With the spring season upon us, you may be feeling the desire to dust, declutter and purge. While it’s natural to focus this energy on cleaning your home, it’s also a good time to get your financial house in order. Clutter and dust can build up in your budget, too, leaving your finances in disarray and potentially leading to bigger problems down the road.
Follow these nine tips to spring clean your finances and effectively harness that seasonal energy to better your household budget.
Refresh your budget.
If you recently experienced a big change in a life circumstance like you got married, had a baby or bought a house, review and refresh your budget to meet these new financial demands. Free budgeting tools can make the process much easier by linking your bank, credit card and other financial accounts in one place. Open a free account with Mint or another top budgeting tool.
Organize investment accounts.
If you have money disbursed among several bank accounts, consider simplifying your finances by moving those funds into one or two accounts. It’s also a good time to make up any investment contributions from last year, as you have until April 15 to reduce your taxable income for 2015. Finally, make sure you list appropriate beneficiaries for your investment accounts so your funds don’t end up in probate should something happen to you.
Know when to save and shred.
The paper cluttering your cabinets and desk drawers is causing more chaos than good, especially since most of these documents don’t have to be saved. For example, tax documents that are more than seven years old, bank statements from a year ago and monthly bills you’ve already paid all should go in the shredder. Hold on to insurance documents though. You may considering going paperless and create a file system using your email to stay organized and eliminate the paper trail altogether.
Declutter your wallet.
Keeping your purse or wallet free of clutter is key to finding what you need when you need it. For example, crumpled receipts and misplaced coupons can result in botched savings opportunities, neither of which are great for your finances! Like your filing cabinet, digitizing some of these items will help reduce the clutter while keeping money-saving resources at your fingertips (literally). The OneReceipt app, for example, enables users to scan and save receipts digitally, while a coupon app like Coupon Sherpa provides instant access to retail and restaurant savings.
Clear away debt.
Debt can feel like a huge financial burden, especially for those who may be carrying revolving balances across multiple credit cards in addition to auto and student loans. Consider applying the snowball method to your debts, whereby you focus on paying off the smallest balances first to build momentum toward paying off bigger debts. You can also look into loan consolidation options to streamline debt payments. Refer to LendingTree.com for available options, rates and other important information.
Cash in on clutter.
Your home is likely filled with goods you no longer use including old clothing and jewelry, unused gadgets and unwanted gift cards. While most of it looks like junk, some of it could be turned into cash. Take this time to review selling options: consign old clothing at thredup; unload smartphones, tablets and video games at NextWorth; and sell gift cards at Gift Card Granny or through a CoinStar kiosk at your local supermarket. You can also host a garage sale and earn $250 to $400 in just one weekend!
Wipe away fees.
Pointless charges can add up quickly and lead to a huge financial leak over time. In fact, a report from FeeX.com revealed that Americans spend an average of $155,000 in useless fees over their lifetime including ATM charges, checking account fees, late payments, shipping charges and early termination. Automate payments and set alerts so you never miss a due date, shop around for a bank or credit union that doesn’t charge fees, get cash back from a drugstore at no charge, and look for free shipping codes from sites like FreeShipping.org to stop wasting money on unnecessary charges.
83% of consumers apply for credit cards at the wrong time, forfeiting an average of 15,338 miles or points. What’s more, some 16 billions in rewards go unredeemed every year, according to market research firm Colloquy. Make sure you keep tabs on your reward points and redeem them to offset travel and gift costs. Those on a strict budget can use reward points to treat themselves after reaching financial milestones to keep the momentum going!
Attempt a no-spend challenge.
As the days get longer and warmer, it’s easy to let your budget slide and spend too much on dining, weekend getaways and shopping sprees. Instead of letting the season sabotage your budget, attempt a no-spend challenge to learn just how much you overspend on unnecessary purchases and use the money you save to put a larger payment toward debt or establish an emergency fund. To help ensure your efforts pay off, consider these four steps for a successful no-spend challenge.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer-finance expert who is passionate about helping women find simple ways to save more and spend less without sacrificing their lifestyle. She has worked with hundreds of national and regional outlets on consumer stories and has been interviewed by NBC’s Today, Good Morning America, Dr. OZ, CNN, MSNBC, FOX & Friends, ABC World News, Inside Edition, Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, New York Times, Cosmopolitan and many more. Andrea also writes for various news outlets and her stories have been published on Forbes, AOL Daily Finance, Yahoo!, Huffington Post, LearnVest, New York Daily News “Dollar Stretcher” and ClarkHoward.com
. Andrea lives in Bakersfield, CA with her husband and rambunctious Goldendoole, and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her first child this August. You can read more about Andrea and watch recent TV clips at www.AndreaWoroch.com. To stay up-to-date, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.