How To: Spring Clean Your Finances

How To: Spring Clean Your Finances

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Quick question: Does your health-minded lifestyle extend to your wallet? It should: High levels of financial stress can result in physical symptoms including digestive issues, migraines, depression, anxiety, and more. We know that thoughts of budgeting and cutting costs can add even more pressure, but there are a few simple and smart steps that can improve your financial wellbeing. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, this might just be the perfect time to look at your finances honestly and with confidence. Here are seven things you can do now to spring clean your finances without feeling overwhelmed or deprived.

###Step 1: Make a List of What You Spend

If calculating a budget feels overwhelming (we get it), consider getting a realistic, judgment-free read on what you spend as a first step. All it requires is that you make a list of what you spend, as you spend it. If keeping tabs by hand feels like another to-do, there are several apps like Mint or YNAB that link your bank accounts so there’s less chasing involved. Looking at your daily, weekly, and monthly spending can offer valuable insights into your financial mindset: from your next mortgage payment to your daily latte. When you’re done, look through and aim to cut out easy expenses you wouldn’t mind eliminating—or didn’t even realize were adding up.

###Step 2: Manage Your App and Streaming Subscriptions
Raise your hand if you’ve ever subscribed to try an app for free…and then forgotten to cancel before the monthly fee kicked in. (Our hands are high in the air over here.) Those monthly fees you’ve forgotten about can add up to hundreds of dollars or more annually, so take a look to make sure you’re only subscribing to what you really want. Finding where your subscriptions are can be tricky: Apple users can find directions here, while Android users can learn how to do it here. There are also apps like Truebill that keep track of subscriptions that fly under the radar. While you’re at it, evaluate your television habits. Do you use all of the streaming services you’ve signed up for? Figure out where you spend most of your binge-watching time, and then cancel the rest. Or, cancel them until the next season of your favorite show starts again.

###Step 3: Maximize Your Benefits*

Take stock of how your employee benefits impact your bottom line. Does your health insurance reimburse for gym memberships? Are you using your FSA or HSA to cover your weekly acupuncture appointments, your contact lenses, or for the inserts in your favorite pair of running shoes? If you’ve been working from home like so many of us, are you listing the improvements to your home office on your taxes, and deducting for essential office supplies like printer ink? How about those charitable donations you made to the local animal rescue? Consider the ways hidden money may be available to you and claim it. Think: company-sponsored wellness initiatives at work, your health insurance, flex-spending accounts, and annual taxes.

###Step 4: Join Loyalty Programs

If you just can’t live without that daily latte (understandable), consider downloading the loyalty apps for your favorite coffee shops, lunch spots, and even clothing stores. Many of these programs offer points with each purchase toward a free product or discount on future visits, so you can still get what you want while finding a strategy to save, too.

###Step 5: Call Your Credit Card Companies

There’s a little-known secret in the credit industry: If you call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate, you just might get it. While the representative can’t offer you the discount, they may be able to apply it if you ask directly. If there’s no reduction at that time, ask if there are any other promotions that you can take advantage of to reduce your expenses. It’s a bit like a game of cat-and-mouse, but you’ll find that most companies have some sort of benefit they can offer. And keep calling—because there’s new opportunities to save all the time.

###Step 6: Get a Budget and Tracking App

If the idea of budgeting gives you visions of calculators and chewed-up pencils, it’s time to embrace the ease of finance-friendly tech. Apps like Mint from Intuit (mentioned earlier) can not only help you track your spending, but also understand and improve your credit score, provide personalized insights, create custom budgets, and monitor subscriptions. (Plus, Mint is rated 5-stars by more than 732,000 users.) Chances are, you’re using apps that monitor your physical health every day. So why not try one that monitors your financial health in an easy and streamlined way?

###Step 7: Look Around Your Home

Your next savings cut could be right in front of you, right now. Expenses in your home are actually easier to reduce than you may imagine. Some ideas to spark savings:

- First, consider replacing your antiquated incandescent light bulbs with environmentally friendly, long-lasting LED bulbs.

- Reduce water use and lower your monthly bill with a water-reducing showerhead  (and don’t worry about bad hair or low water pressure—the technology has come a long way).

- Inside your closet, take inventory of clothing in good condition, including formal wear, and consider selling it on user-friendly sites like Poshmark or ThreadUp.

- Forget the TaskRabbit and use YouTube for tutorials on DIY home fixes instead.

- If you find you’re throwing out fresh produce, consider buying frozen, which can  preserve nutrients longer.

- Breathe new life into your leftovers to cut down on the cost of takeout.

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