Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ugliest Day of the Month

(Editor's note: I've been reading Duncan's blog for some times now. Much of his blogging is about running Pegasus Books: the daily minutiae of operating a small specialty retail store in downtown Bend.

Well, I don't see why Dunc should have all the fun in the "here's how I do something which is important and takes up a lot of my time but probably isn't very interesting to anybody but a few" category, so herewith is my contribution to the genre.)

I am too lazy by far to pay bills when they come in. If I did, I'd have to set up a dedicated "bill paying station" in the house because many of the bills are split between me, Mrs Elliott, my business, and Mrs Elliott's business. Utilities. mainly; and the mortgage which gets split into quarters: our two businesses each use and pay rent on one-quarter of the house, and Mrs Elliott and I split the other half.

And even if I did have a space for taking care of the bills when they come in, I know I'd get behind. In fact, that's exactly what happened and led me to my present system of paying once a month.

So I have trained all my vendors and the utilities, etc., to expect their checks a few days after the first of the month. Their billing cycles do not rule me!

This is how Jack does it:
  1. When bills come in, they get tossed into a wire basket. 
  2. On the last day of the month, I take over the dining room table with the bills and the bill-paying supplies (file folders, paper clips, envelopes for those cheap bastards that don't provide remittance envelopes, pen, steam-driven calculator, and laptop computer). 
  3. I don my green eyeshade and sleeve garters and get to work. 
  4. I lay out six wire trays: To Be Paid, Me Pay, My Company Pays, Mrs Elliott Pays, My Paid, My Company Paid. I also have a seventh "Bank Crap" basket for bank statement and deposit slips.
  5. The bills are sorted into two categories: Me Pay, My Company Pays, Mrs Elliott Pays.
  6. As I mentioned, some of the bills are shared expenses. Those I plug into a spreadsheet which calculates our shares based on usage. I note these shares on the statements, Usually something like this:
    Me: $25.04
    My Company: $38.54
    Mrs Elliott: $25.04
    Mrs Elliott's Company: $38.54
    Some bills are split two ways, some three, some four. It depends.
  7. Now my way is clear: Starting with my personal, i.e., non business, side of things, I pay my shares. This is mainly done electronically, using my bank's e-payment system. Mrs Elliott insists on a paper check for the mortgage, so I write one, and paper-clip it to the bill. 
  8. As the personal portion of each bill is paid, I either stamp it "Paid" and place it into the "My Paid" basket, or place it into the "My Company Pays" basket or the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket, depending on whether they need more payments added.
  9. I do my personal bookkeeping with Quicken, so as I do my e-payments, I enter them into Quicken's check register. 
  10. Once the "Me Pay" basket is empty, I see how far in the red I've driven my personal checking account and light up QuickBooks, which I use for my company bookkeeping, and write out a check large enough to cover the payments plus a few shekels for pin money to be deposited into my personal checking account. 
  11. Addressing the "My Company Pays" bills, I enter those payments into QuickBooks, until the basket is empty. This usually results in anywhere between 15 to 30 checks queued to print in Quickbooks.
  12. After stoking the boiler on my ancient coal-fired Okidata check printer, I run off all the checks. Those are then either stuffed into envelopes to be mailed or clipped onto the bills that Mrs Elliott pays a portion of, and placed into the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket for her to sort out. 
  13. As I pay, the statements are separated from the envelopes and payment slips, stamped "Paid" and placed into the "My Company Paid" basket. 
  14. The sealed envelopes are stamped and placed in the proper receptacle to wait for a uniformed representative of the United States Postal Service to pick up and deliver to the addressees -- and for just forty-four cents.
  15. The paid "My Paid" statements are sorted into a large accordion file folder that is divided by months of the year and labelled "Personal Bills, 2010,"  Ditto with the "My Company Paid" statements, into a "Company Bills, 2010" accordion folder.
  16. Then the "Bank Crap" basket is sorted into two separate "Personal" and "Business" bank crap stacks and filed into smaller accordion files.
All that remains is to clean up the shrapnel and detritus: pencils, pens, Post-It notes, orphaned envelopes and scraps of paper; stack my wire baskets, clear all that stuff off the dining room table, and carry the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket downstairs and place it on her desk for her to complete.

The whole process takes three to four hours.

Because our bill-paying is necessarily complicated by having two people and two businesses, I don't trust myself to do it well if I do it piecemeal, but by batching it and doing everything on one day a month I have a fighting chance to do it right.

As the sun sets, I morosely consider the mingy amount of money left in my business checking account. It's usually negative these days. But work in the pipeline will bring it back into the black, so sometimes I have to just hold onto vendor checks until there's money's in the account to pay them.

This is not Jack's idea of a good time. It is the ugliest day of the month.

There. I promise not to write about this ever, ever, ever again.


  1. There's GOTTA be a simpler way to do this. I don't know what it is, but there's gotta be one.

    Funny post, though.

  2. I'm thinking along the lines of: "Let Mrs. Elliott handle the whole thing."


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