Monday, March 8, 2010

Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Bill?

The fresh, spring air of yesterday must have cleared my senses long enough to show me the fog of laziness that had encompassed my February. I woke up this morning with a flurry of activities planned for myself while the girls were in school. Boring stuff I'd put off too long, for no other reason than that I didn't want to do it.

Paperwork and errands and bill paying. Laundry. Menu planning and grocery-list-making. Garden outlining, lettuce and broccoli plant buying, tree fertilizing.

My spring-infected nostrils became a gateway to my brain and I was left with determination.

Things would get DONE today.

And they did! Mostly, anyway. The laundry is ever a beastly work in progress, and the tree fertilizing is on tap for this afternoon. But the thing I'm most proud of? The task I'd put off for much longer than is safe for our credit and finances and peace of mind: Bill paying.

So simple.

So tedious.

So dreaded.

What is it with me and bills? It's not the spending money part; I'm cool with that. (Or at least resigned to it.) And we don't have alot of debt, either, so I'm not ticked off with interest or overspending. I'm just talking about regular utilities, for the most part: electric, water, internet, cell phones. I think I just hate the monotony of the job. The bills which aren't set up to automatically deduct from our bank come around every month -- clockwork. And I pay them every month -- forget about the clockwork, though.

I stack the bills in a pile until I wake up one morning and think, Crud! What day is it? Isn't there a bill that's due TODAY? YESTERDAY?! And I rustle around in the stack until I find a bill which needs to be payed immediately. I send it on its merry postal way, but forget completely about the bills that were just screaming pick me! pick me! and which are due within a few days' time.

Those, I leave until another frantic morning of date-worrying.

It's a cycle from which I can't seem to break loose. I've tried setting up Excel spreadsheets to track what's due and when: I forget to use it. I've tried circling days on my calendar about important due dates: I'm good for that month, and then forget about the next.

That's the problem, I think.

It never ends.

I feel a sense of accomplishment when the bill stack is proficiently distributed, checks snuggled in their warm little envelopes, stamps giving them flight across the country...I feel good about finishing the job.

It's a farce, though, right? The job of bill paying doesn't GET finished. It merely hibernates for 30 days and wakes up again with an insatiable appetite for my checkbook. At which point I put it off until I'm free of other, more entertaining obligations. Only when there's nothing else on my to-do list (which includes such necessaries as Read Blogs and Write Blogs) or I face the embarrassment of castigation from my trusting husband do I whine and stomp and pout and scribble out a few checks.

I've promised Justin SO MANY times that he doesn't need to worry about the bills: I can take care of this one thing while he works hard to support our family.

But can I?

This has been my domain for the past 5 years or so, and I think it's safe to say that I've proven myself unworthy. Should I just turn it all over to him -- him with a degree in finance and a career in the banking industry -- and admit defeat? Should I work at it until I GET it? Should I hide my head under a rock (where rock = wireless computer, cookbook, or novel) with shame for not having the will power to whip my lazy self into shape?

How does the bill-paying work in your household? (If it's not too forward of me to ask...) Are you good at it? Are you terrible, like me? Is there some magic solution you use to stay on top of the mundane, recurring household jobs that go along with adulthood?

And, pray tell, is there any hope for me?

18 comments:

  1. We're very much of a "focus on your strengths" type of family. I deal with the public & government, do the mechanical things, cook the food, do the grocery shopping. He does the finances (although we review on a weekly basis, and I could tell you exactly what we have in every account and sadly, what we still owe on education and loans), handles the bulk of money earning work and the electronics. We split cleanings, laundry, kitty care.

    The big thing that helps me stay on top of the finances (and the reason that I know where we are at, even though he's the one paying bills) is because we use Quicken. https://www.quickenonline.intuit.com/quickenweb/pages/iam/login_main.jsf?priorityCode=4297500000. It's a great program that takes a bit of work to set everything up, but then it's REALLY easy to see exactly what's coming up, what it will cost and what there is actually in the bank for other things (like food, clothing, etc.) It's also a really good tool for seeing where money is going (provided you allow your bank to feed information to it). This means I can see that we spent approximately $50 on eating out over the last two months, another $300 on groceries, a (horrible) $669 on car repairs, etc. So if we're pinching pennies (like we are now), I can see where there's room to cut and where we might have room for creative solutions. Quicken even bought (or merged with, not sure which) Mint.com which was the other on-line secure budgeting account -- Mint.com allows for smartphone access to this information, which means I literally can access it anywhere I am. This is surprisingly useful when driving to and from my parents' houses as they still don't have reliable internet. Yay growing up in the middle of nowhere.

