A few years ago I found myself drowning under a heap of bills that I couldn't figure out how to keep up with. I had left my full time job to be a stay at home mom and I wasn't adjusting well to the changes to our finances and household income. I was trying to cut back on spending, but without a plan I found myself calling my husband at work (a lot) crying, yelling, frustrated and concerned that I would have to return back to work and put our daughter back in day care if we couldn't figure something out.
Overwhelmed with the idea of getting everything figured out RIGHT NOW, I knew I had to step back from it all and try to do just one thing to make a change. Looking around, I noticed that I had no "system". I had stacks of mail laying around on the table, on the counter, and some things made their way to my desk. I had written on my calendar when things were due, but I would often forget or I would spend money before paying our bills and end up short. This was driving me to my breaking point. I hated the feelings associated with incurring late fees and not being organized. I would get a bill in the mail with a late fee and as sure as I was that I paid it on time, I had no proof. I had no filing system. I had no record of when I paid it or who I spoke to and I definitely had no response to my husband when he asked me what I was doing to keep track of our bills and finances. I felt like a failure.
Knowing that I needed to get my act together, I went to our local Dollar Store and purchased some filing folders, hanging files and a planner. This was my first attempt at getting a system in place and I was determined to make it work. I put the hanging files on the wall and labeled them - "Bills to Pay" and "Shred". This was a simple way for me to start cleaning up the piles of mail I had strewn across the house, and create a streamlined process for my mail days. When I get the mail, I sit down at my desk and everything has a place- "Bills to Pay", "Shred" or "Trash", which obviously just goes right into my trash bin under my desk. This was a big step in the right direction and it was a breath of fresh air. Once I got into the habit of making the time to put everything in it's place I was ready for the next step.
I went to my planner and I mapped out our due dates for all of our recurring payments (rent, insurance, cable, etc) and I created a "Bill Pay" day for each week, and a list of which bills I would pay. I felt better about only having to set aside one day a week to pay bills rather than try to remember to pay 3 bills on 3 different days in any given week. Simplicity works best for me. At that time, I didn't really have a budget, but the first thing I did was set aside the money for our bills and then I knew that whatever was left was ours to spend or save or whatever. After implementing this step, we stopped having late fees and stopped coming up short for things that we needed to pay. This is where the stress starting easing up and I felt more in control. Our system was finally replacing bad habits and was helping us to create new, financially healthy habits.
It wasn't until our third year of our new system that we started budgeting, and it was the final piece to this whole process. The organization was key because it gave us control and consistency. We realized that we didn't need more money to live a comfortable life, we just needed to have an organized system. We needed to stop living above our means and as if we were still a two income household and adjust to the new lifestyle we had chosen. We needed to put our responsibilities before our selfish and entitled spending and once we did that, it's been such a relief.
If you are struggling to figure out a system that will work for you, I encourage you to take a look around and identify one thing that you can do to improve how you are currently managing your finances. Don't let the outcome overwhelm you. One step at a time will get you to the outcome you desire.
Thank you for being here,