Getting Organized is the first Step in Controlling your Finances

Are you on the verge of drowning in a sea of disorganized, unpaid bills, and threatening your credit rating too? Or maybe you leave your receipts scattered around the house, gathering dust, knowing that they’re too important to throw away but unable to find a way of dealing with them efficiently? Even if you dutifully toss them into a shoebox, it can be a daunting pile to face when tax return time comes around. If you fit into any of these categories, these time and sanity saving tips are for you.

1. Organizing unpaid paper bills

Bills where you are given time to pay usually arrive in the mail. Typically they are from utilities: your phone account, your electricity or natural gas bill, your local government taxes, levies or rates. Perhaps you have had some work done around the home and the tradesman has now submitted his charges. Your credit card statement may still be arriving in paper format. Don’t wait until the end of the month before you sort out the pile, because some of them need paying in seven days, some in fourteen, and if you miss the due date on your credit card payment by just one day it can cost you a huge amount in penalty interest.

As each bill arrives in the mail, open the envelope and scan the bill for the due date. Return it to the envelope and write the due date on the outside of the envelope. Stack the envelopes in a pile in order of due date, with the earliest due date on the top of the pile. A quick glance at your pile each day will tell you if a bill is due for payment.

2. Pay bills by direct debit

If you sign up for the direct debit scheme offered by most companies or agencies who send you regular bills, you can stop worrying about missing the payment day because they will organize the payment from your bank account for you. There’s no need to be concerned that they will debit an amount you are not happy with, because they will still send you a printed or electronic account well before the direct debit date. All you need to do is check that the amount and details are correct, then file the bill away. If the organization accepts direct debit payment by credit card, choose that option. Not only will you get will you be getting extra time to pay, you could earn extra loyalty points on your card.

3. Receive bills and diarize payment electronically

If you would like to eliminate most printed paper bills altogether, look out for options to receive your account statement electronically. Then use the calendar option in your phone, or in your computer e-mail system, to diarize the due date and remind you when it arrives. This way you can save the planet, your credit rating and your sanity all at the same time.

4. Filing paid bills

Electronic bills are easy to file. Tuck them away in a virtual folder and they will take up no space at all but remain accessible forever if you wish. Paper bills and receipts are a bit more of a nuisance but a little effort in organizing them pays dividends. Save any large A4 size envelopes you receive in the mail, or buy new ones if you prefer. Write the name of a company you receive bills from on the outside of each envelope and arrange the envelopes alphabetically in your filing cabinet. As you pay your bills, write the payment date and receipt number on the front page of the account, or staple your printed receipt to the front page. Then file the bill away in the appropriate envelope. Start a new envelope each year for bulky accounts, and discard the envelopes after whichever period of years applies to your local tax or legal jurisdiction.

Alternatively, forget about the envelopes and just file your paid bills in a lever arch file in chronological order, with the most recently paid bills on top. Small cash register receipts can be stapled to the unprinted reverse side of a discarded A4 sheet. When the sheet is full, start a new one.

The key part of all these methods of organizing bill clutter is, as with most repetitive tasks, to stay on top of the chore by dealing with paperwork on a daily or weekly basis before it has a chance to accumulate. An enormous pile of unfiled bills is a depressing sight, and the heap is likely to grow larger before you can summon the energy to tackle it. On the other hand, just a few minutes a day spent on dealing with bills as they arrive will save you time in the long run, and you will have taken a major step along the road of controlling your personal finances.