How exactly do I stay organized with 89 credit accounts, 31 bank accounts, 29 investment accounts and 32 other accounts (not including 14 accounts for the kids and numerous accounts for family members)?

That’s what readers wanted to know when I started to describe some of the details of our accounts. I’ll highlight my various strategies in a series of upcoming articles, this being the first.

I track most of the information in Microsoft Money including credit limits and account numbers. However, I have lots of doublechecks and information stored elsewhere to make the process efficient.

Bill Pay Strategies

When running a $200,000 credit card arbitrage plan, it’s important to keep the bills paid. Here’s some of the strategies that I use:

  • All regular bills are set up on autopay, including the mortgage.
  • I do not use ebills, but rather paper statements. Because not all the companies allow ebills it was becoming more work to track some in paper and some electronically. Therefore, I switched to all paper. It’s not environmentally friendly, but it is organizationally friendly.
  • I stack up all the bills I receive throughout the week and pay them all at once. (FIA makes it easy to pay multiple bills quickly).
  • I pay bills weekly, usually on Fridays.
  • All bills are paid with my FIA credit card to enable an extra month of float and to simplify my checking account.
  • Each credit card at 0% is paid the amount due plus $10 rounded up. (For example a $117 minimum payment becomes $130).
  • Once each bill is paid, I enter it into Microsoft Money when I get around to it.

Safety Checklist

I have a list in excel of all bills and the approximate day of the month the bill is due. I delete them as I pay them. This is not really necessary, but it’s a doublecheck to make absolutely certain that I don’t miss a due date and it only takes a few extra seconds.

Here’s what this spreadsheet looks like:

Day of Month Company
Approximate Amount
Jan 1 Mortgage $3042
Jan 2 Chase 0% #1 $130
Jan 3 Electric & Gas $220
Jan 7 Cell phone $30

Anti-Filing System

Filing isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. I used to file all my paperwork by account in neat little folders in a file cabinet. However, that started taking up too much time…. so now I just take all the papers for the the year, stuff them in a bankers box and put them in storage. I rarely have to go back and dig out papers over a year old, so it’s saved me quite a bit of time. The exception is tax papers; all of which are filed neatly by year.

Action Plan

I keep an excel spreadsheet dedicated to various aspects of my finances that don’t fit nicely into the Microsoft Money program. I’ll work on putting together more examples of the other spreadsheets that would be beneficial. In addition, see how I’ve made Microsoft Money more efficient for my finances.

How do you stay organized?



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Comments to How Do I Organize 181 Accounts?

  1. I’ve found that Mint.com is useful for keeping my (much fewer!) accounts together. It’s not as robust a solution as MS Money or Quicken, but it sends reminders for credit card due dates and gives great “at a glance” summaries of my overall financial status.

    Dave

  2. My approach to financial accounts is almost the exact opposite of yours, but I’m fascinated by the many accounts and the credit card arbitrage. Were you able to get out of the charges from American Express? How often do you slip up (or get caught by misleading advertising) and have to pay interest? If we treat any slip-ups as interest payments, what percentage do you pay as a fraction of your total credit card debt?

    Michael James

  3. That is very fascinating, quite impressive, a little inspirational, but largely intimidating, too!

    I use Quicken for tracking my net worth. Once a month I’ll sit at Quicken for an hour to update all the accounts and make sure everything reconciles. I can’t handle Quicken for more than once a month, because I find some of its quirks absolutely infuriating.

    I use Mint to track spending. I check in a couple of times a week.

    I have a couple of Excel files I use for all other financial tracking. I loves me some Excel. :)

    Honest Dollar

  4. @Dave:
    I’ve heard about Mint a couple times now. I’m going to have to check into it one of these days.

    @Michael James:
    I haven’t had any slip-ups yet. The American Express one could be the first! I’m still waiting for my husband to call. As soon as we figure it out, I’ll post an update. The only amount I’ve paid is balance transfer fees. I’ll have to calculate how much I’ve paid in those, but I’m sure it is well under 1%. When you say your approach is opposite, do you mean automated?

    @Honest Dollar:
    Agreed, Excel really can save the day for anything that the packaged programs can’t!

    Madison

  5. By “opposite” I mean that I have as few accounts as possible, and apart from mistakes, I never carry a balance on my one credit card. If you haven’t had any slip-ups, you’re ahead of me. In about 20 years, I’ve forgotten to pay my credit card bill on time 3 or 4 times.

    You’re obviously very organized if you can navigate through the credit card rules and continue to pay no meaningful amount of interest. Either the credit card companies have plans for tripping you up, or your ability to keep things straight is so rare that they won’t bother.

