How Do You Track Payable Paperless Bills?

How Do You Track Payable Paperless Bills?

Tracking Bills

I am of the opinion that you can sometimes learn as much from someone’s mistakes than you can from their successes. With that in mind, I present to you a mistake (mine of course), and some successes (DocumentSnap’s smart readers, naturally).

The subject? Tracking your to-be-paid bills when you are going paperless.

The Mistake

You might remember that I have put together this great workflow for processing downloaded PDFs using Hazel and a bit of TextExpander. I’ve even enhanced it by having Hazel apply OpenMeta tags.

This has been working great, and I’ve been really happy with the results. For companies with whom I have requested paperless billing, I go to the site, download the PDF, use a quick TextExpander snippet to give it a name, and then Hazel magically whisks it away to my filing system.

It was all working really well until one day I received a letter from my local electricity utility. It turns out that when a company sends you a bill, they would prefer that you pay it. Oops. Somehow in my paperless workflow frenzy, I had filed away my electric bill without paying it.

This led me to wonder: what do DocumentSnap’s readers do to track their payable bills? Since this was before the Forum, I turned to social media.

The Smart People

I asked on Twitter and on the Facebook page the following question:

Question: With paperless bills, how do you remind yourself that a bill is due? ToPay folder? Alarm somewhere?

Here are some of the responses:

Brandon: I scan bills to Evernote with the tag: /Unpaid Bills. Stays at top of tag list. Then I delete the tag when bill is paid.

cryptochrome: I use and set alarm/task for each bill with automatic Google Cal sync.

Ian: I have everything set to preauthorized. Everything except rent and BC Hydro go on a credit card (with cashback rewards) and those two are direct from my primary bank account. And then the credit card is set to auto pay in full monthly, so I never have to worry about forgetting to pay a bill.

Lee: Monthly payables are setup on Excel spreadsheet with headings NAME; ACCT NO; ID/PW; Internet Address; BALANCE; PAYMENT; STATUS (PD/DUE); DATE; B/L (Becky/Lee). It seems so simple this way. When I eventually do like Ian and set them all to automatic payment. As long as I keep enough money in the bank, the monthly payments flow seamlessly and effortlessly. I even set up one line item using a separate bank account at another bank (Ally). It’s like the old Xmas Club account. I put enough money in the account monthly to accumulate the total I need in January to pay the annual payments for property taxes; LTC Health Insurance; Life Insurance; Dental Insurance, etc. Those items I pay annually. It works so well, I think I’ll patent it. (not likely) but it does seem I really have a handle on monthly bills this way. Of course, this is all ‘paperless’

When you subscribe to paperless billing, how do you track what needs to be paid? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 14 comments

Tyler - November 8, 2014 Reply

Most paperless providers have an option for an email alert when your statement is available. I have a simple gmail filter set up to star all of these and when I pay them, I remove the star and archive them. The paperless statements I have set up to automatically download using FileThis.

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Joseph Scavone - November 30, 2012 Reply

I have Hazel run an Applescript as a last step and parse out the due date and amount from my bills and add reminders to Cultured Code's Things:

set currentFile to quoted form of POSIX path of (theFile)

–get amount using awk
set amtString to do shell script "/usr/local/bin/pdftotext " & currentFile & " – | awk 'NR ==12 {print $1}'"

–get due date using awk
set dateString to do shell script "/usr/local/bin/pdftotext " & currentFile & " – | awk 'NR ==18 {print $1}'"

set theDate to date dateString
set theTask to "Pay Bill – " & amtString & ""
set theNote to "Lovingly Scanned by your Mac on " & ((current date) as string)

tell application "Things"
set newToDo to make new to do with properties {name:theTask, due date:theDate, notes:theNote} at beginning of area "Bills"
schedule newToDo for (theDate) – 7 * days
end tell

Jared Apperson - June 6, 2012 Reply

I use BusyCal for managing all of my calendars, and have set up a specific calendar that is just for bills. When a bill comes in, I add the due date as a To-Do type event, and set up an alarm to remind me a week before the bill is due. Not only do I see the bill on the list on the right sidebar of BusyCal, but I also see it on my monthly calendar. If the bill goes unpaid, the To-Do carries forward and remains visible on my monthly calendar. If the bill is recurring, I set up a repeat for the event, which takes all of the hassle out of it in the future.


