A Better Way to Manage Your Bills

Last Updated Aug 14, 2009 7:44 PM EDT

After fearing I had forgotten to pay a life insurance premium, I spent three hours going through every last bill and piece of junk mail in my house. While all my paperwork is now in order, I still feel no sense of accomplishment. That's because I know in about a week I'll be right back where I started, staring at another pile of invoices, credit card solicitations and catalogs. It's time for me to find a way to control the madness.

While managing bills has always been important, I'm feeling a certain sense of urgency to get more organized as creditors look for any excuse to raise a consumer's interest rate or slash a line of credit. So I decided to call an expert, Kathryn Maxwell, a professional daily money manager (who charges clients by the hour to manage their bills) and a member of the American Association of Daily Money Managers, for some advice. Here are her tips:

Step One
Create a spreadsheet listing all of the companies that send you monthly, quarterly and annual bills. Now, create columns for when the bills are due and how much you owe. Then mark off when you pay them. This will provide you with a paper trail so you can anticipate when an invoice is expected to come in and if any bill gets lost somewhere in your home.

Your spread sheet will also prove quite helpful if you get one of those nasty letters saying your cable payment is late. Rather than looking for the original bill, all you'll have to do is scan your list to see if you forgot to pay it.

Step Two
Now try to make your life a bit easier. Set up automatic payments for as many of your bills as possible. Start off with your mortgage and credit card statements since late payments on these accounts can do some serious damage to your credit score.

Step Three
Find an hour every week, say, 8:00 pm on Mondays, and dedicate it to paying bills and recording those payments on your spreadsheet.

Step Four
Finally, when you have some extra time, try to reduce your junk mail. There are a few different websites that can help, including Catalogchoice.org (which signs you up for online catalogs only) and OptOutPrescreen.com (which can stop all those annoying credit card solicitations).

So what did I take away from my conversation with Maxwell? If I had a little extra cash, I would hire her. Since that's not really an option for me right now, I had better expect to spend at least fours hours a month paying bills. While I wish I could get it done faster, the reality is that cutting corners and rushing through the task will only leave me spending more days like today trying to fight all the clutter.

Would you pay someone else to pay all of your bills? Or do you prefer to have complete control over all aspects of your finances?

My Power Bill image by brendan.wood, CC 2.0.

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