    Michael James

  6. Wow. I’m actually trying to simplify and close some accounts! Nice system! :)

    Patrick

  7. I have a question. What do you do when you go on vacation? How can you keep track of everything “on the go”? I’m impressed!

    Cristina

  8. @ Michael James:
    Now that I think about it, I did miss a payment by one day once with Advanta a few years ago. I called to explain and they waived it without a problem. I agree, that unless you are very organized the simple approach is much easier to handle!

    @ Patrick:
    Every time I decide that I’m going to simplify, a bank or company sends me an offer I can’t resist…. I wouldn’t want to walk away from free money!

    @ Cristina:
    It depends what type of vacation. I’m actually on vacation now, but I’m at the in-laws so I brought my laptop and I can pay some bills while I’m here. If I’m going on a real vacation (without a computer!) I prepare a list ahead of time to work off of. Anything that will be due while I’m gone I pay ahead of time or schedule the payment. Then I relax and forget about it while I’m enjoying my vacation. When I return, I double-check to make sure everything went smoothly.

    Madison

  9. I use Quicken for now but I may switch to iBank, as Quicken is not intuitive in the Mac environment. I also use a spreadsheet to forecast account balances.

    To keep up with my payments, I have online access to all my accounts. Statements are sent to my inbox, and I also receive alerts giving advance notice by email when a bill is due — I do not depend on the alerts but use them as a backup measure. Very convenient.

    speedy

  10. I’m flabbergasted – you should see if you qualify for the Guinness Book of Records….

    Mike

    FourPillars

  11. I’m with Mike. Holy freaking crap, Madison. Wow.

    I think your decision to have them come in paper makes a lot of sense. And, in general, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of the things I said I’d do in my post on how I’d handle credit card arbitrage. But that was all cerebral for me…you’re actually doing it. Wow.

    Mrs. Micah

  12. @ Speedy: Right, that’s one that I forgot to list – online access for all accounts. Very important. I also have Yodlee to glance at most of them once in awhile.

    @ Mike: The Guinness book… I like it. I’ll have to look into that!

    @ Mrs. Micah: At first I felt bad about all the paper, but it really became a must do to keep it easy.

    Madison

  13. Wow!

    Looks like you have enough accounts to compare with a fair sized company.

    I have tried to remain as lean as possible, and have closed accounts.

    It is fascinating to know that you can actually manage all these without hiring a couple of assistants.

    fathersez

  14. Another one of my favorites from the carnival of personal finance! I’ll be following all of your strategy posts. Good stuff. Going to check out the Arbitrage strategy posts of yours too.

    Don’t know if you had a chance to check out a similar strategy I recently had an epiphany about and am kicking off for 2008, it’s a simiilar idea of arbitrage of ESPP for instant 15% quarterly and possibly mor. That results in guaranteed 60% annual return. The rate of return depends on your particlar ESPP limits and discounts. It’s done using HELOC and ESPP. Unfortunately the strategy is limted by your personal annual ESPP limit.

    Teaspoon

  15. ROFLOL! I’m simply amazed. Mrs. Micah wrote exactly what I said out loud as I was reading this. “Holy freaking crap.”

    My first attempt at this totally backfired in my face a couple years back, but if you can handle it with superior organization…good for you. :)

    Mr. Debtbeater

  16. My mortgage and Car insurance are automatically withdrawn from my checking and I use e-billing for almost everything else. My water bill is the only one that I have to pay using paper billing.

    I use my reward credit card for all other purchases.

    I log onto my bank’s bill pay site every Saturday and schedule my e-bill payments that show up. I also verify and pay the weeks reward credit card purchases in full.

    I use Google Calendar w/email reminders to track all my due dates as a backup.

    Ken

  17. Unbelievable. Wow… too much for me. Best of luck with it! :)

    No Debt Plan

  18. That sounds like a lot of work – you have a talent for this (most could not track 18 accounts, much less 181 accounts). I fear that others will try to do the same and get caught in credit card debt (some 70-80% of individuals make only the minimum payment, on interest bearing accounts).

    Are you happy with the leadership example you are setting? This is debt loving culture – especially for the younger generations.

    Mr. Jackson

  19. All regular bills are set up on autopay” be careful cc companies tend to change their due dates

    Moneymonk

  20. NOT SO FAST on that record book stuff —- I have 202 checking, savings,investment, credit card, misc. (like serve and wepay)accounts that are open. Many more that have been closed.I keep track of it all on EXEL and calander all bills to OUTLOOK.

    I am also one who hates to pass up free money. Last year I made $6,000.00 in bonuses . Not bad for a part time JOB.

    steve swinehart


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