John Ohman - June 6, 2012 Reply

Like some others here, I use a combination of automatically charging some bills to a rewards credit card and my bank's online bill pay service with both ebills and automatic payments activated. For those a little leary of using the auto-payment option of online billpay, you can either (a) set amount limits above which a bill will NOT be automatically paid, and/or (b) set up automatic email alerts from your bank's online billpay as the due date for ebills draws near.

DocumentSnap Time Machine | Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog - May 27, 2012 Reply

[…] How Do You Track Payable Paperless Bills? One of the fears that people have when switching to paperless billing is that they’ll miss making a payment and… that happened to me. Some good suggestions in the commends. […]

Cathy - August 9, 2011 Reply

For businesses – enter into accounts payable and check your creditors report – easy peasy

SoulForce1 - June 15, 2011 Reply

I'm with Ian & Lee. I am way to busy to deal with payments and bills so I adopted a "set it and forget it" strategy to go with my paperless billing. I have monthly and quarterly payments set up for pre-authorized payment on my cash-back credit card, which is also set up to be paid automatically from my checking account in full when due. Anything I can't pay by credit card is set up for recurring ACH from my checking account. I have a savings account set up with auto deposit every month that accrues enough money to handle my semi-annual and annual payments. This methodology has worked flawlessly for several years and helped me maintain a sterling credit rating despite simultaneously juggling a family and job while completing a masters degree.

    Brooks Duncan - June 15, 2011 Reply

    Awesome thanks SoulForce. Set it and forget it is the way to go.

Brooks Duncan - June 8, 2011 Reply

Don't worry about all that other stuff. Just get a decent scanner, set up a high level folder structure, and start scanning, Deal with anything else later when needed, and if you have questions hit up the Forum for help.

marti - June 8, 2011 Reply

All of this is so confusing to me. I have been ready, willing and able to go paperless, but like bungee jumping for the first time, I can't bring myself to do it out of fear. I read the 7 lessons, but there is so much talk of other apps: Hazel, Evernote, Snippet and others I can't even remember. Where do I start and how do I learn to be at the level of all the users here?

    Alex Satrapa - June 8, 2011 Reply

    IMHO, the first and most important step is to get a proper scanner and software which is painless to use. You'll want software which converts the scanned documents into some kind of searchable format.

    My recommendation is the Fujitsu ScanSnap 1500 (or 1500M if you're a Mac user). It's pricey, but well worth the investment (check eBay, of course). Set it up to scan documents and convert them to searchable PDF.

    I also recommend that you invest in the Paperless Document Organisation guide that Brooks has put together. Every suggestion that I am likely to give you is already in that guide.

    The message to take home from all the talk about automation, organisation, etc is simply that there is more than one way to do it, so whatever way you choose to start doing it, you'll likely find some way of improving it over time.

    Start simple: get your hands on a ScanSnap 1500, scan all your documents into one folder with OCR turned on, store those paper documents in a box until you're confident that you can shred them. That's the peril-free first step. Then get the Guide, have a read through it a few times before you try implementing anything, join the forums and ask for advice there.

    Best wishes on your paperless project!

Michelle Muto - June 1, 2011 Reply

I use a spreadsheet. I list the name of each biller in alphabetical order down the side, and the months run along the top. When I pay the bill, I enter the amt & the date paid.

BTW, for file naming, I have an extra snippet now: !dm1 (expands to yr, and month minus one month), and !dp1 (expands to yr, and month plus one month). So !dm1 !ele turns into 2011-05 Electric Bill, and then I do the same as you – Hazel assigns meta data and whisks it to the proper folder.

    Brooks Duncan - June 1, 2011 Reply

    Thanks Michelle, great snippet ideas!

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