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.
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.
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.
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.