Monday, May 9, 2011

Spread Sheets and Alcohol

We've had this pile for as long as we've been married. Oh, sure, every once in a while it gets sorted and organized. But then I don't do anything with the contents, and it builds up again. No, it's not the laundry. (Well, we have that pile, too. That's just not our topic of discussion for today.) It's the bills.

Our current pile has been building up since we moved to Greenwich. I've moved it from the top of the bar by the front door, to the bedroom, to the stand in the hallway, to the drawer in the bar by the door, (I had to shove. It was getting big) back to the bedroom, and finally, to the table in the dining room. This final location meant four things:

1. We lost use of our dining room.

2. I could always see it, causing major anxiety.

3. Others could see it, making me hesitate to extend invitations.

4. Lily pulled the papers down and spread them all over the room several times a week.

The problem with this pile is that once it was organized... then what? I couldn't afford to pay-off the debts, I had grown tired of arguing about reasonable payment plans with debt-collectors. So they just piled up again. Physically, and emotionally.

Then on Friday, I knew what to do. Ryan was asleep on the couch, suffering with the stomach flu. Lily was in bed, presumably for the night. So I put the pile into a large box, poured myself a drink (a screwdriver with a little flavored seltzer, if you were wondering) and went to work.

Step one, figure out which envelopes were duplicates. I can't imagine the money some of these companies would save if they just didn't send so much mail. I knew almost everything in the pile had a friend. So, I sorted. And the result looked like the second picture above. (Note. I tried many times to get the pictures to be right here. Why didn't it work? Anyone?)

So they were sorted. And it was overwhelming. And I took a break and texted some close friends and poured another drink. I needed to get information from these papers- not just sort them. I needed to know how much I owed, and to whom. And I needed to know how to contact those people.

And here's where I reveal a big secret.

I'm actually pretty good at math. And. I sort of understand Microsoft Works spreadsheets. I wouldn't put it on my resume or anything. But for someone who has never been taught formally, I have copied from enough samples that I can kinda sorta make my own now.

But the emotional hurdles have always been too much for me when it came to finances, so I just pretended that I didn't understand. Lies. I understood. It just scared me.

So I started a spreadsheet. And for each pile of debts I found the most current statement. I recycled all but the most current, and put the info into the spreadsheet. The result- the first picture above. (I understand spread sheets. I do NOT understand why my pictures are in a crazy order.)

I was then able to get the total we owed, (a terrifying number. Good thing I had those two drinks...) I could sort them from smallest balance to largest, have all the information in one place, and have the numbers available in a way I can use. I know what our minimum payments are, and I know when we can start to make those minimum payments. (Soon, but not immediately.)

It was a lot of work. And a lot of stress. And a lot of vodka. But now I know. And as G.I. Joe told the children of the 80's, "knowing is half the battle..."


  1. I have a very similar post just waiting to be published! It's not so much about paying the bills as it is organizing them, but still very similar.

  2. I don't advocate alcohol as a crutch, but if you needed a nip in order to set things straight, more power to you.

    Also about your pictures: they look fine other than the first one because a certain html tag wasn't closed. Are you using html or the picture uploader that does it for you?

  3. Yeah, I had this big 4-sentence-long disclaimer about how I was teasing about the alcohol, and I wasn't a big drinker, and yes I was having drinks while I did this but it wasn't really about that, blah blah blah... And it was getting very out of control. So I deleted it. But yes. Alcohol should be consumed responsibly for sure ;)

    And I use the picture uploader that does it for me. I even tried it from the html. Every once in a while I figure out how to get it in the right place. My sister does it correctly but didn't bother to help me out here. ;) I'll ask her next time we chat.