Sunday, September 27, 2015

Managing My Time, Part 2 of 2

Here, in part 2, I will share with you my strategies for organizing bills, mail, and coupons as I manage my time as a mother of a large family.
This is part 2 of “Managing My Time”. *smile*  In part 1 I talked about why it’s valuable for moms to manage their time, and then how I do that using my desk, a calendar, a day planner, how I organize reading material, grocery shopping & errands.  Here, in part 2, I will share with you my strategies for organizing bills, mail, and coupons as I manage my time as a mother of a large family.

Being disorganized in the areas of bills, mail, and coupons can carry costly penalties.  For the first 5 years of our marriage we did not have a good plan for managing these areas.  Mail stacked up on the counter which caused bills to sometimes be lost or more often late because there was no plan for how to make sure they got paid by their individual due dates.  And if a bill disappeared in the mail somewhere and never arrived at our house in the first place then we would not know it was missed, causing late fees to be accrued and credit to be damaged by late payments.  Damaged credit scores affect the amount of interest people have to pay on loans and credit cards, and can even effect whether or not someone gets employment as employers are looking at credit scores now.  When that missed bill did arrive the following month with twice the amount due, sometimes we could not afford to pay it in full which would cause a financial problem to have to manage until it was caught up.  Once an organizational strategy was finally established, however, there hasn’t been any of these costly penalties – and the stress of disorder has been alleviated (which of course affects everyone in the family). *smile*

Managing the mail

When my husband brings the mail home every day now he places it on my counter/desk for me to organize.  But I never let it stay there.  Now, I have time in every day for that day’s tasks, but not for today’s and yesterday’s tasks (mail, laundry, etc.), so the mail must be dealt with as it arrives each day.  I immediately throw away the junk mail, an easy first step which reveals what is left for me to put away.  Then as soon as is convenient – but always that same day – I put the rest of the mail, mostly bills, away as well.  Within about 3 minutes my counter is clean and functional again, and nothing from the mail will be forgotten or missed.

Managing bills

To pay bills we personally do not choose to utilize automatic bill-paying options because we do not want to have chunks of money disappearing from our bank account when ever the bill-senders are ready to take it.  We decide when the bills get paid ourselves (but still by their due date of course), in compliance with when my husband is paid.  

Bills always get paid on time, we live within our means, but the timing needs to be managed by us.  To organize our paper bills I purchased a simple 5x10-inch accordion file at the local office supply store.  I labeled the first 3 tabs with the numbers 1, 2, and 3, representing each pay check in a month (most of the time there are two pay checks in a month, but occasionally there are 3 in one month).  

When a bill arrives in the mail I open it up that same day, separate the bill stub from the rest of the letter, highlight on the bill stub the amount due and the due date so I can see those quickly and easily and there are no mistakes made (sometimes there are other amounts listed as well, and other dates).  I shred the rest of that bill’s letter in our paper shredder.  We bought a nice one off of (“confetti style” shredding is important to avoid identity theft).  I then file that bill in the accordion file behind either the #1 or the #2 tab, depending upon whether it needs to be paid from the first pay check or the second.  Since my husband receives his pay check every two weeks, we pay our bills every two weeks as well.  I simply gather the bills out of the appropriate tab and pay those as a group.  With this method I see how much total money is going out in bills from that pay check, and how much will be going out the next pay check, to help us gauge what additional spending can be made at certain times.  I can also make sure that bills are paid right off the top of a pay check first thing, so there is not over-spending and then discovering that there is now not enough money left to pay the necessary bills.

Next, to keep track of what bills we have, when they are due, and about how much is due on each one I made up a “Bills Due” chart (you may download a copy of my chart for free from DropBox if you'd like).  I list our bills down the left side column in the order that they are due in a month.  The tithe is always paid right off the top of the pay check.  From there the rest of the bills are then listed in chronological order as to when they're due. The bill due on the 3rd is next at the top, then the bill due on the 7th, then the one due on the 10th, etc. down to the bill due on the 30th.  

