Stream of Unconsciousness: Paying the Bills

Today is Bill Paying Day, the time when I send checks, EFTs, or record automatic payments in return for essential services such as heating, lighting, water, and bad original programming via the Sci-Fi Channel.

I derive a certain amount of satisfaction out of the simple blessing of being able to pay our bills in full and on time, recognizing that this is not something everyone can do all the time. In fact, I will confess that I sometimes feel a bit like Job in his pre-it-all-hit-the-fan-at-once days, and I can’t help wondering when the other shoe will drop. OTOH, I’ve been wondering that for a couple of decades, so perhaps I’m just paranoid. But you know what they say about being paranoid. And we know you know.

There are two accountants living in our household, and this makes for (1) really boring dinner conversation (“Did you read that article in the Journal today about SOX?” “Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it?” “Pass the pepper, please.”) and (2) a fiscally-responsible division of labor when it comes to family finances. Our checks-and-balances system is exactly that: I write most of the checks and MLB balances the checkbook. This serves to keep me terrified and humble.

The other thing my accounting-derived OCD drives me to do is keep exquisitely detailed records of our monthly transactions. OK, not all that detailed, but I can tell you the average cost per KWH of our electricity last month, compared to three years ago. Anyway, one of the potentially interesting phenomena I’ve noticed over the years is that the good folks to whom we send monthly payments are rarely content with their own names. Or, they’ve just up and left. To wit:

  • CellularOne ==> Alltel
  • Cox Communication ==> Suddenlink
  • Energas ==> Atmos
  • Southwestern Bell ==> AT&T
  • TU Electric ==> TXU

Actually, some of those companies changed names more than once over the years.

I forget where I was going with this. Apparently, my blogging instinct keeps writing checks that my brain can’t cash.


  1. When I worked for a bill payment company I knew all of those buyouts and name changes, every area code and which phone company serviced it and the new area codes and the area code from which it originated. Two kids and 7 years later that knowledge is long gone, and I’m so out of touch with it that when our credit card changed hands I didn’t even know it was coming! That was unsettlling for me. It was probably more unsettling for my husband when I did have all that information in my head. 🙂

  2. Speaking of TXU: Did you get the phone call about selecting a new plan?
    It seems that effective 1-1-07? we will have to pick a “plan” from the various plans available. If you go to the website they list 10-12 plans, but we can only choose from 3.
    The callers (as Im dragged it out of them) are in Canada. Go figure.
    Anyway have you picked a plan and if so which one? I trust your opinion (of course I know it is only worth what I pay for it).

  3. Heh. Our internal controls do not pass the SOX test. I pay the bills, reconcile the checkbook (with online bill paying, I don’t even do this anymore), open all the mail (or not; I throw much of it away, hopefully nothing important), make all the bank deposits, and do all the shopping. I do not know how many KWH’s of energy we use or have used in the past, or what the cost per unit is.
    There is one area of the bill paying in which I go all OCD and that is the cell phone bill. My cell phone bill is out of control for someone who does not use the cell phone, so I belabor this bill every month and invariably call Cingular to request charges be removed and to impose additional parental controls. I make the kids pay for every penny of extra charges they incur because I want to teach them fiscal responsibility. 😉

  4. Robert, I picked the plan where TXU pays me each month to use their electricity. Unfortunately, they said that was oversubscribed and no longer available.
    Actually, I have not received a call about optional plans. But having browsed through the long list of alternatives on their website, I’ve concluded that most of them are a hedging crapshoot, and they’re a lot better at it than me. I’m just cynical enough to think that the only reason they’d offer me a plan different than what I have now is that they think they’ll make more money if I switch. But if you end up saving a bunch of money, tell us how you did it so we can try it, too.
    Gwynne, your internal controls may not match ours, but your dinner conversation is probably more interesting. 😉

  5. Bills and specially those of phone companies are grrr words right now. I have an explained one from Britain! Seeing as that doesn’t make sense, I’m about to start an inquiry on it – grrr :).

  6. …most of them are a hedging crapshoot…
    True dat! Same with those prepay gas options on rental cars (who among us wants to drive the car down to “E” and run out of gas on the way to the airport because we paid for a full tank already?)
    …but your dinner conversation is probably more interesting.
    That depends on your definition of “interesting.” Tonight’s conversation was about the dogs’ diet. Kilowatt hours or accounting pronouncements sound almost scintillating in comparison.

  7. Down here towards the mountains, our phone company over the past 10-12 years or so has gone Contel > GTE > Verizon > Valor > Windstream, with the latest incarnation being Alltel’s new land lines division name. Going along with the Cellular One-Alltel change and the switchover from Classic Cable to Cebridge to Suddenlink over the past three years, and the utility change from Texas-New Mexico Power Co. to First Choice (subsidary of P-NM — future name change no doubt coming) and Southern Union Gas to Texas Gas Service, I find it’s almost pointless to give the phone/cable/utilities categories in my Quicken software actual company names, because they’re gone within a year or so.

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