Spring is the traditional time to scrub your surroundings and organize things. To be truly prepared for a fulfilling year ahead, don’t stop with your home. Take time to clean up your finances as well. This spring cleaning routine can prepare you for a fresh financial restart.
Dust off your financial goals
The past few years have been filled with economic ups and downs, and many of us have had to simply do what we could to stay afloat. But it takes clear goals to be able to make real financial progress.
Consider your current financial situation and where you’d like to be in one year, five years, or 10 years. Do you want to buy a home or car? Retire comfortably? Send a child to college? Rebuild your emergency fund?
Write down specific financial goals for the short-term, medium-term and long-term future. Consider keeping them in a place where you’ll see them regularly, and plan to review them on a quarterly or at least annual basis. You’ll be able to achieve more financially when you have clear goals and a plan to reach them.
Recommit to saving money
If you’re one of the many who have been unable to save much over the past few years, reexamine your approach to savings. You may need to reduce your monthly savings deposit amounts or add some extra time to reach your goal, but don’t give up.
Set specific weekly or monthly savings goals that will help you meet the financial goals you set previously, and commit to revisiting them and tracking progress regularly. Include savings as part of your monthly budget so it will be a predictable expense. Also, consider making savings automatic by sending a portion of each paycheck straight to savings.
Clean up your credit report
Take time to check your current credit report. You can access it once a year at no charge and without impacting your credit score by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
Examine the personal information, credit accounts, and credit inquiries included in the report and look for errors. If the report says you’ve made late payments but you’ve always paid on time, that error should be corrected. Same if it includes addresses where you’ve never lived or names and birth dates that aren’t yours. You’ll need to dispute any errors by sending a letter to the credit reporting agency that generated it.
Also take a look at your credit score. If you’ve experienced a layoff or other financial setback and had to use credit cards or other debt to manage, your score may be lower. That’s ok, you can work to raise it. But it’s important to know what your score is now so you can track your progress.
Freshen your budget
Take a hard look at your spending over the past few months and especially note any recent changes. Has your income dropped? Have you taken on new debt that you need to pay off? Do you need to replenish your emergency savings fund? Any changes like that can be a good reason to tweak your spending plan.
Go through your budget, one item at a time, and look for opportunities to make cuts. Some of the easiest places to cut back can be dining out, subscriptions or streaming services, and travel, but your budget cuts will depend on your own personal finance circumstances. For example, if you’re now working from home, maybe you won’t need to spend as much on clothing and haircuts.
Wherever you decide to make spending cuts, keep your financial future in mind. If you have important financial goals to meet—such as building an emergency fund and paying off debt—your willingness to make sacrifices now will pay off in the long term.
Devise a debt payoff plan
Maintaining unsecured debt will require you to pay high interest rates and make it harder for you to reach your financial goals. If you’re carrying extra debt, make a plan for paying it off.
One option is to focus on the smallest debt first and pay as much as possible on it until it’s paid off, while making minimum payments on everything else. After paying off one debt, move to the next one.
Another option could be consolidating your consumer debts into one low-interest loan, such as a home equity loan, or a credit card with a low or zero percent introductory rate. Adjust your budget to focus on paying it down as quickly as possible, and avoid adding any more debt.
Taking time to spring clean your personal finances can help you refocus on your financial goals and clean up bad money habits. As a result, you’ll get a fresh restart and a renewed focus on taking the right steps to create the financial future you want.
For informational/educational purposes only and is not advice on legal, tax, investment, or other matters. You should carefully consider your needs and objectives before making any decisions and consult the appropriate professional(s).