Power washing the patio furniture, bringing out the BBQ and cleaning out the closet are all typical tasks you might find on someone’s spring cleaning list. While warmer weather is a sure sign to start cleaning around the house, it might be a great time to consider cleaning your financial house as well.
If you’ve never done a financial spring cleaning before, and aren’t sure where to start – don’t worry! I’ve laid out my tips for a thorough financial cleaning for both those who are looking to simply organize their personal finances and those who are cleaning their way out of a sticky debt situation.
TIP #1 – DECLUTTER YOUR EXPENSES
The same questions you ask yourself when cleaning out your garage or closet apply when it comes to decluttering financially. Do I need this? Is this still working for me? Am I actually using it? In other words, you should try to eliminate wasteful spending by cutting out expenses that don’t actually benefit you in any way, shape or form.
First, review carefully all subscriptions, automatic payments and frequent purchases on both your debit and credit cards so you actually know where you are spending your money. Then figure out which expenses you need or actually use, and which are able to go. For example, if you purchased a monthly gym membership 4 months ago but you’ve only gone a handful of times, maybe it’s time to evaluate a more cost-effective way to get your exercise. The same thing goes for cancelling that monthly land line if members of your household are fortunate enough to have a cell phone.
TIP #2 – PLANT POSITIVE FINANCIAL HABITS
During spring cleaning, we tend to uncover bad habits that we have developed over the year(s). Try to view your financial spring cleaning as an opportunity to establish new habits that will help you create a positive financial environment.
Maybe you’ve realized you need to establish better organizational habits. Try setting up a filing system for your financial documents such as bills, tax returns and credit reports. If you download or view bills and statements online, set up folders on your computer to keep digital records organized. If you’ve realized you tend to be late on bill payments, create yourself a schedule by setting up recurring due date reminders on your phone calendar or set up automatic bill payments through your bank.
The biggest financial bad habit that people tend to uncover during their financial spring cleaning is that they didn’t stick to their budget, or didn’t make one at all. Tidy up your finances by creating a budget that lays out your income and expenses. By doing this, you will not only be on track for the rest of the year, but you might also uncover some dirty laundry, like a missed credit card payment or a hidden treasure such as an extra $20 a month that you can put towards your retirement or an emergency fund.
TIP #3 – DON’T PROCRASTINATE UNTIL FALL
Spring cleaning can be a big and overwhelming task. Cleaning up your finances is no different. While you may want to enjoy the warmer weather and postpone your clean up until the fall, it’s better to face your mess head on and put an action plan in place as soon as possible. The longer you wait to change your habits, the longer the consequences will have to add up.
While cleaning up your financial house doesn’t happen overnight, it’s important to review each part of your “cleanup plan” and set timelines for your financial goals. For example, if paying back your debt is part of your “cleanup plan”, remember that most debt comes with high-interest rates and the longer you wait to pay it back, the more it will end up costing you. Prioritize your goals, so you don’t end up paying more than you have too.
TIP #4 – TAKE THE TIME TO TACKLE THE BIG MESSES
If you are deep in debt, you will need to take a more serious and targeted approach to your financial spring cleaning. Be brave and face the true state of your financial situation by taking the time to review:
- How much you owe: who are your creditors and how much is it costing you to make minimum payments at the current interest rate charged?
- What is the state of your monthly cash flow: does your income “just” cover your expenses, does it cover more than enough or is it not enough?
- What assets you have: how much equity do you hold in your assets? Can any be sold to put towards the debt?
The best option is to aggressively pay down debt to the best of your ability given your available resources. However, this might not always be an option. Do your homework and consider exploring ways to lower your interest rate through debt consolidation, balance transfer credit cards or refinancing your mortgage. Keep in mind that you will need to firmly commit to stop spending on credit while you repay debt under these options; otherwise, there will be no future gain and it will feel like you are digging out of the sand.
If you’ve reached roadblocks with resolving the debt on your own, it might be time to ask for help. By reaching out to a Licensed Insolvency Trustee, you can explore consolidating your unsecured debt under a Consumer Proposal. Consumer Proposals are a formal solution to settle debts at an affordable monthly rate. If you would like to discuss what debt relief options are available to you, we offer a free one-hour consultation with a Grant Thornton Debt Professional.