How to organize your bills when you don’t have an office
Why do you need an office in a box?
You need an office in a box because bill disorganization costs you money. If your bills aren’t organized, you could be paying them late (fees), incorrectly (ever paid something twice?), or just straight up missing payments (yikes!). Even if you locate that utility bill just in time to pay it, they often charge you a fee to pay online at the last minute.
Disorganization. Costs. You. Money.
But there are more than just monetary costs here, too. Personal finance guru Gail Vaz-Oxlade once said, “Visual clutter makes us feel uncomfortable. Mental clutter keeps us awake at night.” Disorganized finances are definitely mental clutter. So getting your bills and bill paying process organized can actually help you sleep at night!
If you have a home office and would rather set this up in a file cabinet, you definitely can. While we do have space set aside as a home office, in reality I don’t go down there very often – it has really become my husband’s space. But since this thing is mobile, I can bring it up to the dining room table for bill paying sessions and our budget meetings. Cleanup is fast and easy, and I click the lid closed before I put it away on the office shelves. Even if you do have an office in your house, this stores easily on a shelf.
Assemble the supplies listed here for your own office in a box:
- Sturdy banker's box or plastic file folder box with lid
- Hanging folders
- File folders (At least 13)
- Calculator, if you don’t use a computer
- Yellow budget sheets or a notepad
- Label maker (optional)
- Stapler & Staple puller
- Paper clips
- Envelopes & stamps, if necessary
Step 1: Grab your new office in a box!
I love using my Sterilite box. Whether it’s one like this that has a handle, or you’re using a more stackable option that looks more like a crate, you want something sturdy that fall apart on you. Plus, as I mentioned, you can take it from one room to another. The ones with compartments on the top are handy for holding your pens, pencils and other supplies. I picked mine up at the local big box store, but you can find them at Amazon or office supply stores, too.
Step 2: Label your folders and drop them in.
There are two ways you can organize your folders: one folder per month of the year, and one folder per bill category (housing, utilities, credit cards, etc). I recommend doing it by MONTH. This helps you get on a regular schedule for paying bills. Label the folders one per month, and another one “bills to pay.” Put your envelopes and stamps in one of the hanging folders in the back of your box.
You might also want to add a folder for important receipts you want to keep – appliance purchases, vehicle paperwork, home improvements, etc. But keep this folder small and only for those major purchases, because you don’t want it to get crazy big.
Step 3: Pull all your bills together and start sorting.
If you’ve got a stack or two of bills, mail and other general papers that seem to find their way into your house, go through it and pull out your bills and statements. You’ve probably got some there that are already paid - sort those by month, and drop them into the appropriate monthly folder as you go. We’re sorting according to the due dates here.
Any unpaid bills are going to go into your “bills to pay” folder, right up in the front of your box. These will get attention first!
If you need a visual reminder that your bills need to be paid, and you can’t reliably check this box weekly, then you may want to have a staging area somewhere visible for the new bills that come in the door. In that case, you may not need the “bills to pay” folder.
Step 4: Set a weekly or bi-weekly bill pay schedule.
On a weekly or bi-weekly basis, you’ll need to sit down and review your budget and expenses, and pay any bills that are due. If you’ve got a spouse or significant other that you’re working with on the budget, then you want to make sure you set a little time for a budget check-in at the same time.
If you need to mail any of your bills, plan to put them in the mail at least five business days before they’re due. This gives you some padding in case the mail takes longer to reach the billing address.
The best way to pay bills, provided there aren’t any fees from your bank or credit union, is via an online bill pay system. If you’re not using this already, check into it. Our credit union accepts bills from most of the places we need to pay, with the exception of one local utility that doesn’t have it set up. But even with that one, I can send the payment via the credit union’s bill pay system. It’s incredibly easy to set payment dates in advance, and you don’t have to worry about the mail!
If you paid online via the biller’s website, make sure to write down the confirmation details on your statement - the date, time and confirmation code for your payment. You never know when their systems might have some glitch, leaving you to prove you paid.
Step 5: File those paid bills
As you’re working through your bills, note the actual bill amount in your budget and calculate the difference between the amount you budgeted at the beginning of the month and the actual charge. Once your bills are paid (or the payment is set in the online system), file the statements in the appropriate month’s file folder.
Once a month, check through your bank statement or online system and look for any checks that haven’t cleared. We rarely write checks anymore, but we were caught off guard once when the summer camp deposit check hadn’t been taken from our account like we thought it had. We were fine, but the lesson is not to think you have more money in your account than you think you do. Account for all outstanding payments.
For most of these bills- your utilities, credit cards, etc. - you can shred them next year when you get back to this month, making room for the new bills.
Then give yourself a pat on the back for keeping your “office in a box” organized and running for a full year!
Watch for my other organizational posts coming this month as we get start to organized in the new year! You may also be interested in these other helpful organizational posts from the other bloggers in this organizational challenge:
- Filing & Storage Tips to Organize Office Paperwork at Single Girl's DIY
- Conquer Desk Clutter this Year at Sunflower Mom
- Declutter Your Desk and Mind to be More Productive at Love Our Real Life
- How to Organize a Kitchen Drawer into a Desk Drawer at Busy at Busy Lifestyle Gal