As our to-do lists grow longer—shuttling kids, making dinner, planning weekend fun—sitting down to take care of bills can sometimes fall by the wayside. But the secret to paying them on time is easier than you think.
Know Your Dough
To run a marathon, first you have to train. And the same applies to getting your family's finances in shape. Sixty-one percent of people who have missed a due date say it was simply because they forgot, according to a recent Citi Simplicity survey. "Missing a bill more than once or twice can affect interest rates and credit scores, so it's crucial to be on top of your budget and monthly cash flow," says Lena Rizkallah, founder of Money Moxie, a blog and organization focused on financial education for women and small business owners.
Start a Money Day
Set aside 15 minutes on the same day each week to review finances and make payments. Family or work obligations got in the way of 39 percent of people who didn't pay their bills on time, according to the Citi Simplicity survey, so making these deadlines a priority is paramount. "I do it every Monday morning before my kids wake up," says Galia Gichon, author of My Money Matters. Also, put an alert in your phone's calendar or write due dates in your planner until it becomes a habit. When you pay bills weekly, you'll only have to address a couple at once, keeping the time commitment to a minimum.
Lighten Your Load
Set up automated online billing for cable, utilities and other accounts that have a consistent balance. Since they're due at the same time each month, they're easier to plan for and you'll avoid overdraft fees by ensuring the money is in your checking account. But beware of signing up for alert systems from the companies themselves. Identity theft scammers sometimes pretend to be reputable banks and credit card companies in e-mails, and it can be difficult to discern what's legitimate and what isn't when you're quickly scrolling through your inbox. Bottom line: Always check that you're on a secure website before entering confidential information.
Stay on top of your tabs with these free apps.
Check connects to your bank account and billing companies and then notifies you of upcoming deadlines. It will also tell you whether you have sufficient funds in your account to cover the amount.
Manilla keeps all your money matters together, including accounts that might be offline, such as your rent, babysitter or dog walker. And it's multi-platform, so you can log on from your smartphone as well as your home computer.
Doxo serves as a digital file cabinet, letting you store financial documents along with account user names and passwords.
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.