Keep Track of Your Monthly Bills… By Throwing Away Your Statements

by Travis Pizel · 51 comments

I remember how I used to do bills each month. I’d sit down with the checkbook, a stack of bills, and a book of stamps… Then I’d hop on my horse and ride into town to bring them to the post office.

OK, so maybe it wasn’t that long ago, but doing bills like that certainly seems like something out of a storybook these days.

I still get a paper copy of some bills in the mail, but most now show up in my email inbox. I have the ability to pay each of them online: either by automatic withdrawal, or through a payment portal.

The only bill I pay by check is my mortgage — and that’s only because I drive by my lender every day. Also, for some reason, I like to get a receipt confirming I made the payment. Maybe I’m just being a little nostalgic.

I used to have a stack of paper bills in a basket on my computer desk. But with my new mixture of electronic and paper notifications, it’s harder to keep track of what needs to be paid and when. I needed a new system.

I decided to stop using my statements.

I’m not ignoring my bills; I just decided to stop using my statements as the reminders to pay them. When I get a statement, I examine it to ensure everything looks correct, then I discard it.

How I Keep Track of My Bills Without Statements

To keep track of everything, I use an expense worksheet (which I create at the beginning of each month). It includes who the payment needs to go to, the day it’s due, and the amount. Almost all of my expenses are the same amount from month-to-month, so that makes it pretty easy. The only two that are variable are my gas and electric bills. By the time I’m filling out my expense worksheet, however, the amount due has already been posted to my online accounts.

I process bills twice a month, which coincides with when I get paid from my primary career as a software engineer. On the first of the month, I pay all the bills that are due from the 1st to the 14th. When I get paid on the 15th, I take care of all the remaining bills for the month. My process is driven from my expense worksheet — without looking at a single statement.

Why I Don’t Use Automatic Withdrawals

I don’t pay anything using automatic withdrawals. I know it’s silly, but I just don’t trust them. Though I’ve used them in the past, I still avoid them if possible. It feels good to be physically part of the paying of my bills, even if it is simply by pushing a button. Maybe I’m just being a little nostalgic again.

Do you get a mixture of physical and electronic statements? How do you keep track of your recurring monthly bills?

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  • Beau W. says:

    I’m like you sir. I don’t trust the automatic payment system. I really enjoy the process of paying my own bill. Even if it’s pressing a button or writing out the check and mailing it. That way I know that it’s paid and over with till next month.

  • debs (@debtdebs) says:

    For anything that can’t be paid by credit card I have on automatic payment. I would rather pay by c/c to get the points but some utilities don’t accept c/c. I pay credit cards online and check for new bills almost daily.

    • David @ says:

      I’m not holding my breath, but the day utilities start accepting credit card payments is the day I’ll run to the top of the hill to yell in excitement.

      Hopefully that day comes sooner rather than later for us Debs!

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Our utility company does accept credit cards…I know that from the period of time we were racking up debt. I’m surprised that yours doesn’t!

  • Property Marbella says:

    It is not wrong to have direct debits on their bills, but I want to check and compare with previous bills so there will be no surprises. Sometimes, a discount or guarantee does not apply longer and I don’t want to pay more than I need to.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Great point, property Marbella….reviewing the amount to pay (which I do before I manually pay every bill) helps to catch mistakes in your bills…..and let me tell you, my cable company has made some mistakes. šŸ™‚ Thanks for reading!

  • Gary Kerr says:

    If you need to keep receipts on hand so you can verify amounts against your credit-card bills or bank statements, create a folder labeled “receipts” and keep it with your bills-to-pay folder. That way you’ll have your receipts handy when you pay your credit-card bills.

    • David @ says:

      Great idea Gary. Also of note is recent developments by major credit card companies to let you attach a receipt for each transaction right into their platform. I know for sure American Express has this feature, and I’m sure others will follow if they don’t have it already.

      • Travis @debtchronicles says:

        I’m not sure if you mean manually attaching the receipt, but it would be AWESOME if with each transaction an “electronic receipt” was attached online to the charge to the credit card account. That way, if you need to return something, or prove purchase for warranty purposes – BOOM, it’s right there. Of course manufacturers would HATE that because I’m sure they love it when someone tries to warranty something out and they cannot find their receipt of something they bought years ago….

