Starting a blog post with a Destiny’s Child late 90’s throwback music video seemed like the way to go with this one. I hope you enjoy. And for those of you that are too young to know Destiny’s Child — yes, that is Beyoncé.
Ok, so let’s talk finances! In a non-boring way, I promise!
Before we dive in, it bears mentioning up front that this post is NOT a comprehensive guide to managing your finances. Personal financial management (PFM) IS a topic that I’m very passionate about and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years putting together what I think is a great “system” for managing my finances. But THAT blog post would involve way more words and screenshots than I think anyone would care to read, and in the end, my system in its entirety may not work for your situation anyway. So I feel like the better approach is to sprinkle in PFM tips and suggestions every now and then and offer up one idea, tool, or app at a time. That should make it a lot easier to digest and give you a chance to try one piece of my system at a time to see if you like it, and make sure it works for you.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way!
I sometimes reminisce about simpler days when I THOUGHT my personal finances were complicated (ha!). When I started my first job back in 2007, my bills consisted of a car payment, rent, and utilities. And I guess a credit card. Although there usually wasn’t much to pay because there wasn’t much available to spend at that point in my life. But even back then I’m pretty sure I created a spreadsheet to keep it all “organized”. Fast-forward to today where it often feel like I’m managing the finances of a small country, and it should make sense why I’m continually on the lookout for tools, apps, and services that make it all just a tad bit easier.
To state the obvious: everyone’s household is different. Some people are single and have no choice but to manage their own finances. Some are unmarried but living together and keep their finances separate. Some are married and manage their finances together. And some are married and have designated one family member to take on the management of the finances. Oh, and some people are incredibly wealthy and have someone OUTSIDE of the household manage their finances. Maybe someday!
Our household is kind of a hybrid of these (and other scenarios not listed in the interest of brevity). Cody and I lived together before we got married, or even engaged (it was 2016, people!) and some might say that we made an even bigger commitment than signing a marriage license — we got a mortgage together (how romantic!). But truthfully, that intertwined our financial lives more than just a little. We also now “owned” a house that had its own set of financial responsibilities — utilities, insurance, taxes, paying for things that just randomly break all the time — you know, the normal joys of home ownership. To keep ourselves sane and organized, we decided to continue to maintain our own personal checking accounts, but also opened a joint checking account and a joint credit card that we could use to pay for household expenses.
That made a lot of sense to us, and it has worked out well. And now that we’re married, have a fur-baby, and a human baby on the way, more and more of our expenses have naturally migrated towards that “joint” category. Eventually we may ditch our personal accounts and combine everything, but since we both still work and both still like to hide our guilty pleasure purchases from each other (for me that’s buying my 87th Apple Watch band; for Cody that’s buying new putter grips and fancy bottles of scotch) we’ll keep things like they are for now.
I mention all of this because there are certainly a number of ways that you and your roommate/partner/spouse can handle your finances and there’s no “best way”. It’s really whatever works for you in your current arrangement — no matter how big, small, or traditional it is at the moment!
Establishing how to set up our household finances was just the first step though. More importantly, we needed to make sure someone was receiving all of our bills and paying them on time. This is the fun part where my system of email folders, spreadsheets, and apps/tools comes into play!
In this post I’m going to specifically talk about a 3rd party bill pay app that I have been using for longer than I can remember — it’s called Prism. By 3rd party app I mean anything NOT owned by and embedded inside your bank’s online banking/mobile banking app. For example: Chase has bill pay functionality but I choose to use a tool that is NOT associated with any particular banking institution. That gives me more control over how I pay my bills and doesn’t tie everything to one bank in case we want to take our money somewhere else (which I have several times over the past few years). Prism is available for Android, iOS, and Windows phones, but it does NOT have a desktop app (which hasn’t beeb an issue for me).
Honestly, it’s hard to believe it has taken me this long to write about Prism. It has been so long that I don’t remember where I heard about it, or even exactly how long I’ve been using it. I think it HAS to have been at least 7-8 years at this point. It blows my mind that I haven’t heard more about it over the years. And I don’t know of a single friend that uses it. Prism has to be one of the best kept secrets out there when it comes to money management apps, but I’m here to let it out of the bag! It is certainly one of MY most-used apps and I check it at least once a day. It is also FREE! And no ads either! When I started using the app I figured that the company was a relatively small start-up that wouldn’t charge anything right away, but that eventually I’d be paying some sort of monthly fee for it. But I’m happy to report that as of June 2019, it is still free.
Prism WAS recently purchased by a company called BillGO, which admittedly I haven’t done a ton of research on. But I did read the acquisition notice they provided and almost 10 months later I haven’t seen any negative changes or interruptions to the app. They HAVE implemented this cute-sy little “tip” feature that allows you to give them a one-time donation for “doing a good job”, and I have a feeling they are probably testing the waters to see people’s tolerance level for a monthly fee. But fingers crossed that if/when they do implement one, that it’s reasonable.
