If you are the kind of person who tackles spring cleaning with a vengeance, you should also consider this a good time of year to get your financial house in order. In many ways, organizing your finances is far more important than organizing your space. A few hours focused on seemingly finnicky tasks like streamlining accounts, lowering interest rates and reducing fees could save you hundreds, or more, by the time next spring rolls around.
Here are five steps to follow for a useful clean-up this season:
Step 1: Gather Women in the U.S. spend an average of 55 minutes every day searching for stuff, including 8.2 minutes looking for a receipt, according to financial guru Jean Chatzky. Eliminate this potential time waster by having all of your documents in one central location. Collect warranties from the kitchen drawer, bills from the front hall table, and receipts from your wallet, and pile them in a central location in your house.
Step 2: Purge Next, decide what to keep and what to get rid of. When spring cleaning the closets, the general rule is to say good-bye to something you haven't worn in the last year. However, there are different rules for different documents, and it's important to know how long you should hang onto your financial documentation. For example, ATM receipts can be tossed after a month, whereas any documentation supporting tax claims should be kept for six years. To ensure you don't fall victim to the kind of fraudulent activity that thousands of Canadians report every month, shredding is the safest way to dispose of old financial documents.
Step 3: File Now it's time to create a storage space for everything you're holding on to. If you don't have one already, a portable filing system is ideal. Consider creating a file for credit card debt, household accounts (cell phone, cable, internet etc), insurance, retirement accounts, RESP accounts, savings and chequing accounts, tax returns, and your will. As you get sorting, you'll likely create others that are specific to you and your family.
Step 4: Update As you're filing, review each category for ways to save or be smarter with your accounts. When you get to organizing your credit card file, for example, check to see how your card stacks up against the others by comparing interest rates, annual fees and billing cycles. If you find a card with a significantly lower rate than your own, consider doing a balance transfer. Or, use this new information as leverage with your bank for a lower rate. While you're at it, scan your current statement to see if you're paying unnecessary fees, such as credit card insurance, and ask yourself: do I have a plan in place for debt repayment? Then, move onto the next financial folder and review.
Step 5: Simplify As you move through each area of your finances, think about how you can simplify all of your accounts. Consider opting to have all bills and statements delivered to you online. This can be done simply by logging onto your provider's site. The more you have online, the easier it is to keep records up-to-date and organized. Plus, you won't have to worry about missing a bill, because with online billing you'll receive email alerts when your bills are ready to be viewed and paid.
This process isn't just about shredding old documents and making neat piles, it's about ensuring you're getting the most out of every dollar and every account. It's also about making it easier to locate important information and review financial goals and progress. And now that tax season is here, a financial spring clean will cut down the amount of time it takes to tackle this year's return.