It's official: Spring has sprung! And if you're like many of us, you celebrate the season of renewal by treating your home to its own special renaissance.
But while you're ripping through long-forgotten gizmos in your junk drawer, or making your first brave foray into the attic since you un-decked the Christmas tree, you might be forgetting about a very important object to organize – your wallet.
Maybe you made some financially-savvy New Year's resolutions but have since fallen off the wagon. Or perhaps you've been coasting along barely even checking your bank account for years. Just like the accumulating clutter that can cramp our living space, financial focus can easily fall to the wayside despite our best intentions.
But unlike tackling the dark depths of your closet or scrubbing your bathroom grout with a toothbrush inch by painstaking inch, spring cleaning your budget doesn't have to be overwhelming. In fact, thanks to modern technology, it can be downright easy to get back on track in just a few dedicated hours.
With summer travels around the corner and winter holidays – yes, already – peeking their heads up on the horizon, spring is the perfect time to get your finances in shape, ready to take on the rest of the year worry-free and in control.
So put down the duster and take off those rubber gloves. It's time to get your funds in formation.
Check yourself before you...well, you know
First things first: You need to get the lay of your financial land before you set out to retool it. If you don't know where your money is – or more important – where it's going, you're powerless to put it to good use.
Although you can certainly start tracking with an old-fashioned pen and paper, using a budgeting app like Mint is a crazy-easy way to see exactly what your finances look like with minimal effort. Depending on how many financial accounts you have, it might take you an hour or so to link everything in, but once you do, Mint can show you all of your debts and balances, as well as listing every single transaction, so you can learn what you're really spending. Yes, that avalanche of information can be a little scary, but it's also a powerful tool in the fight to control your funds.
If you haven't already, also good to check your free annual credit report for any fraud or errors, as well as to take stock of your credit accounts in general. Which are you regularly using, and which could use a little love? (Banks will sometimes close accounts that sit untouched for long periods, which can affect your credit score).
Do any of your credit cards have a revolving balance? With sky-high credit card interest rates, you'll want to prioritize paying those down. Do any of your cards carry annual fees you might be able to avoid by switching to a different product? Are there any new cards with enticing sign-up bonuses and benefits that could help you earn cash back or travel more this year? (Mint will offer some suggestions based on your current spending habits.)
Rebuild your Budget
Maybe you took a hard look at your budget in January to set yourself up for a successful New Year, or maybe it's been a bit longer since you've strategized. Either way, budgets aren't static documents. It's important to rework them periodically as your financial circumstances and priorities change.
Got a snazzy promotion, picked up an exciting new hobby, or learned you have a baby on the way? Mazel tov! Any of these life changes can have a profound effect on your finances and will influence how you'll want to allocate your discretionary income.
Even if nothing much has changed, setting a budget is a great way to regain financial control and make room for all-important savings. And – stay with me, here – it can actually be a lot of fun. After all, setting a budget requires you to decide what matters most to you and how you'd like to prioritize your spending. Think of it as KonMari-ing your finances: Which spending categories bring you the most joy, and which can be minimized?
If you do decide to use Mint, you can check out its Budgets feature, which lets you apportion your monthly funds to as many customizable categories as you please. There are plenty of other easy-to-use budgeting apps out there, too – like You Need a Budget, Mvelopes, and Dollarbird.
Step Up Your Savings
Now that you've got a better sense of the money you have, where it is, and how you want to spend it, let's talk about the part of it you plan to keep. Saving is a critical part of any healthy financial plan, letting you breeze through unexpected expenses and plan for large future purchases.
If you don't already have an emergency fund, you absolutely need one. In fact, some financial experts suggest building one trumps paying down outstanding debts. Even a few hundred dollars is a start, but you'll want to aim for three to six months' worth of living expenses – a total you can conveniently ascertain from your newly-polished budget.
While saving a portion of each paycheck is the ideal scenario, automatic savings apps like Digit can help make the process as painless as possible, taking a few bucks here and there in small increments so you don't really notice it. For longer-term savings projects like buying a home, consider automatic investment apps like Acorns or Stash. After all, if you're not going to spend the cash for a while, why not let it be fruitful and multiply? Just make sure you always have access to your emergency fund, so you can get your hands on that cash if you really need it!
Get Real About Retirement
You may be working hard now, but one day you'll want to take a hard-earned rest. And although saving for retirement is obviously critical, a shocking half of Americans have absolutely nothing set aside for their golden years.
If you've got a self-funded account like an IRA, consider setting up an auto-draw to funnel in a feasible amount of cash on a regular basis. Just $100 a week will take you just shy of the $5,500 annual cap. But if you can't swing a whole Benjamin, any regular contribution can help.
You should also check in with any employer-sponsored accounts such as a 401(k), especially if your company matches contributions. Even though 3% might sound paltry, it's free money, and it really adds up once it has the chance to grow.
There, that wasn't so hard, was it? Now that your accounts are all spiffy and neat, I guess it’s time to get back to the elbow grease... unless you added "hire a maid" to your shiny new budget!
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All content and photo provided in this blog is supplied by Jamie Cattanach and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.