Do You Know Where Your Bills Are?

Everyone treats their finances a little differently. Some like a hands off method, where their money simply exists, bills get paid somehow, and it all works out in the end. Others like to be in control of everything. They pay only using cash, keep all their receipts, and balance their chequebook (by hand) at the end of every month. Personally, I’m somewhere in between the two. I admire and appreciate the intensity in which some are able to finesse their finances, and I am jealous of those that don’t worry themselves of the small stuff. So I try to maintain a balance by automating as much of my finances as possible, and taking control of the rest. So I have all my bills on automatic payment, I have automatic withdrawals for savings, and I have automatic deposit going into our accounts.

The problem with my solution to personal finance is that by releasing control of paying each bill individually, the company I am paying loses accountability. Nobody is checking up on them, or what they are charging me. For the most part, that doesn’t result in any issues, but every once in awhile, a company can make a mistake, mischarge a customer, and if the bill payer does not notice the mistake, the company will not notice (or care) either.

Just last week my wife and I went back over the last few months of our finances, just as a check up and to see where all of our money was going. We were actually quite shocked at how much some of our bills had escalated to. Whether we had promotional rates that expired, or if costs simply went up without us noticing, we were paying way more than we thought we were for our phone bills and our student loan payments. It was terribly unfortunate to realize this, but at least it brought to our attention how easily bills can get out of control.

This is why we are now going to institute a 6 month bill audit. Essentially, every half year we will go over 6 months of our automated payments and ensure that they are correct. Phone bills seem to be the worst, as different promotional rates can expire, long distance charges can get applied, and over usage can increase monthly payments. Unlike other bills (internet, television, etc), mobile phone bills seems to fluctuate drastically month to month.

So what do you do when you do find a mistake, or when you are wondering why your cell phone bill doubled in May? The first and best thing to do is to study your bill. You may find that you made a few more phone calls to Grandma than you remember, or you may find that you were charged for on demand movies that you never watched. If you don’t understand why you were charged, the easiest thing is to simply pick up the phone, call the company in question, and ask. The Customer Service Rep should be able to tell you why you are now paying more than you were before, or why your bill spiked one month. Sometimes simply asking can result in a reduction or reversal of charges that should have never been there. Other times, you may have to invest a bit more time and energy talking with the company before they will budge their position.

If nothing else, you can at least update your budget accordingly for any additional charges that you may be paying. Do you know where your bills are? What surprises have you found on a monthly charge?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

8 Responses to Do You Know Where Your Bills Are?

  1. I go over my automated bills once a month and was glad to have found I was paying too much on my Internet bill, thus was ahead by one month. It was a nice momentary break. ;)

    But you’re right, it is essential to audit your bills once in a while to make sure they are kosher.

  2. I have the bills come electronically to save the paper, but never have anything come out automatically. I need to see all the charges every month.

  3. I insist on seeing my charges, so I pay my bills (online) by hand every month. I only have one automated payment, and that’s our car insurance, which is a fixed rate for a year until renewal. Otherwise, I’m always aware of fluctuations in my bills.

  4. We have automatic deposit, automatic bill pays and I still check everything weekly. I have an Excel spreadsheet with all our planned spending laid out as much as a year in advance. Unless I yak up a storm our land line and cell bills are identical every month. I have that standard amount on the spreadsheet. When I do my weekly update I confirm that the fixed bills went through for the expected amount. Any other amount is investigated. Then I replace the estimated amounts for things like gas and groceries with the actual amounts charged to the credit card. Then I pay off the credit card in full each week. Yes I don’t have to, but I like to keep on top of it and have never paid interest. Paying it off weekly also keeps my tracking system simpler – the amount going to VISA matches the amount of charges incurred that week. Normally we do our groceries, erands and fill the gas tank every Saturday so all the charges are posted on the VISA website by midweek so I can review them before paying. Last thing I do on Friday after all the bills are reviewed, the spreadsheet is updated and VISA is paid, I assess the maximum I can skim off the account without causing a problem in a future week. This is the biggest advantage of having a spreadsheet calculating a running balance with all your income and expenses months into the future. The excess cash then becomes an extra mortgage payment, a contribution to our retirement accounts, or once in a while used to fund a holiday.

    Having everything on autopilot as much as possible means bills are never paid late or missed while on vacation or unexpectedly in hospital. Yes, an error can occur on a bill but a correction can be made after. This way I’m never the one in the wrong.

    In addition, I have all my autopayments going directly onto my credit card. All our gas and groceries are charged there as well. I virtually never use cash. I don’t look at a credit card as a way to defer payment or buy something I can’t actually afford. Instead it’s a wonderful flight reward program and since I pay it off every week, I look at it like a debit card that just has a few days delay between the charge and the payment. Nothing goes on the card that I don’t intend to pay off on Friday. We now have enough miles for our 4 flights to Europe for our next holiday.

    Fly free just for charging my normal groceries, gas, utilities and insurance on the card? Yes please!

  5. Yeah it’s really important to check the details of the billing statement. However, personally, since I’ve been a financially independent adult for quite some time now, I already have a rough idea of how much I pay each month to live my life so I normally don’t bother checking my bills line by line unless I see a major fluctuation, ie that extra call to grandma. What’s important is to keep track of these bills and watch them trend. Inflation may push up your expenses higher but any major jump or decrease merits an inspection. This saves me time over the long term but still keeps me aware of my spending. Good post!

  6. In this day and age I personally do not trust anyone with paying bills for me. If I had to relinquesh control of that, I think the audit is a perfect way to make people accountable and to stop wrongful actions quickly.

  7. For promo rates expiry, I use my calendar. Always set up a reminder 2 months and 1 month earlier to take care of such items.

  8. I like to pay my bills online. I can sort my payment history by supplier so the records are available and I can notice an increase or decrease over time.

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