Organized Home

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Easy Bill System

I manage the finances in our house, and if I manage it..... I organize it! Here is my easy system for storing and paying those pesky household bills and how little time it actually takes.

  • I have 1 file labeled BILLS TO PAID 1ST-14TH of the month, or the first half of the month. When I receive bills in the mail, they get opened, trash removed, and dropped in here. 
  • The same routine goes for a second file labeled BILLS TO BE PAID 15TH-30TH, or second half of the month. If a bill is due on the 13th, it goes in the 1st-14th file for convenience and easy paying and so forth with other dates that fall between the categories. I only pay bills twice a month, it is prescheduled on my calendar so that I do not miss it and I can schedule around it. 
  • I have a file labeled STAMPS/ADDRESS LABELS to easily locate these items and see when they need to be replenished. 
  • I have a basket in easy reach of where we drop all our end of the day "gear" i.e., phones, keys, purse in order to drop all receipts in quickly, for checkbook reconciliation.
  1. When it's time to pay the bills, I gather the files I need, the basket and at the desk I have my calculator and envelopes in reach. I use the online banking system to reconcile my Household account checking with my receipts, usually taking as little as 10 minutes. I also check our other accounts to see that all is well there, heading off any errors right away.... I once was enrolled in a program without my knowledge, deducting a monthly fee from my credit card, had I not been checking this regularly I wouldn't have noticed the reoccurring charge. 
  2. At the same time, I sort my receipts for "Keep" and "Shred", doing double duty and handling them only once. 
  3. Now having my current balance, I pay the online "Bill Pay" items first, printing out my bill and confirmation of payment. I keep a list in each file of these items for reference making sure I don't skip anything. In my Check Register (CR) these items are marked with BP in the Check Number column for reference and deducted. This takes as little as 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Then the "paper" invoices are paid, recorded in my CR, and marked paid with date and check #, then placed in envelopes with stamps and return address labels. This takes as little as 10 minutes, depending on how many you have. 
Okay, the Bills are done! Put the paid bill envelopes by the door you most use, so you can drop them in the mail box right away. But we are not done yet, let's move on to storing the bills after you have paid them.
  • I have 12 files labeled for each month holding the completed bills paid for that month. 
  1.  While gathering the files in the beginning of our process, I also have pulled that month's file. This month would be labeled OCTOBER. 
  2. After the bills are paid and recorded, they are dropped in this file. Having these monthly files helps quickly locate past payment information throughout the year and will be invaluable come Tax Preparation time.
  3. At the end of the year, these files get emptied and the new year starts out with clear files. The paperwork that is required to save for tax reference gets saved together in a large envelope marked Taxes 2009.... but that is a whole 'nother Bog :)
Return files to their drawers, put away the calculator and the envelopes and 30 minutes later you are done and completely organized for the next time!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding it Fabulous.....The Household Notebook

These days we have way to much paper to keep track of for our households, don't you agree? Over my 16 year marriage and household career, I have changed my systems for keeping the paper organized more than a few times until settling on one that works "tried and true".  One of my favorites is my "Household Notebook".

Here's how it works:
One 3 ring binder, I use the 3 inch large size, use the size right for you.
Several Pockets and/or Clear Sheet Protectors
I have 6 divider tabs within the binder listed as:

     Recipes: This tab holds my most used homemade cleaning supply recipes for easy reference. If you do not make your own household products, you may not need this tab.

     Cleaning: This tab holds my Cleaning Supply Master List, Weekly, Monthly, and Seasonal Cleaning Lists, Clever Cleaning Tips I may want to remember, and particular Vendor's info and last Invoice for cleaning specialties i.e., Mexican Tile Restoration, Carpet Cleaning, Chimney Sweep, etc...

     Laundry: This tab holds a graph of "How to wash clothes" (also one drying) for the kids and housecleaner to reference, the washer and dryer manuals - I tear out only the english portion, making it much easier to fit in a binder, any helpful stain removal tips.

     Misc: Currently this tab is empty but always a good idea to have a place waiting for something you can't quite identify.

     Plants: This tabs holds information on my houseplants that I may want to reference as seasons change. Also holds some future gardening info I am considering.

     Trash: This tab holds the trash schedule, the bulk trash, hazardous waste removal, and recycle rules.

