Category Archive: Bills-In-A-Box

Bills-In-A-Box: The Stress-Free System For Organizing Your Finances – Non-Monthly Bills (Step 3 of 5)

A few days ago, I introduced my calendar-based system for organizing my financial documents and monthly bills.  Today, I’m writing about how I handle bills that don’t come monthly, but come quarterly, annually, or semi-annually.

For those new to the site or to this series –

Click here for Step 1 – The Introduction

Click here for Step 2 – The Setup

Non-Monthly Bills

1.  You should have 13 folders in your box.  12 of these are labeled with the months of the year.  The 13th folder should be labeled Accounts.  (There will be more on the Accounts folder in the next bills-in-a-box article.)

2.  Go through your folders and mark the dates when annual, semi-annual, and quarterly bills are due.  Using the same technique that we used to pay monthly bills, go back 7 days from each due date and schedule your payment dates.  If you want, go ahead and write the check for the payment, including the amount of the payment, if you know it.  (You can also go online and schedule an online bill payment.)

3.  Now, here’s where the calendar-based system really helps.  Instead of simply noting the payment date and the due date, you need to backtrack an entire month, and make a notation, reminding yourself of the non-monthly bill.  So, if your life insurance premium is due October 10, back up one full month, to September 10, and make a notation.  Then, when you are going through your September 10th payments, you’ll come across your reminder and you’ll have an entire month to prepare for the payment.  Why is this important?  Have you ever sat down to create your budget, “spent” all of your income, and then realized that you had forgotten a non-monthly bill?  With the calendar-based system, you setup not one, not two, but three reminders.

4.  What if you forget when an annual bill is due?  This, my friends, is what makes the bills-in-a-box system so handy.  By having all of your bills in one place, organized by date, you can quickly flip through a previous month’s or previous year’s bills.  For instance, my wife has an insurance premium that is due twice a year.  In the past, I’d forget about the premium until a notice came in the mail.  Frantically, I’d search for enough money to cover the premium, and, inevitably, our budget would have to be adjusted, mid-month.  But now, I simply take my calendar from the previous year, go through it month by month, and note, on my new calendar, the dates when annual or quarterly bills are due.

Now, you have a system which organizes all of your bills, reminds you of when they are due, and provides instant organization.  By combining this system with your checkbook, your online bill pay account, and your budget, you have a way of keeping up with all of your bills – those you receive in the mail, those you receive online, and those that you receive on a non-monthly schedule.

After explaining the system (in the Setup article) – several comments suggested that this system might be too complicated or that it might not be necessary, considering that some people pay their bills as soon as the bills arrive in the mail or that most people pay their bills electronically, etc.  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not sure that I’ve done a great job explaining the “why” of the system.  So, here goes:

Even with all of the budgeting software that is available, and all of the advances in modern, online banking, I still need a system for organizing paperwork.  I’ve tried a lot of systems, and this one works well for me.  I can keep all of my bills in a central location and I can file them as they are paid.  And, using the “payment date” and “due date” system, I can maximize the amount of interest that my money earns and still insure that my payments are processed on time.  (Instead of paying all my monthly payments at the first of the month, I wait until an appropriate “payment date”, insuring that I earn more interest than I would have, had I paid them all at once.)

To summarize the system, so far –

Label 12 folders, January through December.

Into each folder, place a monthly calendar.

As bills come in, write the due date on the calendar and attach bills to front of calendar.

Create a payment date, approximately 7 days before a bill is due, and make a note of it on the calendar.

Send payment on the payment date.

As checks (or online payments) clear, mark those dates on the calendar.

Move bills that have been paid, and who’s checks have cleared, to the back of the calendar.

At the end of each month, you should see a calendar and behind it you should find, in order of their payment dates, the bills paid that month.

For annual bills, use the same system, but put an additional reminder, a month before the annual bill is due.  (The same holds true for all non-monthly bills.)

Any questions or comments would be appreciated.

