A popular New Year’s resolution is to get your financial house in order. But if addressing money matters wasn’t your goal in January, spring is the perfect time of year to get started! In this season of new beginnings, there are plenty of steps you can take to freshen up your finances.
Spring cleaning your home is a big project, but it’s easier if you tackle it room-by-room. You can tidy up your financial house in the same manner by going step-by-step and not getting overwhelmed by trying to do everything all at once.
You’ll thank yourself as you enjoy the lazy days of summer, knowing you’ve taken action to pay down debt, save and invest for the future, protect yourself and your loved ones, and simplify your accounts and documents.
7 Steps to Spring Clean Your Financial House
Follow these seven easy steps to master your money management this year and improve your financial health. You can take care of a few of these steps while you check off some of your regular spring-cleaning tasks. Consider tackling others on a rainy weekend morning or in place of scrolling social media feeds for a few minutes each night.
1. Weed Out Your Belongings
As you declutter closets, drawers, cabinets, and other areas of your home such as the basement, garage, shed, or attic - you’ll find plenty of items you no longer want or use. Place each item into a toss, donate, or sell pile.
Discard the items in your toss pile and donate household goods to local organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Habitat for Humanity. Don’t forget to ask the organization for a tax receipt if you think you’ll itemize deductions (rather than use the standard deduction) when you file taxes for this calendar year.
Next, decide how you want to sell the items in the last pile. You could host a garage sale or join in an upcoming neighborhood yard sale. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, Poshmark, and ThredUp are just a few of the online options where you can sell your unwanted stuff.
You can use the money you make from spring cleaning to pay down debt, help fund a summer vacation, or work toward meeting other financial goals. And don’t forget to clean out your wallet too! It might surprise you that up to $3 billion of gift cards go unused each year!
2. Purge Some Paperwork
As you organize your home this spring, you might question what to do with your files full of financial documents, too. Organizing what you should keep and shredding unnecessary paperwork is key to an uncluttered, money-savvy home life.
The first step is to figure out what to save and which documents you can purge. This depends on the type of paperwork and your financial and tax situation. If you aren’t sure where to start, use these articles to help you decide what important paperwork to keep and for how long and where to store important documents.
Make sure to shred any financial paperwork you can discard to help prevent identity theft. If you don’t own a shredder, search online for “shredding events near me” to see if your community hosts free shred events.
Don’t forget to clean up your digital documents too. Update and safeguard passwords for your electronic files and mobile devices. Consider an online password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane. It’s also a good time to do a clean sweep of your email and unsubscribe from businesses that may tempt you to make impulse buys that bust your budget.
3. Polish Your Credit
You may have easy access to your credit score as a benefit of one of your credit cards. And websites such as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, or Nerd Wallet also offer ways to get your credit score for free. It’s essential to monitor your credit score because of its impact on your overall financial health.
Remember, your credit score can influence things like credit card and loan interest rates, insurance premiums, and your ability to land the apartment or job you desire.
Have you reviewed your credit report yet this year? You’re entitled to a free credit report annually from each of the three leading consumer-reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Request copies of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Obtain all three reports at once or stagger downloading them throughout the year.
- Examine reports and report any errors to the credit bureau.
- Consider asking for credit line increases on credit cards to improve credit utilization. (Note: If you struggle with credit card debt, this could be a dangerous strategy to improve your credit score.)
- If you won’t be applying for any new credit soon, freezing your credit may be a good idea to help protect against identity theft. Each credit bureau has directions on freezing your credit on their website and a phone number to call for assistance if needed.
Planting new financial habits like consistently monitoring your credit history and score can help your bank account balances and net worth bloom!
4. Refresh Your Budget
Spring is also tax season, and there’s a good chance you’ve recently finished your annual tax return (or it’s at the top of your “to-do” list!) After sorting through W-2’s and 1099’s and considering your tax expenses, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure that your earnings are working for you.
Are you maximizing your income? If you haven’t received a raise for a few years, it may be time to ask for one. You could also consider changing jobs and negotiating a higher salary or better benefits package.
If you are making more money, try to avoid keeping up with the “Joneses”. Pay down high-interest debt (credit cards or personal loans) or increase investments rather than letting lifestyle inflation take over.
Are you struggling to stick to a budget because you’re living beyond your means or because your spending plan needs adjusting? If you haven’t carefully tracked your expenses, it can be challenging to create a realistic budget.
There may be many ways to save money if you work to trim your expenses. Did you drop cable TV because of the cost but replaced it with four or five subscription services? Have you called to negotiate your internet bill or asked your lender to reduce the interest rate on your credit card? If you’re too busy to take this on, consider using the Trim app to do the work for you.
If you’ve slipped into the habit of grabbing coffee on your way to work, buying lunch, and ordering take-out for dinner a few times a week, you might be spending a lot more money than you realize. There’s nothing wrong with ordering food or going out to eat if it fits your budget! Just make sure that this category’s spending isn’t causing you to fail to meet other financial goals.
Consider adding sinking funds to your budget for short-term savings goals that you can expect to need. If you plan to spend $900 for the holidays, add a line item for holiday spending of $75/month to help you reach that goal and avoid debt.
