No, just kidding, I know it isn’t that easy. Every time we move, we have new companies, new bills, and a new schedule for paying them. Multiply that times a few different moves, and it’s easy to forget about things or let them fall through the cracks. But those late fees can add up, and there is no reason to pay them when they are easy to prevent. So, here are some steps to avoid them forever:
- Start taking over the finances before the deployment. If your husband is usually the one who takes care of the bills, have him show you which ones he pays, how he pays it, and how often. Don’t forget about some of the bigger bills like auto insurance that only need to be paid once or twice a year! Then do a trial run 1 month in advance where you are responsible, but he is still around to answer questions. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
- Write down passwords and login information for EVERYTHING! One of the biggest nuisances of the billing websites is that each one wants you to set up an account and log in. That can be a lot of info to remember, especially if you aren’t the one who chose the password. So have him log onto everything while you watch, and write down every password or pin that is required. Check your bank accounts, credit card statements, insurance statements, mortgage company, car loan company, and every bill you get for 1 month.
- Have email notifications changed to your address. Maybe he gets bills sent to his email, or he pays them directly through his phone. He won’t have those options when he is deployed, so you could be missing out on important statements and reminders. So as you log in to different companies, check your account settings, and have any paperless communications sent to your email first.
- Review his LES (Leave and Earnings Statement). This is a record of his paycheck, and a great source of information when paying bills. If he has set up an allotment (to pay for a car or mortgage, for example), then he could be designating money to be automatically applied to certain bills each month. You don’t want to send double payments and drain your accounts! So talk to him about any automatic allotments or investments from his accounts.
- Know where the money is coming from. Do you have a joint bank account? Or his and hers? Do you have a checking and a savings account? A retirement account? When his paycheck is received, which account does it go to? And when you pay bills automatically, which account do they come from? It’s important to know how and when your money needs to move around, so it doesn’t all sit in a checking account. Some money each month should be saved or invested.
- Write down all your bills and their monthly due dates. There was a time when all our bills were due on the 1st. Easy to remember, but harder to manage in a budget. Now, it seems each company has a different week of the month, so we have to know which paycheck is used for which company. Do you pay it right after the 1st or the 15th? You can set up automatic payment schedules, but then be aware that you need to keep that money in the account, so it won’t get overdrawn.
- Cut any bills or memberships you don’t need. Deployment can be a good time to start paying attention to your finances, since you will most likely be the only one spending money. You will start noticing monthly repeated payments, or annual membership fees. Are these still things that you need? Or are there ways you can cut back and save a little? But don’t cancel any of his things without checking with him first!
- Develop a household budget. It’s not that complicated. Money spent should be LESS THAN the money coming in. If you know what his paycheck numbers are (listed on each LES), then you can easily calculate your income. Next, make a list of every fixed monthly bill, such as mortgage, car payment, cable and cell phone. Make estimates for other variable bills, like utilities. For annual bills, divide the total by 12 and budget it out over the whole year. Now you know your fixed expenses for the month. What is left is your discretionary spending. These are the items you can actually control, like food, gas, clothing, and entertainment. Spend some time examining your purchases from the past month by looking at your credit card statement. How much did you actually spend on things like movie rentals? Downloading music? Eating at restaurants? See if your discretionary spending is less than or greater than the amount available. If it’s over, then you need to make some changes and see where you can save, before you get into deeper debt. If it is under, consider starting a savings account or a retirement plan to invest in your future. There will be more about making a budget in a later post, but this is enough to get you started.
Now that you know how and when to pay the bills, and where all the money is coming from, I hope you will never pay another late fee again!