Finding a System for On-Time Payments
Professional organizers know that time is an exhaustible resource, just like money, and it's even more precious because, unlike money, there is an absolute limit to the amount of time you can "make" in a day. We also know that mismanaging one invariably costs you more of the other: If you neglect money matters, you'll have to spend time to get back on track, and if you're not careful with your time, you'll end up losing money somewhere, somehow.
And so it goes with your personal finances. If you don't have a system for paying bills on time, you'll incur late charges and possibly damage your credit rating. If you don't keep your financial records up-to-date with regularly scheduled reconciliation times, you'll bounce checks and incur still more fees and ill will from creditors.
I believe that awareness is half the battle in all organizing challenges; therefore, if you struggle with time management as it relates to your finances, you'll make huge strides toward helping yourself to improve if you become aware of a few things:
- What makes on-time payment difficult for you?
- How do you approach the task of bill-paying?
- What methods have worked best for you in the past?
- What can you do to get yourself on-track with bill-paying?
- What special money-management issues do you face, including managing shared accounts?
What Makes This So Hard for You?
Is it solely a time-management issue in that you just forget to do it? Or is there an emotional component? Often we procrastinate or avoid a task without even realizing we're doing it, and the reason is an emotional one. It could be fear: Dealing with bill-paying stirs up your insecurity and anxiety about money, success, and making something of yourself. It could be resentment: You resent having to pay money for some things, whether it's substandard phone service or a loan you had to take to pay for something that turned out to be a rip-off.
It could be that old bugaboo, perfectionism: If you can't do it perfectly, completely, on time, every time, then your heart's just not in doing it at all. It could be boredom: This is a pretty boring task, and many people have a low tolerance for duties that do not engage the imagination. It could be confusion: You just don't "get" money or your current system is too complex.
Acknowledge the factors that are keeping you from fully engaging yourself in this project. Accept that these are valid emotions, and stop judging yourself for having them.
Are You a Sprinter or a Jogger?
I learned this one from Wilma Fellman, author of Finding a Career That Works for You. If you're a jogger, you prefer to do a little at a time, taking a steady pace and completing projects in a more or less peaceful, predictable manner. If you're a sprinter, you tend to complete projects in bursts of energy, focusing your entire being on one thing for a short period of time and then walking away from it to regroup for a while. A jogger prefers to enter transactions into a financial management system every day; a sprinter prefers to do them in a batch once every week or so.
Sprinters are much more susceptible to spontaneity, and at times much more productive because of it. The inherent problem with a spontaneous approach to money management is that the consequences of falling behind and catching back up tend to be more severe than in other areas of life.
If you're a sprinter, endeavor to create just enough structure to prevent missed deadlines while still allowing for your naturally spontaneous nature.
What Has Worked in the Past?
If there was a time when you were on top of the bills, what was different? Was there someone in your life who served as an anchor or motivator to keep you on track? Did you have more money, or less? Were there fewer bills? Assess what has worked for you and look for ways to bring it back into your current system.
What Do You Do Now to Finally Get It Done?
Do you pull an all-nighter before tax day? Do you rely on overdraft protection to cover you and then use your panic to motivate you into getting the bills settled for another couple weeks? Perhaps you thrive on adrenaline the rush of saving the day at the last possible minute. Do you find it harder to motivate yourself to pay bills when you have a smaller amount of funds available? It could be that working in fine detail to allocate each dollar precisely is just too overwhelming for you. Does it take someone else prodding you into action (the angry spouse, the tsk-tsking mother, the relentless bill collector)? Maybe that's because you really don't want to have to do it anyway.
What parts of all of that can you incorporate into a more effective system? Think carefully about this. The answer might be that you should delegate this task to someone else; if that's not realistic, it will be all the more important for you to find a system that gives you maximum accuracy for minimum effort.
After you've made these observations, it's time to boil it all down into one big reality check: What level of organization is realistic for you? Again, set aside self-criticism and judgment, be objective, and be honest. Is it likely that you (and those holding joint accounts with you) are going to be able to maintain perfect accuracy, or do you need a system that allows a margin of error?
Now is not the time for ambition! Let's have none of the "I should" and "I'll try harder" and "I'll do better". This is about finding a system that works for you, not contorting yourself to work for the system.
More on: Family Finances
Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.