This blog post is the first of two by guest blogger and financial consultant Dr. Joel Lang. (Dr Lang can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Feeling overwhelmed by bills? unopened mail? late fees?
Three essential steps are all you need to convert the often difficult and distasteful process of bill-paying into a system that is easy and predictable. They are:
1) Create a usable workspace
2) Gather the necessary tools, and
3) Establish consistent behaviors
This blog post will address steps 1 & 2. A subsequent post will address step 3.
Here’s how you can get started with this process:
CREATE A USABLE WORKSPACE
To begin, it helps to establish a usable workspace. Think carefully about the location for this space. Ideally, you want to create a space that has two key characteristics:
- Totally dedicatedto the process of managing the ‘business’ of running your household and
- Kept clear at all times so that working there is easy and pleasurable.
To do: It may be necessary to put in some time cleaning off a section of desk or table to create this workspace! What often works best is a desk/table space of at least 4 square feet. Most any configuration of that size will probably work. If you use a computer to pay bills online, pick a place near and outlet.
If you really cannot carve out that space anywhere in your home, some alternatives include:
Lap desks http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/1/1/8938-brookstone-e-pad-portable-laptop-desk-chocolate.html
Portable tables – a card table is a possibility, or if storage is an issue, something more sophisticated and smaller is possible: http://www.lapdawg.com/functions/tv-tray.html
To do: Once you set up the space, designate a spot for your checkbook (always leave the checkbook in one place!).
A coach or organizer may be able to assist you in creating this workspace if you find you have trouble doing so.
GATHER THE NECESSARY TOOLS
Having established the space, now you need the tools. The following list may look long, but you likely have some of these items around the house already. Others can easily be purchased at an office supply store (If it helps, print the list to use when shopping).
To do: Set aside some time to gather and/or purchase these supplies:
Files and folders:
An accordion file with multiple dividers
marked “A – Z” *
A similar sized accordion file with no
A small supply of manila file folders***
all must accommodate standard sized 8½” X 11” paper
A few ballpoint pens
A permanent black marker (tapered tip)
A small notepad (I personally use a
5” x 8” pad on a small clipboard)
to take notes
to label folders
to highlight the due date & amount due on each bill
to take notes (date, phone number, person, and summary) during business calls – a must!! – or on anything else you want to remember
Other office supplies:
A roll of “scotch” tape
A supply of paper clips
to repair any ripped papers
for items to be joined only temporarily
usually better to use than a paper clip
A supply of small envelopes
(Optional: return address stickers or
a self-inking address stamp)
will save you time
A small kitchen knife or letter opener
(I personally like the small kitchen knife
I have used for nearly 50 years.)
(Optional: container for pens & markers)
a simple four-function calculator will do
to avoid paper-cuts when opening mail
A wastebasket (trash)
Wastebasket or box (recyclable paper)
Small file cabinet or a milk crate –magazine boxes may be an option
(Optional: small home size paper shredder – useful but not absolutely necessary)
to hold files and folders
to destroy any papers containing personal information, such as account numbers
*You will use the alphabetically divided accordion folder for filing paid bills and occasional or miscellaneous correspondence from sources you rarely deal with. File them by the name of the company or organization so you can find them easily if you need them later.
**In the second accordion folder, you will place four large cardboard dividers (or you can insert four manila folders) marked to designate the times of the month that you will pay the bills. You can use the same day of the week such as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Monday, or specific dates such as the 1st, 8th, 16th and 24th. Pick a system that works for you and suits both your time schedule and pay periods, but four is a critical number. Paying bills only twice a month will sometimes cause you to be late and unnecessarily incur additional interest and fees.
***You will use the manila folders to hold tax-deductible items such as medical bills or other known deductions. You can also use them for correspondence or any statements regularly received. A two-drawer file cabinet, or at least a plastic crate or magazine box, is a useful place to house the folders – for your sanity, never clutter the workspace itself with these.
YOU DID IT!!
Once you have all these materials gathered, congratulations!Now that you have set up your workspace, you are ready to develop the consistent behaviors that will make bill paying easy and predictable! Strategies for managing your mail and paying your bills on time will be discussed in the next blog post.
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