     Appliances: This is the largest section as it holds the current appliance manuals/user's guides (english only portions), reorder information for refills or filters etc, serial and model numbers, purchase receipts, service contact information - listed WITH associated appliance. I place the manuals and odd shaped booklets in clear pockets or sheet protectors for easier storage.

The idea for any storage system is to make things easy to retrieve. When the refrigerator is not cooling and you have to do something fast, looking for an old manual so you can get a contact number for the service department, then inevitably they will ask you for the serial and model number numbers (which are usually in unbelievably tiny print inside the fridge).... it's a very frustrating process that can take hours!

This system alleviates loosing time looking for all those things and frustration because you have the information you need all in one place, often on one page! You can have the confidence that no matter what unexpectedly happens in your home, you will be able to grab your Household Notebook and take care of it immediately. Sounds much better, doesn't it?

Let me make a few clarifications for the Cleaning Tab. I do not keep every Vendor's Invoice that I incur in my Household binder, only ones of specific cleaning purpose that might be found in the Cleaning Lists. It is important to remember that this is not a "catch all" area, it is designed for information retrieval. These invoices come in handy here for contact information when I have to schedule a routine service that I only get once or maybe four times a year per the Cleaning List. Invoices also provide me with cost information for my budgeting purposes, I can refer back to the last service invoice and know how much they charged me. The other various invoices that I acquire and are outside this particular scope are filed in the appropriate areas in my home filing system not discussed here.

A few clarifications for the Appliance Tab:
Not all Manuals are kept in the Household Notebook, that would be impossible to fit! I only include those routine maintenance type appliances or ones that may need a reference to every now and then. This usually means manuals associated with the the kitchen appliances, house alarm, vacuum, etc...

I keep the receipts with the appliance information because I find that if I have to make a return, I can very easily. We buy some appliances at Costco, who has a great return policy on appliances, so having the receipt at my fingertips has come in handy a lot! I also can use the receipt's cost information if I cannot return the item due to an extended time limit but need to purchase it again, I have some relative idea of the cost and can work that into my budget.

I added the Appliance Tab, realizing the extra convenience of having all the information regarding the appliances in the same folder as the checklist for the frequency of maintenance and reordering all of those pesky filters... it's like "one-stop shopping" for getting things done! As an example, I own a very specialized coffee machine that needs decalcifier ordered when the little light goes off. In the Appliance Tab, I have the coffee machine manual then the order form from the last completed order so I can know the exact website, product number, cost, and physical picture to make sure I am getting the correct solution, it takes me just minutes to complete because I am not looking for anything.

A note about the Cover:
In several of my notebooks that I have for various purposes around the house, I have made the same exact insert page in the front cover. I purchase the binders with the clear pocket in the front so a paper may be easily slid underneath, producing a cover, usually a title of the notebook. On this Cover, I put pertinent Household information i.e., Home Address, Cell Phone Numbers, Emergency Numbers, General Kid's and Pet Information, Safe Neighbors, etc. This serves as the 9-1-1 sheet that everyone knows they can grab for reference in a scary situation.

The Household Notebook started when I went to work Full-Time and needed my Household Assistant to be able to access all the information she needed to manage the house in my place, hence putting several lists and various data together for her. At one point the Notebook contained other items such as; Shopping Lists, Snack ideas for the kids, Driving Directions, you name it! If you are a working-outside-the-home-Mom make any tab for the current responsibility you are delegating to someone else, OR whatever information someone may need to refer to i.e., Laundry Instructions. I originally made a Laundry Chart when the kids started to do their own laundry, I quickly learned that the Housecleaner needed one too, unless I wanted to keep replacing some of my favorite items!

Currently, I only have the tabs for the Household things that I need to refer to, all other paper is stored in other areas I consider to be outside of this tool's purpose. It may not be completely symmetrical, but I am not into adding anything into a system that I really don't need. Right now with a busy house, two teenagers, a growing ministry and consulting;  I need the "scaled down- easy and fast- get it and get out- function" in my life! No matter what your home situation might be, the goal of any organizing project is to make things easier, not to create extra work.

The idea is start where you are at, your own notebook will start out differently than mine and it will change as your household demands and priorities change. The beautiful thing about a Household Notebook is it changes with you but you will always be able to find what you need.... fabulously!

Good luck!