Are the kids going to camp, or is a much-needed summer vacation in your plans? Take the expected cost and divide it by the number of months until the event and put aside money each month in your plan to help you save for those goals.
5. Scour Your Bank Accounts
While it makes sense to have more than one bank account (checking and savings) and even use more than one lender, some people have more accounts than necessary. You might choose to simplify your finances by having accounts at one brick-and-mortar (traditional lender) and one online lender.
Consolidating accounts may help you avoid monthly fees on accounts that require a minimum balance. You can also earn more interest on savings if you move money to an online lender’s high-yield account or certificates of deposit (CD’s).
Consider setting up automatic bill payments from your bank accounts to ensure your payments arrive on time. You can also create scheduled transfers of funds between your accounts to help you meet savings goals.
If you think you may have left money in an old bank account years ago, search for it at Unclaimed.org. It might surprise you, but there are billions of dollars of unclaimed funds in the United States!
Don’t forget to change your passwords on bank accounts and make them strong and unique. Two-factor authentication is another smart move for financial accounts. The same holds for any types of digital wallets you use, such as PayPal or Venmo.
6. Clean Sweep Insurance Policies
If you can’t remember the last time you reviewed your insurance documents or shopped for better rates, it’s time to dust off your policies.
Putting your monthly insurance premiums on autopay is a great way to make sure payments are on time - but you may be paying a lot more than you need to if you don’t stop to consider the increased costs when your policy renews.
Start by reviewing your auto and renters or homeowners insurance policies. Are these policies “bundled” with the same carrier? If not, you may be missing out on significant discounts offered by many insurers.
What are the deductibles on your policies? If you have enough money saved to cover a higher deductible in case you need to make a claim, it may make sense to increase deductibles to pay lower premiums.
You should also consider the amount of insurance coverage you have and assess whether you need to make adjustments (up or down!) An older, high-mileage car may not need the same coverage it did when you bought it with a loan years ago. But if you remodeled your home or put on an addition, you may need to increase coverage to ensure you have adequate protection.
The amount of life insurance you carry may also need to be increased if your family situation has changed. A growing family or a stay-at-home parenting situation are good reasons to boost coverage.
If you’ve put off buying disability insurance, it might be time to review whether it can fit in your budget now, too. Research how much sick leave you have available at your current employer and if your employee benefits package offers short- or long-term disability insurance and the coverage level. If you’re self-employed or lack a high level of coverage through work, this protection may be vital to you based on your level of savings and risk tolerance.
Spring showers are also a good reminder to consider your needs for an umbrella insurance policy. Umbrella insurance provides additional liability coverage above and beyond your standard insurance policy. Own a pool, trampoline, or dog? Have a teen driver in your household? Rent out property to others? These are all examples of when you may want extra protection from an umbrella liability policy.
7. Cultivate Your Wealth
April is the month where organizations countrywide focus on helping people grow their financial literacy and capability. It’s a great time to learn more about managing your finances and investing in your future.
Whether you enjoy books, blog posts, podcasts, or courses - there are thousands of free and low-cost resources at your fingertips. Our suggestion is always to read multiple sources and consider the author’s expertise and how they make money before blindly following their strategy.
You can start right here on the Medi-Share blog, explore other reputable personal finance sites such as NerdWallet, Investopedia, The Balance, and our site Women Who Money (be sure to check out our directory of blogs and podcasts too). Visit your local library or fire up your e-reader and check out these great books:
- The $1K Investor: A Guide To Help You Start Investing
- The Simple Path to Wealth
- Save Yourself: Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security
- Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way
- Napkin Finance: Personal finance for visual learners
While you’re improving your financial literacy, take steps to improve your current investments, too.
Have you increased contributions to your retirement accounts recently? Remember that the power of compound interest lies in investing early and often. You may want to roll over and consolidate old 401k accounts and unify brokerage accounts too.
Make sure to analyze fees being charged to your investment accounts. You should aim for far less than one percent to maximize the growth of your investments. Remember to rebalance your portfolio to match your age, risk tolerance, and time to retirement.
If you have questions about investing, asset allocation, and diversification of your portfolio, consider scheduling a consultation with a fee-only financial advisor.
If you haven’t started estate planning, it’s time to get started with that, too. Don’t skip this necessary process because you think you’re too young or don’t have enough assets to have an estate.
Every adult needs at least some of the primary estate planning documents in place, including advance healthcare directives, financial power of attorney documents, and a will. To learn more, read 10 Steps to an Estate Plan.
Final Thoughts on Cleaning Up Your Finances This Spring
You’ll be set up for organized and healthy finances for the rest of the year if you take time to clean your finances this spring.
Whether you need to “deep clean” or simply “spruce up” money matters, decluttering, simplifying, and taking control of your financial health is priceless. You’ll reap the rewards for your efforts as you save time, money, and frustration while going about your busy life.
Vicki Cook and Amy Blacklock are the co-founders of the award-winning personal finance website Women Who Money. Vicki, a 30-year educator, and Amy, an administrative professional and entrepreneur, joined forces in early 2018 to pursue passion projects in the personal finance and health & wellness spaces. Together they've launched two new websites and are currently plotting numbers 3 and 4.