As a child, I came to expect a frenzy of cleaning to begin in our home right after Easter. My mother would throw open the windows, letting in the spring air, and make each of us four children a short list of chores to work on while she did the deep cleaning. I’m not nearly the housekeeper my mother was, but I have held onto this habit and continue to make a practice of spring cleaning my own home each year.
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I also love to use this time to think about the other areas of my life that need a little tidying up. When the warm weather approaches, you’ll certainly find me cleaning my house but you will also find me giving my finances a good refresh. Even for those of us who keep a monthly budget, spring is the perfect time to take a closer look to be sure nothing is falling through the cracks or keeping you from reaching your long-term goals. If you feel your finances need a spring spruce up, consider following these five steps for getting them in tip-top shape.
Run a credit report
Credit reports are generally recommended once a year or anytime you are applying for a loan. So, if it been awhile since you’ve taken a close look at your credit, go ahead and make this a habit each spring. You can run a credit report online through a trusted website like Annual Credit Report. When you run your credit, you’re looking for any red flags that something isn’t right. If your score has changed drastically, that could be the first sign that something is amiss. You will also want to be sure none of your accounts are delinquent, that your inactive accounts aren’t showing new activity, and that you’re familiar with all of the accounts on your credit report. If you find that something doesn’t look quite right, the first step is filing a written dispute with the creditor and the credit reporting agency.
Tidy up your paperwork
While you are tackling the clutter in your home, don’t forget to condense your financial paperwork by getting rid of everything you don’t need based on this guide for keeping and shredding financial documents. And for the items you do keep, make sure they’re not only well organized but also secure, stored in a fireproof safe, or a locked file cabinet. If you have a habit of hanging on to old bills or credit card statements, send them through the shredder and then sign up for paperless options right away. Paperless isn’t just the green approach, it is a good way to keep your financial clutter under control all year long.
Check in on your short-term savings
Whether you are preparing for a vacation, hoping to buy a new car or putting away money in case of an emergency, now is the time to make sure you are still on track to reach your short-term savings goals. If you haven’t done so already, schedule automatic monthly deposits into your savings account. Make a point to put your tax return to good use, dedicating a portion to getting one step closer to your savings goals.
Check in on unpaid bills
Medical bills and credit card accounts can easily become a burden if not quickly paid in full. Check in on any unpaid bills and use your financial spring clean up to create a plan for paying off any balances you’ve been slowly chipping away at.
Take a look at your retirement accounts
You probably get a quarterly or yearly statement from the company that manages your retirement savings. Spring is a great time to reevaluate how much you contribute to these accounts each month, and if you haven’t started preparing for your retirement, now is the time. Full-time employees should talk with their human resources about setting up a 401k and freelancers or self-employed individuals can open up an IRA and set up automatic contributions through their checking or savings account.
Originally published on March 29, 2017.