ADHDer needs idiot-proof bill pay/reminder program/software
October 8, 2011 3:52 PM   Subscribe

I am 39, single, and a college educated professional. I make decent money, but managing it is a totally different story. I have ADHD. I have been on the hunt for the perfect idiot-proof-pay-my bills software (for a Mac) and I’m at a loss. Help.

Currently, I remember to pay my bills when I pick up my cell phone to make a call…and I’m routed to customer service. I remember to pay my power bill when they put that bright pink hang tag on my door that says I have 24 hours to disconnect. My money is always gone 4-5 days after payday (I get paid bi-weekly) I don’t know where my money goes. I don’t have investments, I have a checking account and a savings account. I don’t have any credit cards, but I do have a car loan. I have tried ‘To-do’ lists (both on paper and in Google calendar and iCal). I’ve tried doing bill pay with my bank, but I screw that up too. I figured the hivemind might have some helping suggestions. :)
posted by Amalie-Suzette to Technology (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite It's sort of an online-only Quicken-lite. It's free, and the spending tracking features are surprisingly powerful. It won't actually pay your bills for you--you need Quicken itself to do that--but it will certainly coordinate all of your various accounts in the same place.

Key for your purposes though, it will give you copious reminders if you want it to.
posted by valkyryn at 4:01 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your pay schedule itself is the problem, not your ADHD. Your bills aren't scheduled biweekly. So you are paid on a different schedule than your bills. That's the problem. You need to stop beating yourself up about this, and just do the math. Your at an unfortunate disadvantage being paid biweekly, because the math is necessarily harder to figure out. But the good news is that this isn't insurmountable.

Mint is great for helping you figure out where your money is going. It might help you figure out that you're spending money on things that you shouldn't be.

Ultimately, what you need is a calendar where you can compare upcoming due dates and upcoming pay dates. I know you said you've tried "to do lists" but I'm doubtful that you've put it all on a calendar and then worked out the math. Certainly it is possible that you have - in which case I'd say that will tell you more about where your money is mysteriously going (rather than where you intend it to go). But if you've figured out the rhythm of payment and due dates, then you should be fine.

Bottom line. I'm sorry. Paid biweekly sucks. If you have absolutely any option to change that, I would try. Being paid semimonthly (or monthly) is significantly easier, because you can organize your due dates so that the correspond to your paydays. Then, sure, your paycheck is gone almost immediately - but it goes to everything that you've anticipated, including savings, retirement, etc.
posted by jph at 4:09 PM on October 8, 2011

Can you pay the bill THE SECOND you get it in the mail?
posted by k8t at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2011

You need to setup automatic bill paying for all your utilities. Every utility (power, water, gas, cable) that I've dealt with allows you to draft bill payments directly from your bank account. This eliminates the problem entirely, so long as you keep enough in the bank to pay your bills. This is not setting up bill pay via your bank. It's the opposite- the utility draws the payment from your account rather than your bank "writing" a check to pay your bills.

Any reminder type software can/will be ignored (as you've discovered).

Don't do bill pay via your bank. Go to the websites for each utility and set up your payments through them.
posted by jeffch at 4:21 PM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I’ve tried doing bill pay with my bank, but I screw that up too. I figured the hivemind might have some helping suggestions.

What DOES work for you in these situations? I mean you do live alone, correct (not in a group home that is). If you screwed up using bill pay, why not go into the bank and have them walk you through it, or call them up.

Stick with it until you get it right, it is a powerful tool that works well for managing finances. Also, call each company up and ask if they have automatic withdrawal. I know verizon and AT&T have it as well as some gas and power companies. I think Time Warner and Comcast have it as well.

Call up the companies and ask them if they have it. If they do, ask them to enable it because you can't figure out their website. I'm sure they'd be happy to help.
posted by TheBones at 4:33 PM on October 8, 2011

I combine with setting up auto-pay for any bill that offers the option. Mint just added a bill pay reminder feature, too.

Of course, if the root of the problem is overspending -- and if you have a decent job yet your money is gone just days after you get paid, it sounds like it is -- it's not going to be a matter of automating everything and setting reminders. Mint really helped me get my spending under control by showing me exactly where my money was going. In just the first couple months I realized just the sheer amount of money I was wasting paying overdraft fees and the like.

I also use the pie chart and bar graph features to both geek out about my money (which helps me be more engaged with my finances) and guilt myself about overspending. Ooooh, pretty pie chart of transactions! Wait, shit, is that huge slice all Barnes & Noble?!

