It’s spring and you know what that means…spring cleaning!
But I’m not talking about deep cleaning your baseboards, as fun as that sounds.
I’m talking about spring cleaning your finances! (Which totally does sound fun.)
If you’re like me, you probably started the new year off with all sorts of excitement and enthusiasm for what you hoped to accomplish this year.
But now that we’re a few months in, you may not be quite so energetic.
Spring offers a renewal of nature all around you, and it can also mark a renewed interest and commitment to your goals.
Here are 6 steps to help you spring clean your finances and stay on track to hit your goals.
Step 1: Review Your Goals
Reviewing your goals is a great way to reassess and recommit.
We all tend to get gung-ho about making changes at the start of the new year, but the enthusiasm and momentum usually wear off by mid-February.
So the beginning of spring is a great time to shake out the cobwebs in your budget and take a fresh look at your financial goals.
Look back on the goals you set a few months ago.
Are they still valid?
If so, how are you progressing toward them? Are you still on track or have you lost your focus?
Now is a good time to recommit to your goals and regain some of that earlier momentum.
Not convinced your New Year’s goals were the right ones?
It’s entirely possible your priorities have changed over the last few months.
If that’s the case you may want to create a new financial goal to work toward.
Step 2: Look Ahead
It may be cliche to say, but time really does fly by.
We’re already a few months into the year, which means Christmas is that much closer. (I’m only half-joking.)
Saving for larger expenses like Christmas and annual premiums takes time.
Planning for them now means you don’t have to save as much at once and you won’t have the stress of being surprised by them down the road.
Take a few minutes to review any expenses that are bound to come up and make sure you’re on track to be able to pay them.
Even though I’m much better at this than I used to be, I still find myself thinking I’ve got plenty of time to catch up if I need to.
If you find yourself in a similar situation of underfunding or raiding those future expense categories, use automation to break the habit and force yourself to save.
You’ll be thankful for it when the bill finally does come due.
Step 3: Review Your Credit
It’s always a good idea to review your credit report each year, so why not go ahead and do it now.
You can request a free copy of your report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Check to make sure there are no errors or suspicious activities.
Credit bureaus often make mistakes and spotting unusual activity like new accounts can help you detect identity theft before it becomes a problem.
If you do find an error in your report, make sure you address it.
Negatives on your credit report can affect your ability to get a job, cause you to pay the highest interest rate, and make it tougher to get insurance or any more lines of credit.
It’s not always easy to dispute things so if you need help I recommend using this guide from Clark Howard.
Once you’ve made sure your credit report is correct, you might also want to start monitoring your credit score.
Having a high credit score will help you qualify for better interest rates and save you money in the future.
FICO® Scores are used in over 90% of lending - decisions. myFICO gives you instant online access to your FICO® Scores most widely used in mortgage, auto and credit card lending.
Step 4: Consider a Fresh Start
There’s no such thing as the perfect budget for everyone.
A financial spring cleaning is a good time to review your priorities and how you’re implementing them in your financial plan.
Maybe you’ve been trying the envelope method but you’re feeling too constrained.
Or you’re going strong with YNAB but find yourself annoyed at having to figure out how to record that Amazon order that got split into three separate charges (I feel your pain).
If your monthly budget isn’t working for you, take a step back and try to figure out why.
Are you feeling too restricted? Are you constantly overspending certain categories? Are your spending habits making it hard to reach your savings goal? Are you still getting hit with bank fees and late payment charges?
All of these are signs that you may be using the wrong budgeting method.
Here are a few budget methods you can try out if your current one isn’t working for you.
If you’re feeling constricted with your current budget, give this method a try.
With the 50/30/20 method, you don’t need to plan or track every single purchase. You’re simply dividing your spending across three categories:
- Needs: 50% – such as your mortgage and utilities
- Wants: 30% – like entertainment and dining out
- Savings: 20% – for investment and your emergency fund
This method is great if you just want something
If you want to give the 50/30/20 budget a try I’d suggest automatically transferring money from your checking account into your savings account to make sure you’re hitting the right ratio.
The Envelope Method
If you find yourself constantly overspending, this might be the budget method for you.
