Is your home completely buried in mail, most likely bills, making you feel completely overwhelmed? When I was a single mom with three young kids, I had piles of mail all around the house. Most bills were unopened because I thought, “If I just ignore them, they will go away.” Not really, no one actually thinks this is a good idea, but I was so overwhelmed with bills and not enough money to cover them. More bills arrived daily, taunting me and once again showing me how inadequate I was. My incredible Dad stepped in and helped me breathe by first identifying all of what I’m dealing with, then we would tackle where to go from there. That’s what I want to help you with here. Just identify the monster you are facing so you know how to fight it. We will go through tactics on how to deal with the details in a later post. Where do you start? How do you prioritize what is most important?
Since your resources are likely limited you must prioritize where your money will go. Your mission is to keep your family fed, sheltered, and have a way to get to work. These steps will help you know the score, and it may not be as bleak as it looks when you are facing piles of unopened bills. Knowing what you are facing helps relieve the added stress of the unknown. Remember that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT) Find a Saturday morning, (or best time for you), decide which room you will use, grab a cup of coffee and let’s slay this monster!
Items you will need:
-1-3 Sturdy trash bags
-3 medium sized baskets or plastic tubs you have laying around or check out these cute Whitmor Storage Baskets that come in tons of colors
-Labels for the baskets/tubs. These chalkboard signs are adorable, but feel free to save $$ by making your own!
Step 1. Gather everything. Scour your entire house hunting down piles of mail. No doubt those piles will include kids’ artwork, school papers, paperwork from your employer, etc. Bring it all with you and put it all in one spot in the room you have designated. Tracking down bills is most important right now, so no need to bring piles of just the kids’ artwork unless you know they have bills or important papers mixed in.
Step 2. Initial sorting. This is just a first cut of the bulk to help clear the clutter.
-Throw away all junk mail.
-Then anything that is not a bill (i.e. kids’ artwork, school papers, employer paperwork, birthday cards, etc.) needs to go in one of the baskets or tubs. Call it basket 3, or Not Urgent if you want. Resist the temptation to sort through all of this stuff! Right now your mission is to slay the overwhelm from your bills.
-Open the remaining bills.
-Find the most recent monthly bills and throw away the rest. If you have important paperwork relating to those bills like your rental lease or an IRS notice keep them with the bills for now. Important – do not get sucked into reading all of them and start worrying! Just open and throw away all but the most recent.
Step 3. Group the remaining bills into the following categories:
Basket 1 – Priority Bills
-Utilities – cell phone, electric, gas, cable, water, etc.
-Rent or Mortgage, renter/homeowners insurance
-Car payment, car insurance, car registration
-IRS or state revenue office if applicable
Basket 2 – Other Bills
-Credit cards, student loans, bills from catalog orders, personal loans, etc.
Step 4. Put them on a calendar.
-Use the format you are most comfortable with and can stick to – phone, computer, or paper calendar
-Important! In your calendar have a way to distinguish basket 1 bills from basket 2. Basket 1 bills get paid first! Mark with an asterisk, put in a different color, whatever will reminder you that these are priority. We will chat more on the philosophy behind this and what to do with basket 2 in a little later post. Remember that your mission is meeting your family’s basic needs at this moment.
-Recurring bills in a digital device get a reminder one week out and a second reminder a day before they are due. If you have a budgeting software that’s great, but not necessary. I like to add a calendar event in my phone titled “Southwest Gas: $49” for example. I add the amount so I know visually how much it is. Don’t worry if it’s a variable amount every month like the electric or gas bill. You will update the amounts later.
-One time bills also get a calendar entry with a due date and reminder if using a digital format.
Step 5. Designate one place in the house where the mail will go. You are already on your way to being more organized! Now you can sort as you go. When you pick up the mail try to get rid of the junk mail immediately and sort the rest into your 3 baskets. If you can’t sort it immediately have a staging area near the baskets and only put mail and non-mail papers there. You’ll be amazed by how much stress you can eliminate by just this step!
Step 6. As recurring bills come in, update the amounts in your digital recurring calendar entry, or add to your paper calendar with name of the company or utility along with the amount.
I understand that it’s difficult to find time to do all of this but I promise you it will be worth it. Even though you are not solving all of your financial issues with this one action you are making huge strides toward identifying and slaying the monster facing you, plus gaining victory in organizing this part of your household. The outlook probably still looks insurmountable, but remember to use your 15 minute routine to “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). Keep seeking Him and ask for wisdom. Also keep watching my blog posts. I will be going through several tips on how to overcome the financial stress caused by divorce. I am 100% with you since I’ve already been where you are, and I am praying for your victory in this!
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