At the end of the day, though, you are going to have to work to get your spending under control. Which means developing the will power not to go on a bender the minute you get paid. There are some workarounds for this (don't walk by the video game store on payday), but bottom line you just have to learn and grow and all that annoying grown up shit.
posted by Sara C. at 4:42 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do a lower-tech version. I really don't like Mint's overly many (IMO) automated functions, and don't want to use it. So I set up a Google calendar. I mark my paydays in red and my bills due in green. I write on the date the bill is due "VERIZON $69.00" or whatever it is. Then I set reminders for this due date a week out, three days out, and one day out. As soon as I've paid it I go back and edit that date only to read "PD VERIZON $69.00).

As the system has evolved, now what I do is basically pay my rent out of one check, and ALL my bills out of the other, and save or spend the rest. So now it's a matter of sitting down once a month, during the first half of the month, and paying all the month's bills right then and there and marking it on the calendar. Bonus because this means you're usually paying within the grace period for any credit cards, and you have peace of mind for the month because once it's done, it's done.

But I agree with people, just keep trying systems until something works. In my experience the only thing that doesn't work is just going "Oh fuck I can't handle this" and letting things pile up in a big stack of late bills. Develop a serious aversion to that. Once you have that aversion, fear-based or whatever, you will be more motivated to develop a system that works for you.
posted by Miko at 4:49 PM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

The problem I've discovered with bank-fueled bill pay schemes is that it's ridiculously inefficient, for reasons I don't understand. Though I imagine it has to do with the fact that the bank is doing what works for them and doesn't actually care whether the power company gets your money.

My main problem with it is that there's a five business day processing window. Which is a bitch to calculate since five business days could be anywhere from five to nine calendar days depending on the month, day of the week, holidays, etc.

Jeffch is right. Verizon, Time Warner, etc WANT YOUR MONEY and are going to do what they need to do to pull it from your account on the day the bill is due. Your bank acts like you want to personally convert dollar bills into electricity via riding a Delorean back in time and talking to Ben Franklin.
posted by Sara C. at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I cut all my monthly bills in half and pay half the amount that will be due every paycheck. Every time I get paid, I make the necessary payments, put some in savings, etc. That way you never have to remember anything other than "when do I get paid?"
posted by kavasa at 4:53 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have ADD too and have also struggled with this. I've also always been paid every other week.

I finally seem to have gotten the bill-paying somewhat under control by automating as many bills as possible. Of course, automating your bills doesn't necessarily help if you don't have money in your account to cover them. But many bills can be scheduled so you can split your bills up so that half get paid the day after one payday and the other half the day after the other. Even with bills that don't have autopay (like rent for most people) can be handled like this if you schedule a check to be sent on the same day of every month.

To deal with the cash-flow stuff, nthing You can see where your money is going (it tracks your debit transactions and groups them into categories), and set monthly spending limits for different categories. It'll tell you when you're going over. It also tells you when your account goes under a certain amount of money.

You might also just want to set up an envelope system for your day-to-day spending. After looking at your bills and spending habits, figure out how much you need to set aside for bills (and savings). Then figure out how much of what's left over you need to get through each pay period (for transportation, food, entertainment). Take that amount out of the ATM in cash and try to make it through the 2 weeks on that. Leave your debit card at home if you need to.

Good luck! It's taken me a long time and many false starts, but it feels really good to know all my bills are in on time and I have enough in the bank to get me to my next paycheck.

Are you being treated for your ADHD? Starting ADHD meds were what made it possible for me to establish these new habits in the first place.
posted by lunasol at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been on the bi-weekly pay cycle before and can relate to the challenge faced by non-uniform payday.

The best way that I found to take care of my bills was to divide up the total amount into two relatively equal halves. For me, it ended up being rent and car payment on one side, student loan, phone, cable, internet, credit cards and car insurance in the other. I'd pay one set after one paycheck, and the other after the next paycheck. The key here was not worrying (too much) about paying in advance of the due dates, because the due dates are never uniform across everything.

I would always use the last paycheck of the month to pay rent/car payment, because of rent being due on the first. The next paycheck would go toward everything else. And then, in the months where you might see three pay periods... well, that's just something to look forward to in terms of having a little fun :)
posted by erstwhile at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2011

Automatic bill-pay will help a lot.

Another suggestion: You said you tried To Do lists. Were these set up per task? Meaning, the bill came, you put it on the list, then forgot? You may want to try designating two days out of each month to check that status of your bills online and pay anything that is due (assuming you have funds) instead.