Look, paying bills is part of adulting. There’s no way around it. And since there’s no way around it, why not make sure you do it using a reliable and secure service or app. That’s how I look at Prism. It has made bill-paying infinitely easier for me, and it has never let me down, so I would sooner pay for the service it offers than I would for social media or many of the other silly apps that I have on my phone.
Why I Recommend it
In short, Prism is an app that helps you manage and pay (almost) all of your bills from one central dashboard. You can view a monthly calendar of your bills to see what’s coming, set up auto-pay and view the balance of each of your payment sources, pay bills via bank account or debit/credit card (depends on what the biller accepts), and get alerts/reminders when bills are due. Additionally, there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of what account you pay each bill from and how many days in advance each payment is sent out so it all feels very customizable and can likely fit a lot of different bill-paying preferences.
Just like almost every other bill pay tool, the first step to getting Prism set up is entering your payment accounts (aka your bank accounts and/or credit/debit cards) and loading your billers into the app by providing your account details and online log in information (usernames, passwords, PINs). That may scare some of you, but Prism is encrypted with bank-level security and no sensitive information is actually stored in full on your device. So for instance, if you lose your phone, no one will be able to access your bank account information. You can also set up a password to actually get INTO the Prism app (I use Face ID), and that adds another nice layer of protection as well. Once you have all of your billers and payment accounts set up, Prism will literally do the rest. Within a few hours you’ll start to see bill due dates populate the app’s calendar and the “Bills” tab.
The interface is clean and intuitive, and is focused around five main tabs — Bills, Calendar, Money, Inbox, and Account. I’ve included some screenshots below, but overall it’s very straightforward.
A “bonus feature” I enjoy is that Prism will alert me when a bill seems “off” — usually this is when it was, let’s say, $50 one month, and then the next month it jumped to $200. This feature has actually helped me catch a few biller-side errors, which I appreciate. Other times it just feels like Prism is shaming me for buying too many dog toys and Apple Watch bands on my credit card. But Cody might argue that there’s some benefit to alerting me to that too!
As with many of these 3rd party tools that hook into biller accounts and bank accounts, the connects have definitely (broken) over the years. Verizon Wireless recently had an issue that seemed to last for months. But Prism has ALWAYS been excellent about alerting me when there’s an issue with an account log in or there’s some other account detail that needs to be fixed on my end.
I am terrified of jinxing myself, but in 7-8 years of using Prism I have NEVER missed payment on a single bill. And as previously mentioned, I probably pay at least 15-20 bills a month through the app. I think that “record” speaks for itself, and I definitely encourage you to give Prism a try!
What I Don’t Like
It has to be said that there ARE a few smaller, local merchants that Prism does not have access to and therefore you cannot actually PAY that bill through the app. You can however, still set up that biller and Prism will make sure to remind you when that bill due date is coming and needs to be paid. I’ve experienced this with my sewer and water bill here in New Orleans. It has been seven years and I still can’t pay it through Prism. Instead, we set up autopay on the sewer and water company’s website. Obviously it would be nice to migrate that bill into Prism but in this case I 100% believe it’s an issue on the biller’s side. With the incompetence we’ve seen from the NOLA Sewerage & Water Board over the years it’s a miracle we have fresh water and trash pick-up at all — let alone functioning connections to mobile apps — but that’s a rant for another day, and another blog!
Second, Prism has what I would call a “money in/money out” feature where you can enter the $ amount of your paycheck and it will show you how much you “have left” at the end of each month. Then you can compare that month over month and see how good or terrible of a budgeter you are. It’s well intentioned but honestly I don’t use it much because it’s almost always inaccurate in my case. One thing that tends to throws things off is when I have a lot of work expenses in a given month. I charge them to my personal credit card and then get reimbursed by my company (outside of what I get in my paycheck), but Prism doesn’t know that so it will think I’m wildly overspending. It may work well for your situation, but I don’t really pay much attention to it.
And finally, one feature that would be AWESOME would be if Prism could actually DISPLAY a copy of your bill. I previously used a service called PayTrust, and they would actually go out and retrieve a paper copy of your bill and scan and upload it into your account. Sounds extremely labor intensive, which is why Prism probably doesn’t offer it, but even providing a digital version of my bill inside of Prism’s app would be nice. That way I could review all the actual charges before scheduling the bill for payment without having to go out and view it on the biller’s website.
So What Are You Waiting For, Give it a Shot!
Again, finances are VERY personal and each person/family is going to handle them in their own way. This is just how WE do it, and one example of an app that I use to handle a very small portion of the overall management of our finances. You do you though. And as long as those bills are being paid on time and collection departments aren’t blowing up your phone and the utility company isn’t turning off your power, I’d say you’re doing an excellent job.
If any of you decide to give Prism a shot, I’d love to know what you think. And stay tuned for more financial management tips and tricks in future posts!
Some links to other articles about Prism:
And no post would be complete without a meme. Enjoy.