  • John @ Wise Dollar says:

    We tried this system as well though I found that I was too disorganized for it. That said we still get the statements as I like to look over them and everything other than the credit cards is automated at various parts of the month. For our credit cards I go through the statements and pay them myself online. It helps keep me in check as to what we’re spending on them. Not that we’re really tempted to overspend on them, I just like to stay on top of them so I can see things we should cut.

    • David @ says:

      I still get statements too, but it can be annoying to keep clicking on “No, I’d like to keep receiving paper statements” whenever I log into their websites šŸ™‚

      I use the statements to see why everything costs so much too, and sometimes I find areas to cut, say, fewer minutes on a cell phone bill or something else.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      I like that you mentioned that you like to stay on top of your expenses to see what you should cut…..we like to evaluate our expenses frequently to see what we are no longer getting value from as well. No need to keep paying for something you’re not getting any benefit from! Thanks for sharing, John!

  • Dave Lalonde says:

    Very interesting read. I think it’s cool how you said “..I just decided to stop using my statements as the reminders to pay them.” I prefer to use automatic payments because then it places that thought in my head, ‘Okay, for SURE, my bill(s) will be paid.’ & Because I have that thought in my head it gives me this reminder that I need to budget my finances according to what is automated.

    • David @ says:

      The peace of mind can be worth a lot, and the most important thing is to do what’s comfortable for you. I’m glad you’ve found a system that works Dave!

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Hey, whatever it takes to remind you to do your budget and stay on point….sounds like it works for you. People are motivated and reminded by different things. My wife makes fun of me, because if we’re getting ready to go to sleep, and I’ve already climbed into bed but remember I need to do something in the morning I’ll take one of our extra pillows and chuck it across the room. Why do I do that? Because the next morning I’ll get up, step on the pillow and think, “Hey, why is there a pillow way over here?” And then I’ll instantly remember what it is I needed to get done. šŸ™‚

      • Dave Lalonde says:

        Wow, that’s hilarious! I will seriously try that. But knowing me, I might not even notice the pillow that’s out of place. Maybe, I’ll find another object. Thanks! šŸ™‚

  • Alex @ Credit Card XPO says:

    I’m the opposite of you, I always opt for the automatic payment option whenever available. With so many bills to pay each month, i.e. cable, credit cards, gas, electric, home security, water, cell phone, health insurance, and so on…, it’s just much easier to have them paid automatically and never miss a due date. I just check my bills and bank transactions often to make sure there’s no errors.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      It’s true that automatic payments (assuming mistakes are never made by the bank or merchant) will prevent a missed payment….but do you ever worry that you won’t have enough funds in the account to pay all the bills if you’re not paying attention to exactly how much each bill is? Maybe that’s not a concern if your expenses don’t vary much?

      • JMK says:

        We have virtually everything auto charging to our credit card. Everyone gets paid on time and I only have one bill to pay. Every week I cross check what was processed on the card against my spreadsheet indicating what was expected that week, then I pay off everything on the card with one online transfer from my bank account. Done. All the bills arrive on the same day every month, or at least the same week so it no surprise what was charged that week, I’m really just checking that it happened as planned. In most cases it’s the identical amount every month. If it comes through as a different amount, then I log in and get the details of the invoice. For me the key is having a year of our planned spending laid out in advance. For the few items that fluctute (eg. electricity) I put in a reasonable estimate for each month based on the past 5yrs and then replace the estimate with the actual number once I have it. This system means nothing automatically comes out of my bank account without first being reviewed, but also no bill is ever missed or paid late. If there’s a dispute about a charge it’s on the card (where I have a little time to arrange a refund) rather than missing from my bank account. This process works really well when we’re on vacation. Bills continue to be paid on time while you are away and you can deal with the credit card bill the minute you are home. If you’ll be away a long time you can look at the spreadsheet for the next few weeks and set up an auto payment of the expected amounts to happen while you are away. Either way you won’t be on the other side of the planet when you discover that an auto pay for a bill was taken from your account and they mistakenly charged you $500 or $5000 instead of $50. Kind of hard to straighten things out from another continent. Twenty years ago when auto billing was first available here I used it for our gas bill and thought it was great to avoid writing and mailing a check. Now, I refuse to give our banking information to anyone unless there is absolutely no other way. Better they charge it to my credit card and I have time to verify it before any money leaves my hands.

