There’s something about spring that refreshes our souls and brings a renewed sense of productivity to our days. Even though we savor a warm climate all year here in Austin, it still feels natural to shake off lingering winter blues. Decluttering our closets and deep cleaning our homes are a couple errands that feel right this time of year. But why stop there? If your financial resolutions fell off track (it happens to the best of us), now is the perfect time to refresh those money habits. Here are five ways to spring clean your financial goals this month.

image via tobruck ave

Check in with your spending.

Remember when your parents handed you $20 to spend at the mall with your friends? Aside from sheer joy, you likely felt a proud obligation to spend it wisely. A limited amount of cash makes purchasing decisions more thoughtful. Nowadays, credit cards distance us from the emotional tug of cash leaving our pockets. That’s why it’s so important to reconnect and analyze our spending habits in an honest way.

Free budgeting apps like Personal Capital and Mint help you visualize your spending and suggest places to cut back. Maybe you didn’t realize you spend $100 a month on almond milk lattes. Perhaps you’re paying extra for cable because your promotion expired. Arming yourself with this knowledge enables you to turbocharge your savings.

Create an actionable plan for your debt.

It’s no secret that high-interest rate debt can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Whether you took out student loans or swiped your card on a big purchase, you can work through it! The first step to paying down debt is simply acknowledging it exists. To begin, grab a notebook and jot down every piece of debt you owe, plus the interest rate. Then, decide how to tackle it. Option one is to work your way from highest to lowest interest rate. This seems efficient in theory, but another approach may actually be more effective.

Option two is the “snowball” method, in which you start with smaller debts and work your way up to larger loans, regardless of interest rate. Small successes energize us to keep going, so we start with those. If trudging through a large loan will kill your momentum, then the snowball approach may be the right one.

image via henri bendel

Pull your credit reports.

All this credit stuff can get confusing, so let’s break it down. When you borrow and repay money, your activity is reported to the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each bureau aggregates this information onto your credit report. Then, your credit score is calculated from that data. You can download all three of your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. And I highly recommend you do so!

Sure, it’s important to monitor your credit history. But it’s not uncommon to find errors in your credit report, which are costly. These mistakes impact interest rates, insurance premiums, safety deposits, and your ability to take out a mortgage or lease an apartment. The credit bureaus make it easy to dispute mistakes through their sites, but it’s imperative to do so quickly!

Save for retirement.

If you’re a young professional, saving for retirement may be off your radar. Especially since you have more immediate financial obligations. Still, compound interest is a powerful tool that can literally turn time into money, so it’s important to start saving early. IRAs and 401(k)s are common employer-sponsored retirement plans and come with an array of tax benefits. But the best part is that most employers match your retirement contributions up to a certain amount. However, there’s a catch. If your employer matches 5% of your salary but you only contribute 3%, then your employer will cap their contribution at 3%. To avoid leaving money on the table, contribute at least what your employer will match.

image via wit & delight

Set up an emergency fund.

The only problem with saving for retirement is that you can’t access those funds until…well…retirement. So what happens if your car breaks down? Or your air conditioner malfunctions in the middle of summer? Since your retirement funds are off limits, you need savings you can access today. You need an emergency fund! I guide readers to keep three to six months of living expenses in a savings account, just in case. If you’re also paying down debt, you can allocate a portion of your excess cash to debt and the remainder to an emergency fund. Once you build a savings cushion, go ahead and prioritize that debt again. But first, you deserve a “treat yourself” moment to celebrate those clean money habits! A nice patio dinner, some bubbly rosé, and a spring bouquet are all fair game.

Check out more finance tips in our Money 101 series!

8 comments
  1. 1
    Ted | April 21, 2017 at 5:58 am

    I always try to have three months savings in my account ,and scrape through somehow !

    Reply
    • Erica Holland | ModMoney | April 21, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Having three months of savings is a great place to be! In case something goes wrong, it’s important to have some cushion to fall back on. Thanks for reading, Ted!

      Reply
  2. 2
    Eire Pollard | April 21, 2017 at 6:29 am

    These are all such helpful tips! Personally, I think I’m more in need of a money-tracker app — worryingly, I wouldn’t be surprised if my latte-bill shocked me and everyone I know into an early death. Thanks for the app suggestions for that!

    I’ve also found that, beyond just looking at what I’m spending my money on, it’s how I FEEL about spending it. So, for example, I realise I spend a lot of money on beauty products (it takes a lot of my stuff to make my face look ‘normal’) and eating at restaurants with friends, but I get much more enjoyment eating out with friends. If you’re going to spend, at least make sure it’s something that brings you joy and increases your life happiness.

    Reply
    • Erica Holland | ModMoney | April 21, 2017 at 9:54 am

      I’m glad these were helpful, Eire! I totally agree that spending money on things that make our lives happier is important. I like to use Personal Capital to point out areas where I’m spending money that wouldn’t necessarily affect my lifestyle or happiness and cut back on those. And I’m right there with you—I never feel guilty spending money on good food with good friends! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
    • dalilidesign | April 21, 2017 at 11:15 pm

      Hey Eire, I know this is a side note, but an important one. Don’t put yourself down like that, not in public and not in private. If you spend a lot of money on makeup because it makes you feel good and you think it’s fun, then do it. Don’t “blame” it on your face, no explanation needed. A man would never do that, he would never feel the need to explain himself or excuse it in any way. What I’m trying to say is be confident enough to not be the butt of your own jokes and not to feel the need to explain yourself.
      With love -Caroline

      Reply
  3. 3
    tapeparade | April 24, 2017 at 6:53 am

    This is so helpful! I’m normally good at saving but I am terrible with my credit score. Thanks for the tips 🙂

    Reply
  4. 4
    PeterBrown | June 30, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Sure these tips are helpful. Thanks for sharing them.

    Reply
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