Spring starts on March 20. While most people use the spring season to do a deep cleaning of their house or a full revamp of their wardrobe, others may find more value in applying the same spring cleaning concept to their financial life. After all, your credit and finances affect many aspects of your everyday life, so why not work to make them better? We’ve detailed three ways you can start spring cleaning your finances to help you save smarter and manage your money better.
Check your credit reports
Keeping tabs on your credit scores is pretty easy these days, especially since most major credit cards offer free credit scores with a card membership, but did you know it’s equally as important to also check your credit reports? That’s because your credit scores are calculated using the information on your credit reports. This means if you have any derogatory marks on your credit reports, they could be having a negative impact on your credit scores. If these marks are legitimate, it’s beneficial to monitor your credit as you work to rebuild it. On the flip side, if these marks are errors, there’s no way to know whether your credit reports contain errors unless you are checking them. It should be noted that it’s best to check all three credit reports because not all of your credit accounts report to all three bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), which means if you’re only checking one credit report, you could be missing errors on your other two reports.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to check your credit reports, as the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows every U.S. citizen to check all three of their credit reports for free once every 12 months using AnnualCreditReports.com. If you already checked your credit reports within the past 12 months or you want a way to monitor your credit reports year-round, you may want to consider a credit monitoring service. These services not only provide you with your credit reports and scores upon signup, but they also alert you if anything is changed or added to your credit reports — meaning you can spot errors before they cause any damage. Visit our credit monitoring reviews to learn more about these services and see which ones offer free trials, allowing you to test the service before you make a financial commitment.
Update your budget
We all know the importance of budgeting, but how many of us actually have a budget in place and stick to that budget? Not very many, according to The 2016 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey, which found only 40% of Americans adults reported having a budget and keeping track of their spending last year. So what can you do to start budgeting? The easiest way to get started is to create an income-to-spending ratio, which lists exactly how much money you have coming in and how much money you’re spending. Start listing the necessities, like rent, groceries and utility bills, then add non-essential expenses, like dining out with friends or trips to the movie theater, and once you listed everything, see if you can afford your current lifestyle. If not, you’ll want to start cutting back on the non-essential expenses. You should organize your budget in a manner that makes the most sense to you. For example, if you get paid every other week, you may find it easy to have a bi-monthly budget for each paycheck. Also remember that your budget is not set in stone — if you need to make adjustments, don’t be afraid to make them. After all, there’s no point to making a budget if you’re not going to stick to it. If you already have a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly budget established, it never hurts to look over it again and update that budget, as a lot can change in over time.
Keeping track of how much money you’re spending and what you’re spending your money on will make sure you’re living in your means, as well as help you see little areas where you can start saving money, such as opting to make your coffee at home instead of buying it at your local coffee shop every morning. It’s important to note that if you’re carrying credit card debt, you’ll not only want to budget for your credit card payments, but also know your options to pay off the debt, like a balance transfer credit card, which can help you pay off the debt interest-free and even have some positive impacts on your credit.
Concentrate on your savings and retirement
Although saving may not be one of your priorities when it comes to managing your finances, it should be, as emergencies can happen at any time and you want to make sure you’re prepared. Having a budget in place and sticking to it will allow you to use extra money to build a savings account, or even start saving for retirement. If you’re new to saving money, you’ll want to make sure you start small, like saving $50 per paycheck, then increase the amount you save as you get more comfortable. Similarly, if you’re working toward saving for retirement and you’re not quite at the point where you can open a traditional retirement account, you can always start with a basic savings account, then move that money over to a retirement-specific account, such as an IRA, once you’ve saved up enough to do so.
Staying on top of finances can be a challenge for some, but if you set some time aside to spring clean your finances, you may find you’re more successful. Follow our personal finance blog more tips on managing your finances and credit.