Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why are you saving your old bill statements?

There are those of us who save our old monthly statements for all our bills that we have paid. We’re not sure why we do it, but we do it anyway. We have a vague feeling that somehow that information is important and that we may need it someday.

That fuzzy feeling of “I might need it someday” is your ENEMY. The vague feeling of discomfort and uncertainty needs to be confronted and banished, and the best way to do that is with hard facts about what information on the statement is useful and what is not.

I’ll tell you what I have found through experience about what info is useful and what is not.

I used to save all our bills that came in. When I finally got to the point that I and my husband were ready to make and live by a budget, those bills came in handy for determining average amounts that we should put in each of our bill categories each month. Because I had saved our bill statements, I had a history of bill charges that I could use to make a realistic budget. In fact, I went so far as to put all those charges for each month into a spreadsheet which added them all up and found the average for me. Once I put the amounts in the spreadsheet, I could shred my bills.

One other bit of information I put in a spreadsheet was usage information. For water, I put the amount of gallons we used. For electricity I put in the number of kilowatt hours we used. For telephone, I put the number of long-distance minutes we talked. This made it so that I could tell at a glance if there was anything strange in our patterns of usage. When we developed a bad water leak in the sprinkler system of the house that we were renting, I was alerted not just because the charges were higher, but because the water usage amount was three times higher than our usual water usage. (Disclosure: There was comparison information on my bill statement too about usage from a year ago, so I didn’t really get this info from my spreadsheet. But I could have.)

After I collected the dollar amounts and usage info from my bills, I shredded all our old bill statements. YES. I SHREDDED THEM! SHREDDED. Into little. Pieces. Of. Paper. I shredded them. (Insert triumphant cackle of laughter here) It was very satisfying to free all that space up in our files.

In short, the only reason a file full of old bills is important is if you are going to collect dollar amounts and usage amounts out of them for building a budget. But even if you DON’T record that info somewhere, ultimately, there will be no negative consequences to you if you decide to get rid of them anyway. The phone company will not break down your door and haul you off to a little chain-link fenced compound out in the desert if you get rid of your phone statements. Your power company will not charge you extra if it discovers you have discarded your old electrical bill statements. Believe me, it won’t. No consequences!

If you want to know, you only need to keep your most recent bill statement which has your account number information on it and any phone numbers you would call if you have a problem. And heck, if you were to record that information on a spreadsheet with the charges, you wouldn’t even need to keep that statement.

Oh wait, I forgot. Sometimes your city landfill will require you to show a most recent utility bill in order to drop off a load of stuff there, so maybe you should just keep ONE statement, if you take loads to the dump. But if you don't, don't bother.

Now.. if you are thinking about making a spreadsheet and putting years of your bill information on it, but you are intimidated by the size of that project, let me give you a tip. Doing a spreadsheet like this is pretty close to “being too organized” because it adds an extra layer to a work flow that disorganized people find onerous to begin with.

If you have troubles getting through this series of tasks, then don’t bother making a spreadsheet:

· Bring in the mail

· Sort out the bills and discard unneeded mail

· Put bills in a place that they will not be lost.

· Pay bills when they are due.

· File bills.

If you tend to put the bills someplace and then have troubles finding them so you can pay them on time, then making a spreadsheet for your bills is NOT something you should do. In fact, if you have troubles losing your bills, I am telling you now, THROW AWAY ALL YOUR OLD BILL STATEMENTS WHENEVER YOU FIND THEM. They only confuse you. Your concern should be making a consistent home for your unpaid bills so that you will always find them when you need to pay them.

The goal is to be organized enough that you pay your obligations. Anything after that is just extra credit points.

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