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?