For example:
1. Make a list of all bill sources (electricity, heat, water, loans, internet/cable/phone, rent, etc.).
2. On the 1st and 15th of every month, check the statuses of all of these accounts online. If they are due before you will check the status again, pay the bill. That is, on the 1st, pay anything that's due on or before the 14th. On the 15th, pay anything due in the second half of the month. Feel free to pick other dates that balance your bills and pay day a bit better; I've just chosen 1st and 15th because they're easy for me to remember.

This process should not take more than 15-20 minutes and you'll have taken a quick look at your bills every two weeks. You can easily mark bill days on your calendar and since you check all of them, you won't have to worry about missing a bill.
posted by wiskunde at 5:30 PM on October 8, 2011

Bi-weekly pay schedule is sorta lame, but there are good things about it too. Ten months out of the year you get two paychecks. Two months out of the year you'll receive three! Budget yourself for two checks a month, and when those two bonus months roll around it'll be a nice relief. For me, sometime in the spring and sometime before Christmas I get a bonus paycheck.

I didn't notice this pattern until I saw a whole year calendar on one sheet, with all my paydays filled-in. I recommend finding and/or building a calendar like this for yourself. Hang it behind your computer screen at home, or on the fridge.

Those two months with three paychecks are great, but the regularity of receiving two paychecks every month has helped me immensely. I do something similar to Miko and erstwhile: one paycheck is dedicated to rent, and the other pays all of my other bills. I have a small amount taken out of every paycheck that gets diverted (automatically, through direct deposit) to savings stuff. I know the round-about total for my bills each month, because they don't fluctuate much. Phone, insurance, rent, internets, utilites—all pretty steady, and my paychecks are a steady amount too (mostly). The difference between those two ballpark amounts is about what I have to spend on food and fun stuff the next two weeks.

Now, on rent paychecks that difference amount winds up being a lot less (because I haven't stuck to the rule of 'rent = 1/4*income) so I have to make the leftovers from the bills paycheck every month go further to cover the shortfall. This is the hard part, because when I have a lot of money, it looks like I can spend a lot of money. But then three weeks later I don't have any money and realize that if I'd spent less when it looked like I had more, I'd have more to spend when I needed it three weeks down the line.

Anyway, recognizing these larger-scale rhythms and patterns in my monetary flow has helped me so much in the past few years. The single-purpose (well, double-purpose I guess) wall calendar helps so much. helped a bunch too, but also just logging into my bank's website and looking over my accounts a couple times a week. Frequently, even. That became a part of my internet schedule just like checking FB or G+ or MeFi. I never overdraft anymore, I've kicked a bunch of nasty habits that were sucking up a lot of dough, and I've found that I can save a bit more than I thought before.

As for automatic bill-pay, I'd be wary of it if you find yourself overdrafting a lot. I thought it was going to be the solution for me too, but if those payments go out and you've blown your wad going clubbing or whatever the night before, the bounced checks are just going to add to the hurting.
posted by carsonb at 5:38 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add: I pay my bills when I get my paychecks. You don't have to pay on the due date. Everyone will be happy to receive the money due several days or a week early. Your landlord especially. And if you pay early, technically it's more than a month until you absolutely have to pay again!
posted by carsonb at 5:43 PM on October 8, 2011

What carsonb said. The other thing I noticed with a year's calendar* was that the "2nd paycheck" always landed before or on the 20th, so I moved all the bills/payments that would let me move them/specify a date to the 20th or 21st. So those are all automatic and I only have to worry about paying my credit card, which I just set a repeating Google calendar reminder for.

But if all your money is really disappearing in 4-5 days without paying any bills, you probably need to tackle where that money is going before setting up automatic payments.

*If you happened to have last been paid on 9/30 I can send you my calendar if you'd like. Comes with Federal Holidays!
posted by grapesaresour at 7:23 PM on October 8, 2011

Like others have said, there's a good chance the electricity company and whoever else will have automatic bill pay to take the money from your checking account. Right now, the phone/internet and mobile phone bills go on my credit card automatically. (I haven't actually figured out how to automate electricity.) On the first of the month, I pay the rent and the credit card bill. I only recently adopted the automatic payment after reading one of the personal finance books that's forever being recommended on AskMe. (It might have been 'I will teach you to be rich'. It had a very bright cover.) Because my main expenditures (rent and the credit card bill) are shifted to the start of the month, being paid bi-weekly doesn't seem to be an issue for me. There are always(?) going to be two paydays between my bill paying cycle.