With the envelope method, you’re going to fill envelopes (real or virtual ) with the money you’ve budgeted in a given category.
For example, you’ll label an envelope “Groceries” and stock it with however much you can spend on groceries.
Once the envelope is empty, you can’t spend any more.
Obviously, there are some ways to cheat this, but if you find yourself cheating with any budget method, you should probably switch it up.
Also, if you’re trying this method digitally and notice you still overspend, try to restrict yourself to cash only and see if it helps curb the impulse to buy using a credit card.
If you want hyperawareness into where your money is being spent (ie: you’re super crazy about tracking every dollar like I am) this is the method for you.
With a zero-based budget, every dollar gets a job.
The general idea is if you don’t track it, you’ll spend it…and likely not on your priorities.
By assigning each dollar to a specific budget category you ensure you have money to pay those expenses when the time comes.
With a zero-based budget you’ll have complete awareness of your financial situation and be in a great position to tackle your money goals whether it’s paying off debt or saving for your financial future.
Step 5: Review Your Expenses
Regardless of what budget method you’re using, if you’re not being deliberate with your spending you’re likely to trip up somewhere along the way.
Now that you’ve reassessed your goals, it’s time to look back at your expenses and see if they still align with your priorities.
Maybe you don’t really need the fastest internet speed available or all that extra data on your cell phone plan.
Or maybe you’ve got monthly subscriptions you don’t need or use that are slowly and consistently draining your bank account.
Take a look at your credit card statement and highlight any charges that don’t contribute to your happiness or help you reach your financial goal.
Did you find any expenses that you’ve just accepted over the years? Maybe it’s time to finally let them go.
Step 6: Consolidate and Simplify Things
When things tend to pile up and accumulate, my reaction is to consolidate and simplify.
It’s always easier to get a grip on things when they’re not so spread out and chaotic.
Here are some ways to simplify and consolidate your finances.
Consolidate Your Accounts
I love to organize and optimize our family finances, and experimenting with new apps and services is a bit of an obsession for me.
But spreading our finances across dozens of accounts just for the sake of trying something new isn’t always the most efficient approach.
That’s why I love a good financial spring cleaning.
Take a look at all your accounts and see if there’s any overlap where you can combine them.
Do you have multiple checking accounts you can roll into one? Did you create a dozen savings goal accounts only to never use them?
Consolidate and simplify by moving your money back into just a few accounts.
Make sure to look at your retirement too.
You may have an old 401k or IRA you can roll over into your current retirement account.
Automate Your Finances
Another way to simplify your finances is to automate them as much as possible.
Have money transferred directly from your paycheck into your savings account to save money more easily.
You won’t miss what you never see.
Meanwhile, your savings is growing without you even thinking about it.
Alos, set up automatic payments so you never miss a bill or have a late payment again.
If you’re worried about your credit score, on-time payments are the number one factor for achieving and maintaining a high score.
Automating your payments is a quick and easy way to improve your credit score.
Simplify Your Record-Keeping
You may not have ever given much thought to your financial record-keeping, but it’s a good idea to have a system in place.
Digitizing your financial paperwork will make things easier to manage both now and in the future.
You may still want to keep some hard copies of certain financial documents, including your In Case of Emergency Binder, but for the most part, you can store your scans and e-statements on a flash drive or in the cloud.
Just make sure your keep your paperwork someplace you or your spouse can easily access in case there’s an emergency.
I use Evernote to store all my files. You can save files to the cloud for easy access, password-protect them for added security, and quickly search to find whatever you need.
I also use the app Scannable to digitize all of my receipts and any other financial documents I want to keep copies of.
The simpler your accounting system, the easier it will be to find any documents you need if there’s ever an issue or just when it’s time to get ready for tax season.
I can search years worth of data to find what I need in just seconds!
Enjoy the Warm Weather, but Prepare for Rainy Days
We have a tendency to live in the moment and put off planning ahead except at certain key points in the year.
Make spring one of those key points for you.
Spring cleaning your finances is a great way to reassess and recommit to your goals, break spending habits, build saving habits, and get your financial paperwork in order.