There’s something about the change of season that gets people in the mood to clean, purge and organize. It’s not just our homes that need a good scrubbing, however. According to data from the Federal Reserve, U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service:
- The average household has over $7,000 in credit card debt.
- 25% of American families do not have any savings.
- The average consumer spends $181 per month on restaurant meals.
- Only 18% of Americans are “very confident” about their retirement savings.
These sobering statistics show how many of us need to spring clean our finances in the following ways:
Tidy Your Accounts
Start tidying up your accounts by streamlining online statements and bill payments, and shredding old checks and statements. If you have accounts at multiple institutions, consider consolidating especially if you have cash left over in an account you no longer use. For more help managing your finances, download the Mint app which links all your accounts in one place.
Polish Your Budget
Budgets need to be reevaluated every year to accommodate changes in goals and life circumstances. Establish a spending and savings strategy that meets you and your family’s future goals. Track your weekly purchases and monthly bills for a few months; this will give you a baseline so you can make suitable adjustments and find ways to cut back.
Dust Away Debt
Those with a revolving balance across multiple credit cards should pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first to save the most money over time. Be realistic with your debt pay-off schedule so you don’t get burned out. No matter what, always aim to pay double or triple the minimum due; otherwise, you’ll never make a dent in your debt due to interest accrual.
Scrub Up Spending
Learn to control impulse shopping by eliminating triggers such as browsing favorite online shops or heading to the mall after work to “window shop.” When it comes to the purchases you have to make, use tools to help you save like the Coupon Sherpa mobile app, where you can find coupons for retail, restaurant and service providers.
Trim Monthly Bills
Review your monthly cable, Internet, home phone and utility bills to find areas where you can cut back. By regularly unplugging small kitchen appliances and powering down electronics, for example, you can shave 5 percent on your electricity bill each month. Review this story for more ideas on how to reduce your monthly bills.
Refresh Your Taxes
Establish a filing system for all your tax receipts and documents early in 2014 so you can file on time and avoid any late fees next year. Separate health-care forms, travel records, 401k contributions and student loans, and scan important sales receipts as the ink often fades. Use the IRS withholding calculator to ensure you withhold the optimal amount from your paychecks.
You can boost your savings goal or earn extra dollars to help pay down debt by purging the clutter laying around your home. Unwanted gift cards received over the holidays can be sold for cash at GiftCardGranny.com. Baby, kids’ and women’s clothing can be sold via thredUp.com, and old gadgets can earn you big bucks at sites like Gazelle.com.
Call in the Pros
If you’re drowning in debt, can’t get a hold of your budget or simply have no idea where to invest or how to prepare for retirement, it’s time to get some professional help. A certified financial planner can help you go through your IRA, 401k and 529 College Savings Plans to understand where all your money is going and whether it’s working for you.