I just received a notice from Canada Post advising me that due to the decrease in snail mail, they are cutting back on services. I found it buried under a pile of unopened snail mail.
I’m being sarcastic.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have not experienced any decrease in the amount of mail that clutters my counter. To be fair, though, not all of it comes via Canada Post. Just as much comes via our children’s book bags, our social circle and the community “at large.” Bills, renewals, registration forms, subscriptions, sponsor sheets, invites, rebates, recalls, annual statements. Oh, my!
Sadly, more than once, I’ve missed out on the coveted “Mom of the Year” title because I’ve misplaced a book order, forgot to RSVP or didn’t turn in the latest “a-thon” forms on time.
And one time, right, I had a “friend” who came across her car registration form mixed in with a birthday party invite days after the deadline for both had passed. Just imagine.
To make matters worse, for many years the stress of all this paper rested squarely on my shoulders. Sorting through the mail, ensuring bills were paid and permission slips were signed was a role I initially took on with a passion…and soon came to hate with one, as well.
When I started getting bitter, I knew it was time for a change (OK, truthfully, I was bitter about it long before I decided it was time for change, but that's neither here nor there).
Sometimes the universe taps us on the shoulder and says, "Hey you, listen up. You need to hear this." My tap arrived while I was doing some research for a client and came across a post entitled, “Top 5 Secrets to a Financially Happy Marriage.” Around the same time, I was in Costco and the book "Money Rules" by Canadian finance guru and no nonsense gal, Gail Vaz Oxlade, jumped into my cart. At that point, my tap felt more like a good, hard shake.
I knew there were two things I had to do before any real change could occur:
1. Get hubby on board.
2. Design a system we could stick to.
Step 1 turned out to be much easier than I thought. Who knew I was a control freak and that he had been waiting for permission to help out all this time? Go figure.
With that tidbit out of the way, it was on to Step 2.
When we convened our first “Team Meeting” (sitting at the kitchen counter one Saturday morning over a pot of coffee), we both agreed that until we got a system to handle the mail, we would never handle the money. And by mail we weren’t just talking paper. I had switched to e-bills long ago. It might have saved a tree but it frustrated me to no end. Getting a notice that my bill was ready meant logging into a different website using a different user id and password just to get the amount owing…ugh!
Undaunted, we forged ahead.
Steve Jobs once said, “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” That first session lasted nearly four hours, as we delved into every aspect of our “problem.” By the end, however, we had a solution that continues to work for us today.
Here are the highlights of what we came up with. Take from it what you will.
$ Schedule a 30 minute meeting each week where you come together, open the mail (both paper and otherwise) and talk calmly and respectfully about your money. By the way, if you are single, schedule the meeting with yourself and still remember to be kind.
$ Set yourself up for success by picking the same time each week and ensuring its a time that works for both of you. Make sure it’s a time when you know you will be able to give the conversation your full attention (i.e.; not on nights when the kids have music lessons or mornings after your night out with friends).
$ Give the meeting a name. Make it fun. We call our weekly chats “Serenity Sundays.”
$ If you don’t have the following items, buy them: A shredder, a filing cabinet, a three tiered desk organizer and a recycling bin. You can even go mad and get things like label makers and colourful file folders...but I digress.
$ Mark each tier of the organizer as follows: Look, Pay and File. Everything that comes into your house that isn’t junk (see recycling bin) immediately goes into one of those three trays.
$ Unless urgent, try to limit the times you discuss mail or finances to those weekly dates with each other. You have a system, remember? There’s no need to stress anymore.
$ The “agenda” for the meeting is as follows: Discuss the items in the “Look” tray, before moving them to either the “Pay” or “File” tray (or trashing them all together). Take turns being the Payer or the Filer and empty your tray accordingly. End by looking at the calendar and ensuring all important dates and deadlines are noted and the necessary forms signed.
$ Have all e-bills set up to be automatically directed to one email folder as received. Do not check the folder between meetings.
$ If it does not require your attention or action (and if CRA won’t be looking for it later), shred it and forget it.
$ Set up a simple budget spreadsheet for each month and track your best estimates of income and expenses versus what you actually earn and spend. You can easily get all your transactions using your bank statement or online banking. There’s no need to keep every Tim’s receipt (see shred it and forget it above).
$ If you feel confident, skip the spreadsheet and invest in a simple accounting software package. You can upload your monthly bank transactions directly from your online banking to the software and save time keying it all in. Plus there’s no end to the neat reports those babies can generate. Go ahead. Be brave!
Whatever you decide to do, I know this for sure: Ignoring it won’t make it go away. So go ahead, make a plan and get to work.