Q: Spring is here, and I’d love to review my finances to improve them however possible. What should be on my financial to-do list this spring?
A: It’s wonderful that you’re using the season to take a deep look at your finances. Let’s review some ways to improve your finances and general money management this time of year.
De-clutter your finances
As you sift through the “stuff” piled up around your home and throw out useless clutter until each closet would make Marie Kondo proud, it’s a good idea to do the same for your finances.
Review your monthly budget and cut out extra expenses that may be cluttering it up. Think about things like subscriptions you don’t use anymore or upgraded apps and services you don’t really need. Next, simplify your monthly bill-paying by moving all due dates to the same day and setting up an automatic payment so you’re never late.
Clean up your money management by using a personal finance app like YNAB or Mint to budget and keep track of your spending with minimal effort. Finally, simplify your savings by setting up an automatic monthly transfer between your Checking Account and Savings Account.
Review your W-4
Post-tax season is the perfect time to look over your W-4 to determine if you’re withholding too much money — or too little. Remember: A generous tax refund might seem like good news, but what it really means is that you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan throughout the year. You don’t want to withhold too little money and end up with a big tax bill to pay at the end of the year, either. To find that perfect sweet spot, work out the numbers using the IRS’ withholding calculator; use tax software like Turbo Tax; or ask a professional accountant to help. Don’t forget to submit a new W-4 to your workplace with your new withholding amount in place.
Protect your personal information
Now that you’ve paid your taxes, it’s a good time to get rid of any documents that can compromise your safety. In today’s digital world, there are very few hard-copy documents you’ll need to hold onto. You can safely shred account statements, credit card bills, utility bills, insurance bills and more. Make sure to keep a copy of anything that requires your signature, such as the deed of your home and your car title, and hold onto unpaid loan statements and your tax returns. Keep these papers, as well as your most important sensitive documents, like your Social Security card, birth certificate and marriage certificate, in a fireproof box or in a locked file cabinet.
It’s also a good idea to clean up your computer and phone, deleting any downloaded documents that can compromise your privacy and deactivating your accounts on websites you no longer frequent. You may want to let your devices “forget” your password and payment history on retail sites as well. The less of your life you have online, the lower the risk of your personal information being compromised if any of these sites is hacked.
Throw away a debt
Did you resolve to work aggressively toward paying down your debts this year? Dust off that New Year’s resolution and take a hard look at your progress this spring. Is the debt going anywhere, or are you still trapped in the cycle of making just minimum payments that mostly go toward interest?
Get serious about getting out of debt by making a list of all debt in order from smallest to largest. Work out a plan for maximizing your payments on this debt, acquiring the necessary funds by pruning an expense category on your monthly budget or taking on some freelance work for extra cash. Once you’ve paid off the smallest debt, work on the next-smallest debt until you’re completely debt-free. As you progress through your list, be sure not to neglect the minimum payments on any of your debts.
Shop for springtime deals
There might be a shortage of major shopping days in spring, but you can still snag a fantastic deal on select items that hit their lowest prices this season. Consumer Reports recommends shopping for vacuum cleaners, digital cameras, air purifiers, space heaters and roofing in early spring. You can also find marked-down premium chocolate, luggage, gift cards and frozen foods this time of year.
Start saving for summer
If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to start putting money away for your summer getaway. Every little bit adds up, and the earlier you start saving, the more money you’ll have to spend on that dream vacation.
It’s springtime! As you celebrate the season of renewal, spruce up your finances to help stay on track for the rest of the year.