        • David @ says:

          Charging everything to a credit card does solve plenty issues, but unfortunately not all my bills can be paid with a credit card. More specifically, the utilities (water, gas, electricity, and trash) need to be paid with a check or at least a checking account’s bill pay.

          Do you have some tips on how to pay for everything with a credit card? I’d love to learn!

          • Travis @debtchronicles says:

            Great system, JMK….you’re very disciplined with your system. For me, I’d be very tempted to not pay off the credit card in full each month if I ran into a situation where I had to either squeeze, or not pay the entire balance. Credit cards and I do not mix well….maybe one day I’ll be more self-disciplined, but for now, I’m steering clear. šŸ™‚

      • Alex @ Credit Card XPO says:

        Yes, my expenses don’t vary much every month and I always make sure I have $1-2k extra in my checking account to avoid any overdraft.

        • Travis @debtchronicles says:

          It’s always nice to have a little cushion, right Alex? You have to be a little careful though….leaving money in a checking account is a losing proposition because the interest rate is slow darned low!

  • Phil says:

    I have a budget set up through google docs. When the bill comes in, I pay it through my bank, and then update the amount on my budget, and mark it paid by making the cell a light grey.

    • David @ says:

      That’s a neat way to make sure you pay all your bills Phil. I use a similar method, as I tend to just leave the amount blank, which means there isn’t a payment yet that month.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Great point, Phil…..the best way to ensure you always pay a bill on time? Pay it IMMEDIATELY when you get the statement. You have to be in a secure enough financial state to be able to do it, but man I bet that feels GREAT, and simplifies the whole process!

  • Tim says:

    I’m full electronic bill pay. I haven’t used a stamp for years except to rebates from Menards . With your utilities, sign up for budget or bill pay plans that keep those expenses level all year. Unless your income varies by season, it makes paying bills pretty easy. At any time I can download any period’s worth of bills, access the company’s actual invoices, drop the info to Quicken or other systems. AND I STILL HAVE WAY TOO MUCH PAPER! (mostly medical crap and things that need to be saved for posterity). I am fortunate that my only bills are monthly utilities and the mortgage, all credit cards are nothing more than bonus points (just cashed in the points on the cash back card for a sweet $250!) and need to schedule a trip with my wife to use our free companion fare (well $150 annual fee for the Delta AMEX) but a $150 companion fare is a pretty good deal, particularly when I pay for my fare using frequent flyer miles!

    • David @ says:

      Electronic statements and billing does save a ton of paper, not to mention all the time we are saving too.

      The companion fare perk on some travel credit cards is something I need to get a grip on. Do you actually have to use the card? And what are the restrictions? I wonder if it’ll work on business class fares too? šŸ™‚

    • Travis Pizel says:

      That’s awesome that you were able to get travel rewards from your credit card points, Tim…..I bet whatever trip you take will feel SWEET knowing you got the ticket at such a discount. šŸ™‚

  • D says:

    Travis, this is eery. We use the exact same system. I found the spreadsheet helpful after leaving grad school, getting a new apartment and whole lot of responsibility (ahem, more bills). My Google spreadsheet keeps me organized and sane. In addition to including who to pay, the due date and amount, I also include the remaining balance and interest rates for credit cards and loans. I use filters to arrange the rates in order, so I can try to figure out what to pay off first (snowball method or debt stacking). Also, I love seeing the balance go down every month. Processing bills as soon as I get paid also gives me a sense of relief. Thanks for sharing your method.

    • David @ says:

      Wow that spreadsheet of yours sound sophisticated D. But you can really make better decisions with more data so I’m sure you’re well on your way to becoming debt free.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Spreadsheet master!!!! Luckily for me I don’t have much in the way of credit card bills any more (my wife and I just finished a debt relief program paying off $109,000 in credit card debt in just under 5 years) – but I love that we use the same system for knowing when our bills are due…great minds think a like, right??? šŸ™‚

  • tammi says:

    Since most of my bills are automatically debited from my account, I know exactly when they are due. The night before the bill is due or the morning that the bill is due, I do a transfer from my “other” account to my “checking” account. I get a confirmation number and I write it down.

