My friend Mike is well-off. He lives alone, makes a good salary, invests wisely, and doesn't spend money on foolish endeavors. Yet he often gets charged late fees. Why? Because he's disorganized. He brings his bills home, throws them on the table, and they get lost under a mass of paper during the weeks that follow. When he remembers his bills, he pays the late fees, and sends extra money to cover the next few months. He knows he'll forget again.
Here are some tips to make bill-paying easier:
- Process mail right away. Don't even set it down. Open each piece of mail and process it: recycle the junk mail, shred the credit card offers, make a stack of magazines, and pay the bills.
- If you can't process mail right away, have a designated place for bills. Use it. I tuck mine in a cubbyhole at my computer desk. Sometimes I forget to put a bill in the cubbyhole. This is Bad News. If it's not in the cubbyhole, a bill is lost. Then, like my friend Mike, I get a late fee. Don't be like Mike.
- Pay your bills as they arrive. It's unrealistic to expect people to pay bills the moment they walk in the door. But it's certainly possible to pay a bill on the day it arrives, or soon after.
- At a minimum, process your finances once each week. Designate a time — Sunday night before bed, maybe — to balance your checkbook, to check your bank statements, and to pay your bills.
- Prepay your bills. Pay for two or three months instead of one. My friend Mike does this because he's forgetful. I do this at the end of every year: I get a large Christmas bonus, so I pay for three months on each bill.
- Pay your bills online. Nearly every major utility and bank now offers the ability to pay your bills via the web. Some even offer small discounts for using this service!
- Reduce the number of bills your receive. Cancel services and subscriptions you no longer use or value. Set up automatic payments. Consolidate services where possible.
- Save money by asking for a lower rate. Again and again, people have told me how they've been able to save simply by calling and asking for a better deal.
Paying your bills doesn't have to be a chore. When I pay my bills as they arrive, it's actually kind of fun. And the best feeling of all comes when I pay off a debt and know that I'll never see that bill ever again.