In terms of not knowing where the money goes, can you make a rule for yourself that you can only use your debit card for certain things (groceries, gas, etc.) and withdraw X amount of cash with each paycheck to spend on 'fun' things?

I've been trying to use Mint lately and it sort of works. I have some idea of how much I spend on groceries for the first time in my life. But the budgeting doesn't work the way I want it to and I feel it doesn't handle the bi-weekly paychecks well. When it tries to 'help' you (which is trying to sell you something half the time) it assumes you get paid monthly or twice monthly (I think it asks you this at some point, but there's no bi-weekly option) so occasionally Mint tells me something that's just not true. (That and it can't handle transfers between accounts very well. Say my tax refund arrives in my checking account and I move it to savings. Mint goes 'Holy crap! You spent $250 more this week than usual!' No, Mint, I put it in my savings account, which you know about. (This past week, it thought a transfer between accounts was a fee charged by the bank.)
posted by hoyland at 8:39 PM on October 8, 2011

This is what the Internet is for. Between your Bank's website and your service providers', you shouldn't have to think about this ever. Most utility companies will let you set up automatic billpay - they just pull the amount out of your checking account each month. If a company doesn't have that, use your bank's billpay service - if your payee is large/well-known enough, the bank will probably already have electronic information for them and can just transfer the money each month. Even if it's a smaller payee (like a landlord) the bank will just send a check in the mail. If it's a variable amount that you need to put in manually, you can always have them send you a reminder email.
posted by radioamy at 9:00 PM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: I have a separate bank account for rent and other regular bills. Long ago, I figured out how much I need to cover all my bills each month. I divided that in half, and I have that amount, plus a little extra, automatically transferred from my regular account into the bill paying account every payday. Because of those months with extra paychecks, as mentioned above, after a few years you end up with a nice cushion in the account, too.

As far as where the rest of your money goes, I don't like Mint, but I used it briefly and discovered that mine was going to 2 places - Target, because most things there are for your house, so in my mind they were all "justifiable", even though I didn't really need new candles or fancy baking pans, or an expensive phone cover, or those high-thread-count sheets; and eating out. I wasn't eating in fancy restaurants, but it's amazing how quickly those $15 lunches plus tip can add up to several hundred.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:24 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

All of my bills (besides rent) are auto-pay, including my credit card. Mint is good for alerts. They just emailed me to say that I had received an interest fee. My auto-pay pays in full each month so there's no way I should get fees and I had to have the bank reverse it. Without the email from Mint I might not have noticed for months.

If you you're spending all of your money right after being paid maybe you should calculate approximately how much you need to put aside for bills and have that automatically siphoned into a separate bank account that is only used for paying bills.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:05 AM on October 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the answers! I’ve tried and I just don’t like it. I’ve tried paying half of each bill every payday via online bill pay, but inevitably, something would come up (car repair, doctor visit, prescription, etc) and they would suck my money out before I remembered to change the dates on the bill pay and I would end up with $300+ in overdraft charges. I’ve played with Quicken, but it overwhelms me. I’ve thought about opening a separate checking account for bills and doing what MexicanYenta suggested…so I think I will try that. I’ve also thought about doing the envelope thing. I’ll be more diligent with my Google calendar too and add amounts of bills. Designating a ‘bill day’ sounds like a good idea as well. Some of my bills I get a ‘bill’ and others I just get an email. That really doesn’t matter though, because I only go to the mailbox like once a week, and when I do, I don’t open anything unless it looks fun. As far as being treated for my ADHD, I’ve tried so many different meds. Some seem to work for awhile, then they just don’t anymore. I’m currently on Adderall, and the fact that I’m concerned with getting my finances in order must mean it’s doing something for me. ;) I was just hoping there was some magic software program that I could set up everything and it would do it all for me. Maybe I just need an assistant. LOL.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 9:21 AM on October 9, 2011

If meds aren't working for you, you might consider allergy testing. My ADD is much, much worse if I eat something I'm allergic to.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:01 AM on October 9, 2011

Part of why auto bill pay done by the companies themselves works so well for me is that I have the same problem as you do with paper bills. I just... don't open them. Same for the emails. This is why I like the setup where the money goes away from my checking account On The Day The Bills Are Due. No five-business-day waiting period through the bank, no action to take on my part. The money just comes right out of my account on the proper day.

If this isn't working for you, you have spending problems and no scheme of what bill to pay on what day is ever going to work until you address that. Bottom line.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on October 9, 2011

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