    I don't manage the flow of information into Quicken -- my husband assures me it's quite simple and it is automated. So if you do go this route, I would love to hear if/how truly easy it is.

    Best of luck!

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  2. It's always been something that I've done in our household, and quite enjoyed it, because so many of our bills can be paid online, that there isn't the monotony of checks.
    However, since I've been staying home, I've really felt like this is something I should LET my husband do, not 'make him worry about', he is our sole provider now and he REALLY needs to be aware of every penny because he is accountable to God for his household and that includes our finances. Jesse is more than happy for me to do it, but I've never given him the chance to say 'I'll take over' and I'm not sure he feels the liberty to do so. .....this is ME though, not telling you what you guys should do.
    Bills are great though when you can just point and click and pay.....very nice.

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  3. Is there any way you could have more bills paid online automatically? That might make it easier on you. We don't pay any bills online, though, because I like to see what's going out each month (I don't pay attention if it's online) and my husband is suspicious of all online money activity :)

    I usually pay the bills as soon as they come in - as soon as it's opened, it sits on the counter (not under other stuff) and a check is written that night or the next day.

    Also, despite my paying the bills and his internet suspicion, my husband always knows exactly how much money we have - he checks our bank accounts online a couple times a week. He might be a bit obsessed.

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  4. Michelle - I like the idea of Quicken -- I thought there were probably online services which may be helpful in this area. Thanks!

    Katie - We do pay several bills online (those are mostly the ones that automatically debit from our bank acct.) but some charge outrageous fees to do so. Like our mortgage? $15 fee to pay online. Crazy! We still use snail mail for that and a few others.

    Elizabeth - My husband would probably like to do it all by the written check too -- just to keep him better in control and informed of every little thing. Maybe that's what it'll come to. I'm certainly willing to try it if it'll help us be more reliable with bill paying. I mean, we're not getting collections notices, but we're more likely paying late than not these days. It's bad...it can't be good...it's frustrating. Thanks for your suggestions!

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  5. Try Quicken Online. It's free and easy and marvelous and you can set it up to send you reminders of when bills are due, and when you log in to the "home" page it gives you an immediate look at how much money you have, what bills are due in the next couple days, how you're doing on your budget. Highly recommend it.

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  6. I used to be really horrible about this, but now I pay online. I'm surprised that some places have a fee for this (though my school loan probably wishes that there were a fee since I like to put a tiny bit extra whenever I have a little). Anyway, I've been a lot better since switching to online and I don't have to a) write checks b) buy stamps and c) get the bills actually to the mail.

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  7. I'm surprised to hear of fees for paying online!! Are you paying online through the company that holds the loan?? If your bank offers free bill pay then pay that way. I go in once a month and click on each bill, put in the amount I want to pay and the date its due and click done. Then the bank makes sure the check gets to the right place at the right time. Its free and super easy!!

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  8. Boo to bills!

    When we first got married, Joey took care of all the bill paying and budgeting... he suggested it because he is a math person, and because I stress out more. But it worked out that me stressing about stuff more meant that I got the bills paid in a more timely manner, so it ended up being easier for me to do it.

    I am HORRIBLE at keeping track of bills, though. I'm always losing them. I think having a specific place to put unpaid bills would help, but I always end up putting ALL the mail there, and the bills get lost anyhow!

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  9. My husband has set up automatic bill-paying for all of our utilities. Otherwise, I'd be stomping and whining, too.

    I'm only in charge of the once-every-six-weeks gymnastics payment (which is due when we show up to the first class, so I have no choice) and the tithe. If this tells you anything, our tithe check yesterday was over $1,000. That's how long I'd been neglecting to remember the checkbook at church...we're talking months.

    You're in good company, girl!