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Bills-In-A-Box: The Stress-Free System For Organizing Your Finances – The Setup (Step 2 of 5)

Yesterday, I introduced you to the Bills-In-A-Box system.  Today, I’ll outline the setup and go over the basics for how you can put together your own Bills-In-A-Box system and start using it to manage your monthly bills.

The Setup -

1.  Label your folders, January for folder 1, February for folder 2, and so on, until you have 12 labeled folders, January through December.  Label the final folder (folder 13) Accounts.  (More about folder 13 later…)

2.  Create a calendar for each month of the year.  Be sure that your calendar has enough space, in each date-block, to make small notations.  (As I mentioned in the introductory post, feel free to download and use the calendar that I designed for my own Bills-In-A-Box.)

Once a week – (or as often as is necessary)

3.  Gather your stack of bills.  Sort them by due dates.  (Since it’s July when I write this, we’ll use the month of July as our example month for the rest of the steps.)  You’ll also need your budget, so you won’t forget any of your monthly obligations.  If you don’t have a budget, I recommend You Need A Budget Pro.

4.  Going through your bills, make small notations on the calendar for when your bills are due.  For instance, if your electric bill is due on July 19, write something like “electric – $125.78” in the date-block for July 19.  Do this for all of the bills in your stack.  (Don’t worry, we’ll get to paperless bills and auto-drafts in a bit…)

5.  Let’s assume that you decide to send payments 7 days before they are due.  Backtrack 7 days from each of the due dates that you just noted, and write something like “pay electric – $125.78“.  Now, you have a list of payment dates and due dates.

6.  Guided by the payment dates, write out and entire month’s worth of checks.  On the calendar, write down the check number that corresponds to a particular payment date.  Address and stamp your envelopes, as well.  Put the checks (and bill stubs) in the envelopes.  Remember to sign the checks!  (If you don’t feel comfortable pre-signing the checks, you can wait until you actually mail them.)

7.  If you use online banking, login to your bank account and schedule payments.  (This is what I do.)  On your calendar, be sure to note that you have scheduled a payment.  My bank provides a confirmation number for each online payment.  I write these numbers on my calendar.  So, July 12 would read “pay electric – $125.78 – #34882“.

8.  If you receive e-bills (paperless bills) – the system still works.  Simply note due dates and payment dates.  It works the same if you have auto-drafts.  Simply write “electric – auto-draft – $125.78″ for the date when the auto-draft is processed.

9.  Now comes the organizational secret of the system.  Until the payment for a bill has cleared your bank, the bill for that payment remains attached to the front of that month’s calendar.  Once the check (or payment) clears, you then move its bill from the front of the calendar to the back of the calendar.

I hope you can see how this system helps.  When a bill arrives, instead of throwing it into a pile, you simply open it, make a note of its due date (and create a payment date), and then attach it to the front of the calendar.  Once a week, you write out your checks and address your envelopes – for all of the bills that are attached to the front of the calendar.  Then, mail the payments that you scheduled the previous week.  The next week, you can login to your online account and verify that your payments have cleared.  Then, move the bills that have cleared the bank to the back of the calendar – and make a notation on the bill for when the payment cleared.  (If you don’t use online banking – wait until you receive your monthly checking account statement – and move your bills at that time.)

Instantly, your bills are organized.  If six months from now, someone calls you about your electric bill for July, you can go to your July folder, see that it was due on the 19th, payment was sent on the 12th, and the check cleared on the 17th.  And, the bill will be filed, right behind the calendar, in the folder marked July.

As with any system, you’ll want to tailor this one to fit your life.  Personally, I like to pay all of my bills at the same time, so I send all of my payments at the first of each month.  Then, as checks clear, I simply move bills from the front of my calendar to the back.  (Please note, you don’t have to actually attach the bills to the calendar.  You can simply set the calendar in the folder, and stack uncleared bills in front of it and cleared bills behind it.  Personally, I print my calendar on bright green paper so that it stands out from the bills that are in each folder.)  Also, if you want to get fancy, you can color-code your calendar notations.  I use red for due dates and blue for payment dates.  Remember, our goal is to create a simple-to-use system that we’ll actually use.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about how to deal with bills that are due once a year and how this system can help you manage your cash. The next day, I’ll have some ideas for managing fixed-payments and how the system helps me save for future purchases.  Finally, I’ve produced a video how-to, detailing how I use the system.

