When spring rolls around it's easy to feel motivated by all the fresh air, sunshine, and birds chirping. Yard work, deep cleaning, packing away your winter clothes — it all just feels so good. There's a feeling on the first nice day of the year when it's warm enough to put the car windows down, you need sunglasses, and everything feels fresh and new.
Whether it's spring or not, you can do a financial spring cleaning at any point in the year. If you're in need, here's a handy guide on where to start:
Step 1: This might be tough, especially if you've been avoiding certain financial matters hoping they'd go away. (Spoiler: They do not.) Take a moment and really think about the things that are getting you down about your money. Make a promise to yourself to take action and clear up this extra clutter in your mind. Do you have credit card debt? No savings? Write it down, make it real, and work on it.
Step 2: Put all of your things in one place. Duh. When your bills are emailed to you, put them in a separate folder for bills only. When a bill arrives in the mail put it in an envelope, drawer, a box, whatever. Just keep everything in one place. I have a photo box from a craft store that I use as a little office. It has all my bills, checkbook, stamps, the good pen, that kind of stuff. You can get as plain or as fancy as you like here, just get it together.
Step 3: Look at your calendar and decide which day of the month will be your best bill paying day or days. Once or twice a month is best, but once a week could work, too, if you have a huge amount of incoming bills and are paid that frequently. Make a commitment to sit down and pay your bills on whatever day or days you decide. That's it!
Step 4: Gather any important paperwork and put it somewhere safe. If you want to go nuts organizing with labels and folders, you do you. The goal is to get your stuff in one place and easy to find. Make a pdf of any important emails and share them in your Drive with people who are important to you. Insurance papers, bank account numbers, passwords, retirement account info, all that stuff. If you die alone and cats eat your face the last thing your family wants to deal with is looking for your PayPal log-in info so they can access your balance (to pay for vet bills).
Step 5: Now that all your bills are in one place, you can rework your budget to make sure you're all in order.
Step 6: If you don't already have an automatic savings plan in place then do it right now. Open a savings account online, in person, or over the phone. Get a prepaid card and load it up (but watch those fees!). If you have an irregular or tip-based income, then commit to stashing a certain percentage away when you get yours. Just do it, there is no other way to save money than to save money. Sorry. It's the truth. Just treat it like a bill and do it.
Step 7: Do a little check-in on your credit. If you haven't already accessed it this year, then head over to the federal credit reporting site and get your free copy. Make sure everything is in order and up today. While you're at it, check your credit score. There are many free reputable sites available, but chances are that your credit card company has a link on their site.
Step 8: Just like in AA, your eighth step is all about clearing your name and helping others to do the same. If you owe anyone money now is the time to make a plan to pay them back. Likewise, if others owe you money then by all means contact them and make a payment plan. We've all been there, it's a tough talk but worthwhile.
Step 9: Look around your house, purse, wallet, car, desk drawer, underwear drawer, wherever you put things and collect all of the following: unused gift cards, store credit with a tiny balance, clothes you need to return, items you meant to consign, and anything else that is of value. Now go do the thing! Spend the gift cards wisely on something you actually need. Return the items for things of use. Sell your unwanted items. It's a magic trick — turn your old jeans into burritos! All of these things you will do someday are due. Today is the day. Get it done and reap the rewards.
Step 10: Tidy up! Now that you've got all your bills in one place and you've cleared out the excess gift card stash in your wallet or purse, things should be a bit easier to manage. Clean out the old receipts, file what you need to file (thanks to step 4, now you have a dedicated space), and toss what you don't. Ideally at this point you will see a huge improvement in your operations and want to keep things tidy. Doesn't that sound nice?