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Many of you know that we became debt free except for our mortgage {and HELOC} in March of 2011. Our mail has decreased significantly since that time. We no longer receive credit card bills or even credit card offers. {I think they finally gave up on us.} I have always streamlined our bills and bill paying as much as possible over the years. I discovered that once I found a system that worked for our family, it was much easier to see the bigger financial picture. If you are trying to figure out how to organize your finances, here are some ideas:

Quicken

I have used Quicken for years to automate our bills and set up reminders of what it due. Because we use a cash system and have no more credit cards, I only have to look at it when we receive a paycheck. Once the paycheck is deposited, I go to Quicken and input all the bills that are due within the two weeks until the next paycheck arrives. I always have a clear amount of the money in the bank until we get paid again. I never rely on what the ATM tells me or even what my online banking tells me because there are some bills that don’t post until a later date.

Note: I don’t pay my bills through Quicken. I pay through my bank because it’s free to do that.

Mint.com

Recently, I overheard a friend talk about Mint.com. It’s an online program where you can see all your accounts in one place, set up alerts, and even help you set up a budget to pay down debt! It helps you categorize your spending and has great graphics so you can visually see the difference in your income and spending. I have never used it myself, but the friend who uses it is financially free {including his mortgage}. I tend to follow recommendations from people who don’t have debt, so I’m thinking this is a good one! By the way, it’s FREE!

Your Bank

Your bank can help you keep your bills organized as well. You can set up your account where you connect your statements to your bank’s bill pay system. You can also set up alerts to let you know when you have a bill.  The only downfall with relying solely on your bank’s bill pay system is that if you have a payment that does not post right away, you may think you have more money in your account.

Find Your System

Ultimately, you need to figure out what works for you. Prior to using any program, I used to set up Excel spreadsheets to keep track of our money and bills. After a while, it became   tedious to input every detail and I had to find a better {faster} system. When we switched to Quicken, I was relieved that I didn’t have to type everything in like I did with a spreadsheet. Once I had set it all up, I would just download my statements to the program and everything was there!

If you don’t have a system in place, try out a few programs and see what you like. Many financial programs like Mint.com and Microsoft Money are free if you just need to keep track of your personal finances. Test them out and see which program is easier for you. Honestly, it is much better to actually see where your money is rather than guessing where it’s going. Getting organized is the first step to getting out of debt!

If you use a program that I didn’t mention, let me know about it!

Image: Salvatore Vuono