    The last Friday Of each month is imperative for my bus pass, and the others I know exactly when is due and since my credit card & my cell phone bill are due on the same day, it helps a lot.

    I also use an excel spreadsheet, and use smaller monetary denominations to prevent myself from spending so much. I’ve also cut out a lot of things ie CD’s, magazines, DVD’s and the like.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for sharing your routine Tammi. And good job with cutting out those seemingly small purchases too because they can add up, as you probably already know.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I’m certainly glad your system works for you, Tammi….my fear is I would forget to transfer the money from the “other” account to the checking account. I need some central place to look to know when to do that. šŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

      • tammi says:

        Thanks Travis & David.

        I also do the Old School Piggybank System which helps me a lot.

        Since many of my Bills can be done through Telephone Banking, before I go to work, I have my Coffee and Muffin and I do all my Banking and I get a Confirmation # and I write it down.

        Later on I go home, and I write in the Amount Paid on My Bill and then I write The Confirmation Number then take My Date Stamp, and Ink Blotter and confirm the Date that it was paid.

        It feels so good to be able to discipline myself like that. Whenever I go out with Friends, I always pay in Cash, “Never” do I use my Credit Card after all, Cash is just as safe and after hearing stories about people whose cards are rejected it’s so embarrassing.

        • Travis @debtchronicles says:

          Always paying in cash… you’re speaking my lingo! I know a lot of people like to use credit cards for their rewards programs, but for me knowing I’ve got the cash in my pocket keeps me on point with my budget. Great to hear from another person who loves paying in cash!

  • David @ says:

    I don’t schedule automatic payments either Travis, because I will end up not even checking the bills. Having to manually type in the amount due each month on bill pay also helps me become more in tune with the monthly expenses. It works for me because I end up getting more fired up about trying to reduce the costs by calling competitors trying to find a better deal.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I agree, David. While automatic payments will (unless a mistake is made) ensure you don’t forget to pay the bill, it puts you kind of on “financial autopilot.” That’s never a good thing!

      • David @ says:

        Yes Travis. I had to learn that after a few small mistakes back in the day šŸ™‚

  • Aldo R @ MDN says:

    I had my student loans on automatic withdrawals but I stopped it when i switched banks. Since it was automatic I didn’t worry about it and only paid the amount due. Now that I have to check it every month, I make sure I send more than the amount due so I can pay it off faster.

    I also have zero paper statements – everything I do is online now. I still get a lot of junk paper mail… where do they come up with all that paper? so much waste!

    • David @ says:

      Awesome job with paying a bit more than the minimum due on that student loan. Paying extra on that is a risk free investment with a return unlikely matched elsewhere.

      Funny you mention junk mail. As if one set isn’t enough, we have been getting duplicate copies of offers lately and they are sent on the exact same day!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I wish I could transition to all e-statements, Aldo R – but some of the accounts I deal with don’t offer that option, yet. Hopefully I’ll eventually get there – getting statements in multiple formats is a pain, and is the reason I just stopped using them.

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    I hate automatic withdrawals and avoid them at all costs! The thought of handing my bank account information over to a company gives me the heebie jeebies. Plus, when money is taken out of my account it feels like stealing to me. But when I schedule it through Bill Pay it feels like I have more control over the situation, which sits better with me.

    • David @ says:

      You actually do end up having a bit more control. In reality, many people who schedule automatic payments don’t even look at the bills and they end up paying for the occasional errors that pop up in their accounts.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I like the control of initiating the transaction as well, Dee. I just have this fear of a mistake being made and an automatic withdrawal being made early and causing issues. Thanks for your comment!

  • Julie @ Millennial Cents says:

    I tried using that system- but I was too disorganized for it. My friend has a spreadsheet with due dates/amounts and it works for her too.

    I have to have everything on automatic payment. All smaller bills are automatically paid with a credit card (so I can get the points) and then the credit cards automatically withdraw from my checking account. I check my app every morning on my walk to work to make sure all the charges seem right. It helps me check everything is accurate.

    • David @ says:

      Sounds like a good plan Julie. You have a system to double check everything and that’s important. And good job on getting the credit card points too. It’s like free money isn’t it?

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Everyone has to find a system that works for them….and it certainly sounds like you’ve found yours. As long as you’re continuously checking your and checking accounts, you should have everything under control. Thanks for sharing, Julie!

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