If you haven’t already done so, consider subscribing to the RSS or Email updates – and be sure to check out tomorrow’s post – step 3!

If you have questions -or suggestions – feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll try to answer your questions in the upcoming posts.

Click here for Step 1 – The Introduction

Click here for Step 2 – The Setup

Click here for Step 3 – Non-Monthly Bills

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Bills-In-A-Box: The Stress-Free System For Organizing Your Finances – Introduction (Step 1 of 5)

For those of us who are struggle to get (and stay) organized, managing month-to-month finances can be extremely stressful.  So, I’ve created a simple, low-cost system for organizing my bills and managing my financial obligations.  Introducing –

Bills-In-A-Box

I’ve been using the Bills-In-A-Box system for more than two years – and it works.  It’s simple, easy-to-setup, and practical.  Over the next few days, I’ll introduce the system, detail how I use it, discuss a few advanced tips, and present a video how-to for exactly how the system works.  Consider subscribing to No Credit Needed, via RSS or daily Email, to receive each step as they’re published.

What You Will Need -

1.  You will need a “box”.  The kind of box will be up to you, but the box will need to be big enough to accommodate 13 standard-sized file folders.  Personally, I use an accordion-style file folder, but you can use anything – a plastic tote, a portable filing cabinet, or even a cardboard box – just as long as you can put 13 folders in it. Any of these will work just fine –

2. You will need a standard, letter-sized, month-by-month calendar. You can create your own calendar, print one from the web or your office software, or even use pages from a wall-calendar. The calendar needs to be letter-sized and needs to fit in a standard-sized file folder. Feel free to download the calendar that I use.  It’s blank, and you can use your computer software to add details, or print it out and fill it in by hand.

Bills-In-A-Box Free Printable Calendar

3.  You will need some paperclips – or those little binder clips – whichever you prefer. You’ll use these to attach paperwork to the front and back of your calendar.

4.  You will need a pencil or pen.  I prefer a pencil, so that I can erase my (frequent!) mistakes.

5.  You will need your budget.  The Bills-In-A-Box system is not designed to replace your budget!  On the contrary, you’ll use your budget to help design your system, and then you’ll use the system to help “work” your budget.  Personally, I use You Need A Budget Pro Version.  It’s a great budgeting tool.

6.  You will need some file folders.  Standard-size manila folders, with tabs, are perfect.  Personally, I like to reuse old folders and simply replace the labels, year after year.

How It Works -

Tomorrow, I’ll outline, in much more detail, how the system works.  But, here are the basics –

1.  You will label each folder – January through December.  The 13th folder will contain a summary of your financial accounts.  (More about that later…)

2.  Each folder will contain – a calendar, corresponding to the month listed on the outside of the folder – and any bills due during that month.

3.  When bills are due, they are attached to the front of the calendar.  Once they’ve been paid, they are attached to the back of the calendar.

4.  At the end (or beginning) of each week, you will sort through your bills, schedule payments, transfer cash to savings, and verify that bills have been paid.  (Don’t get stressed!  Once you have the system in place, you’ll be amazed by how simple it really is.)

5.  At the end of the month, you can use the system to balance your checkbook, reconcile bank statements, and plan for the next month.  (Again, there will be much more about how the system works, in upcoming posts.)

Whew!  That’s enough for one day.  So, gather your materials, grab that stack of bills, get out your checkbook, and get ready to get organized!  And, remember, if you haven’t already done so, consider subscribing to the RSS or Email updates – and be sure to check out tomorrow’s post – step 2!

Click here for Step 1 – The Introduction

Click here for Step 2 – The Setup

Click here for Step 3 – Non-Monthly Bills

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