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Handy hints for happily paying bills
Scripps Howard News Service


February 20, 2006

With consumer bankruptcies hitting an all-time high in 2005, paying the bills has never been more challenging or alarming.

In our current economy, money "trickles down" to each household and then pours out again in a torrent. Keeping up with the flow can be a frustrating experience, and experts believe the associated hair-tearing is one of the major causes of baldness in America.

But bill paying doesn't necessarily have to be unpleasant. The start of a new year is a good time to take stock of your bill paying habits and to find ways to make writing all those checks more palatable.

Here are some tips:

1. Create a pleasant space where you can do household paperwork. Give yourself a wide, flat work surface and a comfy chair. You want a quiet spot, maybe some soft music, a warm drink. Perhaps several drinks, depending upon the state of your bank account. 2. Make sure you have all the supplies you need: a calculator, a calendar, pencils, scratch paper, stamps, envelopes, bourbon, tranquilizers, a sturdy noose.

3. Get organized. Use a filing system to help you keep your bills in order so you don't overlook any. A filing cabinet or even a simple cardboard box will help you keep all your bills together, and that makes it much easier to throw them out a window when you get fed up.

4. Don't try to pay your bills while watching TV. It's too distracting and could lead to mistakes. You might send a check to Oprah, for instance, and she doesn't need the money. Or you might write out a check for the amount of "31-28, in overtime."

5. Prioritize. Sometimes, it's not possible to pay everyone you owe every month. It's important to set priorities so your electricity stays connected, food's on the table, etc. If you rotate your many debts, you can pay everyone occasionally so no company's kept waiting so long that it sends over some beefy guy named Cheech for a little talk.

There are many ways to set priorities.

One is simple gravity - whichever bill falls off the desk loses out that month. Some people prefer dart boards. I like the "Wheel of Fortune" model: Put all your bills on a Lazy Susan and give it a spin. Whoever hangs on gets paid.

6. Pay bills online. It's no less painful, but it's quicker than writing out checks. If you're the type of person who prefers to yank a bandage off rather than remove it slowly, then online payments are for you.

7. Adjust your attitude. A positive attitude can help you weather even the worst financial landslide. Don't let that monthly mountain of debt overwhelm you. Chip away at it until you're done. If you keep a smile on your face the whole time, family members will assume you're crazy and keep their distance.

8. When faced with a pile of paperwork, always remember: A bonfire can be a welcome source of heat.

9. Regularly balance your checkbook. It takes practice, but as you get better at this, you'll learn to balance the checkbook on your chin, on the tip on your nose, etc.

10. Create a budget and stick to it. Hahahahaha.

One final tip: If you simply can't face the monthly bill paying chore, then do what I do. Get your spouse to handle it. Then you can live in blissful ignorance of the household financial situation, right up to the moment when the repo men arrive.

Tell Cheech I said hello. And the check's in the mail.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Bank Job."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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