even more complicated.
However, organizing your bills doesn't have to be difficult. There are several ways to manage them, whether you get bills in the mail or you do everything online. It might be as simple as making a trip to the local hardware store to pick up some bins to store your bills in or doing some research to find out what online bill payment options are available. In some cases, it might mean buying computer software that will keep track of everything for you.
The most important thing is to find a system that works for you [source: Weston]. Keep reading to learn about methods you can use to organize the bills you pay by mail.
Methods for Organizing Mailed Bills
Organizing the bills you pay by mail starts with taking them out of your mailbox. According to one approach, you actually don't have to organize your mail immediately when you receive it. Simply have a bin inside your house where you throw all the mail. Then, a couple times a week go through it and sort it all at once. When you do, make sure you have another bin that you put all the bills in.
Write the due date of each bill on the outside of the envelope and stack them in order of when they need to be paid. Set aside a time every week to go through the bin of bills and pay them. As you do this, it's a good idea to find a place to file your paid bills. That way the only bills in the bill bin are the ones you still need to pay [source: Brynes].
Another system uses "The Four Ds." The first D stands for dump. Start by dumping all your bills and paperwork out on the floor. The second D stands for distribute. Go through everything and organize it. Staple multiple pages of the same bill together so they don't get lost, and if you haven't paid something yet, write a check for it immediately and set it aside to be mailed. The third D stands for diminish. Get rid of everything you don't need to keep -- start with the easy stuff like junk mail and credit card offers. The fourth and final D stands for due diligence. Once you've organized everything, use a filing system to keep it that way. Every day when you receive your mail, sort through it and pay any bills you receive. That's all there is to it [source: Chatzky].
The basics of keeping your bills organized boil down to keeping them in one place and paying them according to a set schedule. For some people, that schedule might be every day after they check the mail. For others it might be every Tuesday night before primetime television starts. Just make sure you know the due dates and mail your bills out at least a week in advance. This will ensure that they get processed on time.
If you tend to pay all your bills online, keep reading to find out how you can stay organized as well.
Methods for Organizing Online Bills
In this day and age, you can probably pay every bill you have online with the click of a mouse. It's easy, and the best part is that it can save you time and money. You just have to be careful to avoid the common pitfalls of paying bills online. One way to do that is to stay organized to make sure you don't miss payments and rack up late fees.
The easiest way to stay on top of your online bills is to set up automatic payments. If you have the technological means to do so, your bills will be paid directly from your bank account every month, so you don't have to pay as much attention to due dates. Some banks may also offer online bill paying options that allow you to pay all your bills from one Web page. This can take some time to set up, but once it's done you should be able to see every bill you owe listed right in front of you. Even better, you'll be able to pay them all each month in a matter of minutes.
If you do start paying your bills online, some companies may offer a paperless statement option. If you sign up, you'll receive all your bills by e-mail from that point on -- no more paper mail to clog up your mailbox. Just be careful. If you do sign up for paperless statements, be sure to create a folder in your email program where you can keep all your electronic bills. If one gets lost in your inbox and you forget about it, you could get hit with late fees.
Getting rid of paper bills can make a big difference. Not only could it cut down on the clutter in your life, but it may also decrease the amount of time it takes you to pay your bills. Just make sure you write down the confirmation number for each bill you pay online. That way if there's a problem later, you'll have proof that you did pay it, and the situation should be resolved much more quickly. It's also a good idea to check your statements regularly so you can review what you've paid for, even if you're paying bills automatically.
Keep reading to find out what type of computer software can help you organize your bills.
Bill Organizing Software
When it comes to organizing your bills, the right computer software can sometimes make all the difference. The hard part may be choosing the right program. These days, some computer stores dedicate entire sections to software that promises to help you organize your finances and keep your bills under control. The problem is, some types of software can be too complicated for the average person. To be beneficial, something that's meant to help you organize your bills should be relatively simple to use and easy to understand.
Quicken is one example of a widely used personal finance program. It can help you organize all of your accounts in one place and set a budget -- it can even remind you when your bills are due. There are four different versions of the software. They range in price from $59.99 to $149.99. The cheapest version has enough features to help the average person keep his finances under control. But if you want to use the software to manage investments, a home business or a rental property, you'll have to spring for a more expensive version [source: Quicken].
Another software option is Moneydance. It costs $39.99, and includes some features -- such as online banking and bill payment -- at no extra charge. Almost anyone can use it, too, because Mac, Windows and Linux all support Moneydance software [source: Moneydance]. Aside from Quicken and Moneydance, there are also several free programs you can download online to help keep your bills organized. You may have to try out a few before you find one that actually works for you.
To learn more about how you can organize your life, check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bank of America. "Pay Bills Online." (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.bankofamerica.com/onlinebanking/index.cfm?template=pay_receive&statecheck=CA
- Brynes, Glenn Ph.D., MD. "How to Organize and Pay Your Bills: A Simple System." Northern County Psychiatric Associates. 2000. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.ncpamd.com/organize_mail_bills.htm
- Chatzky, Jean. "Bills in a Box." Oprah. July 15, 2003. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.oprah.com/money/Make-Money-Not-Excuses-Bills-in-a-Box
- Consumer Counseling Credit Service. "To Shred or Not to Shred." April 9, 2009. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.cccsinc.org/mediaRoom/pressReleaseDetail.jsp?id=3073
- Discover Card. "Paperless Statements." 2010. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.discovercard.com/customer-service/statements/paperless.html
- Khan, Kim. "The Basics: How does your debt compare." MSN Money. 2010. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/SavingandDebt/P70741.asp
- Martha Stewart Living. "Organizing Your Paperwork." March 2008. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://www.marthastewart.com/article//organizing-your-paperwork
- Moneydance. "Learn More About Moneydance's Features." 2009. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://moneydance.com/features.shtml#onlinebanking
- Quicken. "Quicken 2010 Desktop Personal Finance Products." Intuit. 2010. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://quicken.intuit.com/compare-quicken-personal-finance-software-products.jsp
- Weston, Liz Pullman. "Organize your financial life." MSN Money. April 9, 2009. (Accessed 01/12/10)http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/BetterBanking/OrganizeYourFinancialLife.aspx?page=1