The Way We Were
Before my late wife and I married, we went through premarital counseling. A treasured part of the process was a couple of session on budgeting. We listened to the instructions. We talked about the process and our priorities. Finally, we set up a simple budget.
The person leading the training asked who had paid the bills in our parent’s household. In my future bride’s home, her father paid the bills. In my house, the bills were paid by my mother. She was a bookkeeper. She took over the bill paying because my father was career military and frequently gone from home on both temporary duty or lengthy deployments.
The first year I was married I paid the bills. I was in my last year of college. My wife worked as an accountant. When I graduated from university, I received a commission as an officer in the US Army. Like my father I soon found myself gone from home on long training assignments, temporary duty assignments which required travel with extended absences from home or lengthy deployments with the military. As a result of my work schedule, my wife took over the bill paying.
Three years later when I was released from active duty to attend graduate school full-time, she continued paying the bills. We still had a budget. We sat down a few times a year and reevaluated what was going on financially. I never made big purchases or even minor ones with our consulting to make sure we could afford the expenditure. If I started spending too much money on a budget item my sweetie, kindly let me know before I would get us in trouble.
I had an excellent big-picture view of our financial situation. This continued for over four decades.
My Wife Has Cancer
Then we were told she had Melanoma cancer in June 2015 and the survival odds were minuscule.
Only the previous December my mother had passed away. I had seen my father struggle with knowing what to pay, how to pay, and where to pay bills. Fortunately, my brother who was an accountant saved the day for dad (and me).
I realized I would soon be in the same situation was my father. The questions of what to pay, how to pay, and where to pay bills filled my mind and ate at me.
A Real Challenge
I faced a real challenge. My wife was reluctant to transition the bill paying to me. When I asked why not her answer was she felt like doing so would admit she was going to die. She wasn’t ready to do that. She would know when she had to do that. “Don’t worry, it will be okay,” was her promise.
I wasn’t so sure, so I asked about the recurring bills and how they were paid. I wanted to know if we wrote a check or had an electronic payment or if they were debited from a credit card.
She kept putting off dealing with finances. I did not press the issue as just breaching the subject caused her emotional upheaval.
When she realized she was going to die and death was only days to weeks away all she did was say the Melanoma cancer which had metastasized into a brain tumor had her incapable of dealing with the subject. She added thank goodness I was smart enough to figure it out.
My heart sank. Yes, I could figure it out, but I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted a simple checklist that told me what to do and how to do it.
What I did was make my own checklist. To create it I had to find the answers to the questions of what to pay, how to pay, and where to pay my bills.
Check the Mail
I began by checking the mail every day and carefully looking at and reading each item the postman delivered. I had a few bills coming by snail mail. Some of the statements said DO NOT SEND PAYMENT on them. A message on the bill said either e-payment or auto-bank draft.
I looked in both the checkbook ledger and on the monthly bank statement to see if the payment was debited from there. About half were debited from the checking account.
I next went to the monthly credit card statements. As we had more than one credit card, I had to look at multiple accounts. My wife liked to earn cash back when possible with credit cards. So she paid as many bills as possible to obtain the “cash back” bonus. We still paid off the bills each month.
Write Down the Information You Glean
While I was playing detective and finding out this information I wrote down:
- The name of the bill.
- What the bill was for.
- The name of the service provider.
- The service provider contact information for billing issues as well as for customer support.
- The account number.
- The due date.
- If it was paid by check via US Mail or by a credit card where the card number was entered on the bill and mailed back each month or by credit card auto-payment or an auto-payment bank draft.
More Work Required
Researching and collecting this information wasn’t the end of the story. More work was needed. I had to repeat the process checking my late wife’s email to see if we had gone paperless. This means we received the bills via email. I went through the same seven steps as listed about on each invoice. I had the added challenge of needing to change the email address on the account from her email to my email.
There were also unusual or annual bills that required researching and provisions. In this category included paying taxes, car registration, and alumni dues and memberships like AARP.
To be honest, I’m still finding more items that need to be changed or updated.
Compile a List of URL’s and Website Addresses
I next put together a list of all our online accounts. I listed the account name, URL and Website Address, the username and the password. These were all written on paper and kept at my desk. I found we had over fifty of them. These included everything from Amazon to the doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and even social security. Part of the motivation in collecting these was to have them available if my designated adult child had to pay the bills for me in case of me being hospitalized or my death. I wanted him to not go through the angst I went through.
There Are Many Ways to Receive Bills
Remember there are many ways you receive bills.
- The US Mail
- Electronic Debit
- Check your bank and credit card statements to see what may be on auto payment plans.
You Can Do It
My late wife told me, “You are smart enough to figure it out” when it came to bill paying. Like me, you may not like the challenge, but you are either smart enough to figure it out or to get a family member to help you work through the problem. Unfortunately, this is your new normal. You can do it.
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