When a bill arrives in the mail, I mark on the Bills Due chart the date that particular bill is due.  This serves two purposes.  First, I can see at a glance if a bill did not arrive this month because there is no date written down for that bill.  Second, I can know when a bill is due in a month (beginning, middle, end), so I can estimate how much will be due from the next two pay checks if I’d like, which helps us spend money wisely and carefully.  See photo below (to enlarge double click on it).  I keep this chart folded in half in the very front of my bills accordion file.  

In the column marked “Amount” I write down for each bill either the exact amount (i.e. mortgage), or an average amount (i.e. electric bill) that will be due.  This again helps me plan how much money will go out in bills in the next few weeks by knowing the usual due date and the amount.  

In the row marked “tithe” there is a place for two separate check marks.  From the first pay check I put a check mark in front of the back-slash to show myself that I paid it, and from the second pay check I put a check mark to the right of the back-slash.  

My Bills Due chart is especially helpful for bills that are due every other month, and bills we get quarterly.  These bills can be much harder to keep track of, and without this chart it’s very difficult for me to anticipate when they will be due in the future and hold that in my memory for 3 months *cringe* so I can plan our spending carefully.

Managing coupons

Another way to manage money carefully and frugally is by using coupons.  However, years ago the coupons that I clipped with the intention of saving us money never got used because they were not put in a place where I could see them, or use them by their expiration date, and remember to have them with me when shopping.  You wouldn’t think it would take years for me to come up with a better plan *smile*, but it did.  Now I only use coupons for the stores that I already shop at every week:  Costco and Wal-Mart, and maybe for an occasional trip to Jo Ann Fabrics or Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I do not clip coupons for grocery or other items at lots of other stores because I don’t have time or the ability with lots of young kids with me to drive around to all different stores in order to “save money” with coupons.  I would actually make up the difference in the amount of money saved by the gas money spent driving all around! *laugh*  So I keep coupons very simple, and I usually have about 4-6 of them at a time clamped to the top of our refrigerator door, next to my Master Grocery List (See also - Charts and Lists That Save My Sanity).  I do also shop at the dollar store periodically, Value Village, and the Good Will to save money, however.  Before I go shopping each week I check to see if I have any coupons for items I’m already purchasing (I do not purchase items simply because I have a coupon for them).  If I do have coupons to use then I’ll staple them to the top of my grocery list in an effort to not lose them, and to remember to use them.

For those of you friends who use crazy amounts of coupons *wink*, I do have an idea for you of how I would manage those if I needed to.  I would try using another accordion file, like the one I use for bills, and I would mark the tabs one for each week in a month:  “week 1”, “week, 2”, through “week 5” (for those rare months when there’s an extra week or part of one).  Since using coupons within their due dates seems to be the main issue, I would file each coupon in the week that it would begin to be available for use.  Then before shopping each week I would check in the pocket of that week’s coupons and see if there’s any I would like to use.  If I choose not to use some that have dates which reach in to the following week, then I would move them to that following week’s pocket so that I have the option of using them still.  Any coupons that I chose not to use or have expired I’d throw away.  When coupons are good for as long as a month then I would put them in the first week’s pocket that they’re available for use, and simply move them to the next week’s pocket until they were used or expired.  You could also do a similar system using paper mailing envelopes, clamped or paper-clipped together in order by week.

With an organized plan in place that has become habit, managing mail, bills, and coupons takes almost no mental energy or attention (the reason I forgot to include these systems in part 1 of “Managing My Time”! *laugh*).  I simply keep these systems running smoothly, daily putting things where they belong, and leave them alone until I pay bills every other week.  No worry, no confusion, and there are pretty much no mistakes.  *beam*  

Blessings on your efforts!

You may also be interested in some of my related posts:
Managing My Time, part 1 of 2 - Why it's valuable & How I do it
Orderliness - A Closer Look
Charts & Lists That Save My Sanity
Enjoying Being at Home


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