Spring is a great time to take stock of what you have, decide what you really need, and make steps to start fresh at home. Why not give the same attention to your finances? Here are seven ways to give your finances a fresh start this spring.
1. Sell or donate clothes and household items
As you do your physical spring cleaning, be realistic about all you own versus what you really need and use. Evaluate unnecessary items that might bring you some extra cash in a garage sale or online auction. Donate any other items you don't need to charity and note the tax deduction.
2. Sort through unused gift cards and vouchers
Take a few minutes to collect any unused gift cards and vouchers you may have accumulated; then decide how you can get the most value from each. Make concrete plans to use the cards and vouchers that are practical and will save you money at businesses where you intend to shop or eat. Sell those you don't wish to use through an online auction site or gift card trading website.
3. Ensure you have funds for an emergency
Financial experts recommend saving three to six months of living expenses in an interest-bearing, non-risky, easy-to-access fund like a savings account or money market fund. If you do not yet have a fund like this for emergencies, now is a great time to set up an account and start funding it.
4. Make smart plans for tax return money
It's tempting to think of a tax return as an unexpected bonus from the government. But remember, a tax return is money you worked to earn and then overpaid in taxes during the previous year. Fight the temptation to spend any return you receive and, instead, put the money to work by paying off debt or strengthening your emergency fund. In addition, consider lessening your tax-withholding rate in the future, to avoid continually lending the government an interest-free loan.
5. Give your expenses a fresh look
Scrutinize your spending over the last year and look for changes you can make in these areas:
Note categories where you're spending money but don't feel or see much benefit. These are the first places you should cut back, so you save money without feeling like you're missing anything.
If you notice any recurring bills (such as phone, internet, or cable) increased, contact the provider to ask for new discounts or promotions that can lower your bill. In addition, make sure you're taking advantage of any discounts available for automatic payment from your bank account.
If you're close to paying off a specific loan or credit card, devote extra dollars this year so you pay off that debt once and for all.
You might be interested in: 4 Ways to Save Money and Reach Financial Stability
6. Simplify your accounts
While you may have had valid reasons for opening and using multiple bank and retirement accounts over the years, consolidating and simplifying can save you time, paperwork, and hassle. Spring cleaning provides the perfect reason to simplify:
If you've been holding on to poorly performing stocks or funds while your money is likely to earn a better return elsewhere, take action and make the move now. There is no reason to put off an opportunity to earn more money.
Consolidate bank and direct deposit accounts to one account that offers free checking, online bill pay, and electronic statements. Canceling unnecessary accounts will eliminate the associated paperwork and possibility of incurring fees.
Combine your retirement accounts by rolling over 401(k) funds from previous employers. Taking the time to roll older accounts into your current employer's 401(k) or into an individual retirement account (IRA) will save you substantial future time spent tracking multiple accounts and going through statements.
7. Make a future plan
Once you've examined your expenses and consolidated accounts, you're in a perfect position to make a plan to reach your financial goals.
Calculate your net worth by adding up your assets, then subtracting your debts.
Verify that you are properly insured for the value of your assets.
Decide on realistic goals for decreasing debt, increasing your net worth, and increasing emergency and retirement savings.
Create specific, actionable plans (for example, investing an additional $100 per month in your retirement account) to reach your goals.
When considering spring cleaning of any sort, the most important thing you can do is stop procrastinating. Since most investments grow over time, every day you put off making positive financial changes is a day you're losing out on potential savings and income. For help comparing your income and expenses and creating a customized budget worksheet, download our monthly budget calculator.