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Paying the bills: Communicate and automate for a more harmonious homelife

How to make handling the rent payment (and everything else) more equitable among couples

It’s fair to say many people don’t love paying the bills, even when there’s plenty of money available. Something about parting with all that cash and being reminded of how much the cost of everything has gone up can make even the calmest people turn crabby.
When couples share a household, it often falls on one person to make sure the lights stay on and the water keeps flowing by covering the cost of utilities and other living expenses on time every month. Do the math — and with more than 62 million married couples in the U.S. in 2020, there’s a good chance 30 million adults grumbled through the chore in recent weeks.

But is that enough? The world we are living in right now, with a global health pandemic spreading waves of sickness across our nation, is a good enough reason to argue that both partners in a household need to know the ins and outs of paying the monthly bills. It’s always better to be prepared and it’s much more equitable when couples share the duty as often as possible.

Consider these tips to make bill-paying less of a hassle for everyone in your home:

Take turns

One way to make things more bearable is for each partner to take a turn at the task. (That’s how my parents did it.) That means one person in the household has the responsibility for say, three or six months, and then they hand over the reins to the other person, who manages it for roughly the same timeframe. That way, neither person is stuck with it forever.
It’s also a good idea not to “tell” your partner it’s time to take over. Instead, it’s better to come at it from the angle of asking nicely for help. You are partners and that should mean shared responsibilities. Also remember, most people don’t like to be told what to do, especially when it involves shelling out their hard-earned money.

Automate everything you can

Yes, we’ve mentioned this before but not everyone has switched to online bill-paying… yet. Research from Statista shows that nearly 65% of Americans use some form of digital banking to access funds from their financial institutions. If you are in the 35% who haven’t taken the leap, make it easy on yourself and start paying your bills online this month.
Once you get past the setup, this can slice several hours off the time it takes to manage this task. You’ll save money on paper checks, stamps, and trips to the post office. (The price of stamps is going up again, too.) Done correctly, it can also prevent dreaded late fees.

Make it a date

Here’s where the communication part comes in. Make a date to talk about bill-paying and how you can lighten everyone’s load by moving this chore online. Once you set up online banking, make sure your partner knows how to get into your shared account. Have a laptop or tablet out so you can walk through the whole process, step by step. Once you are done, reward yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a sparkling seltzer.
Later, for those who are low tech or maybe just forgetful, you can make a list of how to get into your accounts to check balances and transfers and make sure everything is running smoothly. Send it to your partner in an email and print out a copy to live in the place where you pay bills.

Document online accounts and passwords

While you’re at it, this is also a good time to create an inventory of all your online accounts including web addresses, usernames, passwords, and any other relevant information such as security questions and answers, PIN numbers, or security codes, and account numbers. Print this list out and place it in a folder with other important information. You could also place a copy in a home safe for safekeeping.

Jean Chatzky/SavvyMoney

With reporting by Casandra Andrews

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