A little over a year ago I decided that at the ripe old age of 40 I really needed to devise a way to pay bills that was quick, fail safe and as painless as possible. Here's what I do
- Create a spreadsheet with every imaginable payment that I could think of. This includes the water bill which comes quarterly and the dance shoes/costumes that I have to buy every fall. I use this same spreadsheet to track my debt balances and saving accounts allowing me to provide my monthly financial update efficiently.
- Set aside regular time to pay bills - I actually pay my bills every other Friday on the days we get paid during my lunch hour at work. Paying twice a month may seem to be doubling my work but it helps smooth out our financial flow and actually helps me stay organized. I find that paying them at work while wearing my 'professional' hat feels better than paying them at home. I keep the information on a personal flash drive.
- Set aside a specific place to pay bills and make sure you have everything you need - As I said, I sit at my desk and pay bills during my lunch. Most of the bills I do online but I keep envelopes and stamps at my desk for the bills that need to be mailed. If your company frowns upon doing personal work at your desk maybe see if you can book a conference room for your lunch hour or find a quiet place in the cafeteria.
- Automate as many payments as you can - This has both pros & cons. I have a lot of my payments automated but have been burned by 'forgetting' about them. Since I've implemented the spreadsheet method I have pretty much eliminated the surprises because I'm reminding myself every two weeks of what is coming out of my checking accounts. One thing that you could do to mitigate your risk is to have a checking out that is only used for auto payments and then make sure the exact amount (plus maybe a little slush) is put into that account with direct deposit. If you aren't using that account for anything else you shouldn't have any unpleasant surprises.
- Pre-write your checks - if you have a bill that you pay the same amount every month (church, car payment, etc) and you can't automate, prepare several payments in advance. I will typically write out a check, adress and stamp the evenlope with a post note listing the date I need to mail the bill. I'll pre-input those into my spreadsheet so that I'm not forgetting to deduct the amount from my checking account