managing electronic bills

689468_post_no_billsI’m a huge fan of going paperless when it comes to bills. I confess that I HATE filing and my previous employers will confirm that filing is not a talent of mine. I’m surprised however, at how many companies still don’t have online billing. I have contacted our electricity provider and credit card company and neither have a paperless bill system, not to mention the rates, body corp fees and water charges.

The downside to online billing is that it can be difficult to keep track of when things are due, instalment payments, receipt numbers, payment information etc. With a paper bill, you have a visual reminder that the bill is due and you can write on the bill when you paid it, how you paid it, the receipt number and how much you paid and you can file the bill away for further reference (unless your filing is anything like mine). How do you record all this information with a paperless system? This is how I manage our electronic bills.

1. Sign up for email notifications and reminders. If you can, set up your bill accounts so that your bills and bank statements are sent to your regular email account and ensure that your account doesn’t filter those emails to the spam box. If bills are in your partner’s name and you manage the household finances, it can be a good idea to have your partner’s bills (like their mobile phone account for instance) sent to your email address so that payments don’t get missed.

2. Set up folders on your computer to file bills and statements. I like to download PDF copies of all our bills and bank statements so that we have our own reference copy. It’s always important to have copies of bills and statements in case of errors. Our internet provider for instance, kept undercharging us on our account. When I rang to tell them, they said it was a computer system glitch and not to worry about it (yes, we’re with Telstra unfortunately, but for good reason). Legally in Australia, a company can’t ‘double dip’ once an invoice has been sent, paid and receipted so I keep all copies of our bills as a reference.

To manage the PDFs I have a folder for bank statements, and one for paid bills. PDFs of unpaid bills remain on my desktop until paid and are then filed in the ‘paid bills’ folder. It is a good idea to rename your PDF files with a relevant name when you save them to your computer so that they are easy to find later on. Something like the date, and what the bill covers is useful, for instance: ‘201105savingsaccountstatement’ or ‘201105phonebill’.

3. Enter the pay date in your electronic calendar. Make the pay date a few days before the due date to ensure your payment isn’t late. This is especially relevant for BPAY which can take up to three working days to process.

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For many bills you can record them in your calendar just once and schedule them as a recurring bill. You can also record the bill amount in the title for quick reference. Depending on what calendar you use, you may also be able to attach the PDF file to your calendar task or event. I use Sunbird and it can currently only attach webpages.

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The process of recording your bills in an electronic calendar is useful even if you don’t normally use one because you can also record receipt details (below). Of course, you can use a paper calendar and write the details onto that instead, but an electronic calendar is quicker especially if you’re on the computer paying your bills anyway.

4. Pay your bill online and record the receipt number. The easiest way to pay recurring bills is to automate them. Whether you automate them or pay them manually (as I prefer), your internet banking service should provide you with a payment receipt. If your bills are paid automatically, you may need to go searching for the receipt, otherwise it will come up when you have made a payment.

receipt

I like to copy and paste this information into my electronic calendar for easy reference. If I ever think, ‘now, did I pay that bill?’ I can open up my calendar and look for the receipt. It also provides easy access to your receipt number if any payment disputes arise (which they do from time to time). You can also change the event heading from ‘Bill Due’ to ‘Bill Paid’ so that you can see at a glance which bills have been paid.

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Once the bill is paid, the last step is to move your PDF file into the ‘Bills Paid’ folder.

As someone with an accounting background, I’m a little obsessed with good ‘internal control’ procedures and creating ‘paper trails’ or in this case paperless trails. If you keep adequate records (and, ahem, file them correctly) it makes life so much easier later on if you’re unsure about a payment or if there is a dispute. The above method is my internal control procedure for managing electronic bills.

How do you manage your electronic bills?

SAVE MONEY AND TIME ON THE GROCERIES

THE FRUGAL AND THRIVING WAY

Comments

6 Responses to “managing electronic bills”
  1. Kate says:

    Great post! Your system is similar to the one we have here, but you forgot one vitally important step – BACK UP!!! If you forget to back up your records, then the whole system could go ka-blooey!

  2. Melissa says:

    Kate, you are so right! Something that I often think about doing, but don’t do often enough!

  3. I’ve missed my bill a couple of times. I set up direct debits to try and avoid this but AGL have twice now charged me direct debit dishonor fees even though the account has 10k in it. Rediculous

  4. Astrid says:

    This is something I really should do, as I tend to misplace bills these days amongst the school paperwork and childcare artwork. Unfortunately it always seems to be the rates bill. I also had a mouse decide to nest in my paid bills drawer, really hoping any tax return related bills were not shredded for its nest.

    So far I tend to use OneNote for keeping receipts details for one off on-line payments and purchases. It can handle links to other documents or actually store a copy of the document on the page. It can also link to Outlook for reminders. I could probably set a system up for myself that way.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this. I tend to hang onto bills for 3 or so years before throwing them, might be a better way of handling this.

    Oh just remembered, you can always scan your paper bills to PDF

  5. Melissa says:

    @Astrid, thanks for the tip on scanning bills to PDF, I really should do that! When I find some time… I am a big fan of OneNote. Nothing else quite like it.

    @Ben, you should make a complaint to them, I’ve always found that gets things rectified.

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