published Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Phillips: ‘Bill book’ lets family view all expenses, income types


by Ellen Phillips

I thoroughly enjoy skimming through women’s magazines in my leisure time and between the fashions and food sometimes discover some meaningful consumer information.

Such was the case when perusing the July 23 edition of All You in which I came across a way to help organize a sometimes disorganized financial life.

While these ideas aren’t new (and, frankly, many of us already practice some or all of this routine), financial issues aren’t nearly as likely to occur if we apply these exercises to our own lives. So take note, dear readers:

* Buy a “bill book.” Each December, I purchase an 8-by-11-inch hardback composition book in which I write all monthly bills for the coming year (one month per page). I include each bill, its due date, amount owed, amount paid and the date of payment.

Many of the debts are the same and even fall due at the same time each month, such as utilities, phone or credit card payments. As I pay each bill, whether by written check or online banking, I mark it paid in my bill book and the

date I paid it.

Obviously, other types of nonregular invoices must also be debited to include tabs for periodic insurance payments or an unexpected home repair, for example, and even for seasonal bills, such as higher heating expenses during the winter.

These sums should be scheduled in the bill book’s monthly list, too. I’ve maintained this type of financial record for many years and, while it might not work for everyone, it certainly keeps my family clear on what money’s coming in each month (salaries, investments, and so forth) and what money must go out as payments.

* Open each piece of mail on a daily basis. Don’t take for granted some of it is junk mail. (I’ve discussed this piece of advice in the past.) You could be pitching a bill, an overdue reminder, a collection notice or the announcement your electricity — including the air conditioner that helps these intolerably hot days — is being turned off today.

* Set up a work station. Each time my husband or I receive a bill, I stick it in my bill book; stamps and envelopes stay in a desk drawer. If you’re lucky enough to boast a home office, you’ve got it made. For others, a file folder box from the local office supply store is roomy enough to contain all necessary materials you need for this important undertaking.

* Prepare early for Uncle Sam. If you itemize on your tax return, create a spread sheet for all monthly expenses. For each applicable bill you pay from your bill book, enter the info on the spreadsheet. When the end of the tax year rolls around, three-fourths of your IRS return is done. Hooray.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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