Spring Cleaning? Take These 10 Simple Steps to Dust off Your Finances
Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time for spring cleaning! Open your windows, breathe the fresh air and go to town.
Ready? Dust your bookshelves, vacuum your carpets, clean your closets, wipe your countertops, wash your windows and throw out your old magazines. C’mon, it’ll feel great. Steel yourself and wipe the inside of that filthy microwave.
If you’re really committed, maybe you’ll scrub the mildew out of your shower and dust the blades of your ceiling fans. But hey, let’s not get carried away.
You know what else needs straightening up? Your finances.
Painless Ways to Spring Clean Your Finances
Because you’re already in spring-cleaning mode, what better time to tidy up your bank account? Spring has sprung, so here are 10 quick and (mostly) easy ways to spruce up your bottom line.
1. Check Your Credit
Did you know you could have an error hiding in your credit report? It happens all the time, and it could hurt your credit score.
Take a few minutes to check your score on a free website like Credit Sesame. It’ll show you a credit report card and offer personalized recommendations to improve your score.
And with all these big security breaches in the news these days (Hi, Equifax!), you could be vulnerable to identity theft. Credit Sesame will monitor your credit and send you an alert if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.
2. Use It or Lose It
Many rewards, such as credit card points and frequent flyer miles, have expiration dates. Go through your various customer loyalty programs and tally up your rewards. Make sure to use them before they vanish in a puff of smoke. Poof!
Don’t have a rewards credit card? Get one.
Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.
There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)
Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.
3. Invest for the Future
If you’re not investing yet, you’re missing out on a smart way to make money. It used to feel restricted to a few wealthy elites, but not anymore! You, too, can join the investor class. These apps offer easy ways to get started:
- Acorns: Here’s a super easy way to save and invest your money. This smartphone app connects to your bank account, credit and/or debit cards to save your digital change. It can automatically round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and invest the difference into ETFs.
- Fundrise: Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that buy private real estate all over the U.S. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500.
- Stash: Another micro-investing app. This app lets you start investing with as little as $5. It lets you choose where to put your money — but it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it. Plus, you’ll get a bonus $5 to get started!
4. Start an Emergency Fund
Stop looking through your couch cushions for change when you’re short on money. Instead, start an emergency fund with Digit.
This innovative app saves your money without you lifting a finger. Just link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.
It’s free to use for the first 100 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward. Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.
5. Review Your Retirement Savings
Take a look at your 401(k) account. Do you have the right mix of stocks and bonds for your age?
Adjust your assets if they’ve gotten out of whack. And if you aren’t maxing out your 401(k) plan, now could be a good time to bump up your contributions by at least 1%.
Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.
It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.
After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and it can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.
If you don’t have access to a 401(k) plan, open an IRA and set up an automatic transfer every payday — or stick your tax refund in there.
6. Throw Old Paperwork Away
I mean, we’re still spring cleaning, here. Besides getting rid of old magazines, newspapers and junk, this is a good time to toss out paperwork you don’t need anymore.
We’re talking about old receipts, bank statements, used checks and utility bills. And don’t forget instruction manuals for appliances and gizmos you no longer own.
What to keep? Tax forms. The IRS recommends that you keep tax records for at least three years. Me, I never throw that stuff away.
7. Stop Paying Too Much for Insurance
Shop around to see if you’re getting the best rates on home and auto coverage — especially if you haven’t done it in a while. You might be surprised by what you find. Here are some good places to start:
- The Zebra: This online car insurance search engine compares your options from 200 providers in less than 60 seconds. When you’re ready to consider your options and select a quote, you can also get a phone call from The Zebra for additional support.
- PolicyGenius: This online platform is an easy way to compare and buy life insurance policies. Instant quotes from top insurers can help you make a quick decision.
- Lemonade: Through this online insurance company, homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month and renters policies start at $5 a month. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t pay out claims, the company keeps 20% of your premium while 80% goes into a pool for paying claims and for charity. It’s available in California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
8. Arm Yourself to Make Smarter Financial Decisions
Adulting is hard. Making good financial decisions is hard. It doesn’t come naturally to many of us.
Get some high-tech help.
Trim is a bot that basically serves as your free financial advisor. It does everything from monitoring your spending habits to negotiating your internet and cable bills down. It allows you to set custom reminders to let you know when it’s payday or when a payment is due.
MoneyLion is an all-in-one app for managing your personal finances. It connects with all of your bank, credit card, student loan and other financial accounts. Based on your income and spending patterns, it offers personalized advice to help you save money, reduce your debt and improve your credit.
9. Refinance Those Accursed Student Loans
Why not tidy up your student loan situation while you’re at it?
Studies show that 8 million Americans could get a lower interest rate on their student loans by refinancing, and most might not even know it.
Through consolidation, you’d replace all of your loans with a single new loan from a private lender and have just one monthly payment.
Check out Even Financial, which searches top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer. It can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.
10. Make an Insurance Inventory
If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you should make an inventory of your most valuable possessions. Since you’re already cleaning out the house, it’s a good time to do this.
Sound complicated? Keep it simple. Use your phone to snap photos of everything that you’d make an insurance claim for if it got damaged or stolen.
Or just walk through your home and shoot video. (“Look at mah stuff!”) Point out your possessions and talk up their value. You might feel stupid — I did — but if the worst ever happens, you’ll be so glad you did this.
Spring Has Sprung
Well, that’s it for spring cleaning for today. We’ll leave you with a quote from Martha Stewart: “There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean.” Doesn’t that just sound like Martha Stewart?
Let us know when you’re finished dusting the blades of those ceiling fans.
*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He hates cleaning, but he loves it when it’s finished.
This article contains general information and explains options you may have, but it is not intended to be investment advice or a personal recommendation. We can't personalize articles for our readers, so your situation may vary from the one discussed here. Please seek a licensed professional for tax advice, legal advice, financial planning advice or investment advice.