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  10. I had to pay all the bills when Brian was deployed a few years ago & HATED it. There is a way to set up the bills to be paid automatically though. He set that up when he returned from deployment...it would have been nice if I had figured that out :)

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  11. I'm stomping and whining along with you. As I type this, I have a stack of bills piled next to the computer that are due the 15th and I keep thinking... "That's a whole week away... I'll get to it then..." Somehow I actually do seem to get them paid in time... usually...

    But I dislike the fact of automatic deduction from our checking because I, like your husband, have to know *to the penny* how much is in our account. So, because of this obsession of mine, I will continue to be sneered at by the pile of bills every time I sit at the computer.

    I know this was no help whatsoever, but at least you know you're not alone. :)

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  12. I used to always take care of the bills because I am more of a money person than my husband...and more responsible. As the bills would come in, I'd open them and stack them on my desk..always putting the bill that was due first on top. All except for one bill we can pay through online banking, so once several bills came in, I'd sign on to our bank's website and pay them all. I would set the due date 4 or 5 days before the actual due date, so I knew they'd get there on time, but also so Comcast, etc wouldn't have my money too many days before the due date (b/c I'd rather make that little bit of interest than them).

    But, this post actually made me feel bad for my husband because he wanted to take over the bill paying, but within the first couple months he already had several late payments (one being a $25 late fee for our homeowner's association). I got really frustrated b/c to me that's just throwing away money, so I've taken it back over. It's actually less stressful for me to do it than worry if he's paying things on time. Maybe I was too hard on him and should have given him more time to figure it out. I like this topic though, and think it's interesting to hear what other people do.

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  13. I used to handle the bills, but that wasn't working very well. Husband has been doing all of it for the last couple of years. He pays bills on the 1st and 15th usually, because that is when gets paid. Mortgage is automatically deducted, as is insurance and car payments. He tells me where we are at financially so I'm still in the loop. Oh, and he does all through online banking, so no checks.

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  14. Well..I really only have to worry about 2 bills-electric and utility and when each arrives they are placed on the refrigerator and if I remember I make a note on the calendar. But like you, it's usually a frantic 'what was due today did I miss the deadline' sort of deal. Travis keeps on me though, "Did you pay that? Don't forget that's due tomorrow!" I don't even snail mail because I can't ever remember to send them off in time so I just try to remember to pay them on a day I'm already out. For instance: I try (key word being 'try') to pay the empire bill when I go to my Grandmother's house on Tuesdays or some other time when I'm in the near vicinity of downtown Joplin....usually I end up having to make a seperate trip the following day. They usually get paid on time though-I think having them hanging right on the front of the refrigerator helps....good luck.

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  15. You're going to question our friendship when I write this next sentence.

    Are you ready?

    I love bill paying! I love the routine and the monotony. I love the sense of accomplishment. I love the bills themselves (in fact, go eagerly to the mailbox looking for them). I see them as a reminder that we are doing something in this life...because we are living, we have bills! I dream of making a living paying other people's bills (with their money, of course!).

    Forget hope for you...is there any hope for me?

    Maybe these two thoughts will mean something to you...
    1) Bills are a reminder that you and your heavenly family are alive and well in this lovely world.
    2) You do laundry, make meals, even wipe bottoms day after day, same old same old, never done...but aren't you glad you have people to do it for? Aren't bills the same?

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  16. We're trying to figure that one out. I'm not exactly known for my timeliness, so I'm not sure that I'm terribly qualified for this job. Stephan actually asked me to pay one of the bills yesterday...it has yet to be done. I promise I'm getting to it...soon.

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  17. I use to be the bill payer. I got everything set up online, but we don't have any fees from any companies to worry about so it's super easy to log on a couple times a month and get everything paid. However, Randy was always asking where all our money went and I got tired of going over it with him! We have bills!!! We can't spend all our money on fun stuff, despite how much he may want to! So he took over the bills about 6 months ago and now everyone is happy! We have a written budget that we stick to each month and it only takes him a few minutes each month to go online and pay anything that is not set up for automatic withdrawal.

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  18. Not that different you and I, not in this.
    two words

    ONLINE BILLPAY !

    Set up online banking with your account. One and once only you have to enter your payees. Then its a few button clicks every month to get them paid on time. You can even schedule recurring payments for those bills that never change.

    It's made a huge difference for me, as in, it actually gets done. I'm already at my computer. And it's faster, usually one day.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?