Spring Cleaning for Your Finances

8 Things to Do This April

We are three weeks into the spring season. By this time of the year most of us are screaming for Mother Nature to bring us warmer temperatures and turn the leafless, dead landscape into the vibrant green growth we only vaguely remember at this point. It’s also typically a time when homeowners beat the dust out of the drapes and rugs, wipe down the baseboards, clean out our closets, wipe down cabinets inside and out and perform what has come to be known as an annual “Spring Cleaning.”

This April I want you to remember to spring clean your finances in addition to your home. Why? Because once a year we need to do a check that all is well in our financial house. Over the course of the year things have changed and what worked for you last year, may not be working as well for you today.

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Take a look at these eight financial spring cleaning tips for your family.

Find a Better Credit Card

If you have a credit card that isn’t giving you a super low interest rate, a reward for using the card or cash back when you make purchases then you need to find a better credit card. Credit card companies are scrambling for better customers these days. You can reap the benefits. Check out creditcards.com, bankrate.com or bettercreditcard.com to find a credit card that will offer you more than your current one. Make these companies work for your business!

Plan Your Purchases for the Rest of the Year.

I know I’ve been harping on the fact that there is a best time of year to buy everything lately, but only because planning your purchases can save you some serious cash! Spring is the best time for finding deals on winter coats and boots since stores are attempting to clear shelf space for warm-weather clothing and sandals. April in particular is a great time to buy sneakers, televisions and small appliances. Many charity walks and races occur this month. Retailers have caught onto this phenomenon and try to entice non-serious runners to trade in their old kicks for some new ones by running sales on tennis shoes. April is also a god time to buy a new television or small appliance because Japanese manufacturers end their fiscal year on March 31. In April they begin to roll out their new models and retailers mark down last year’s models to make room for the new inventory. If you’re willing to buy the 2011 version of a TV or microwave you can get a great deal this month.

Check Your Credit

Once a year you can get a copy of your credit report for free. You want to check it to make sure you haven’t been a victim of identity theft, fix any mistakes and check for any errors that could be dragging down your score. Even if you don’t plan on making a big purchase anytime soon you should get a copy of your report. If there are any errors or mistakes it could take you weeks or months to fix it, don’t wait until you want to make a purchase to find out you can’t get financing. It only takes about ten minutes to get a copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com.

Get an Energy Audit

A home energy assessment can usually be done for free by your utility provider. This audit can help you assess how much energy your home is consuming. The spring is a good time to perform this audit because the days when you’ll need to run the A/C constantly are just around the corner. These audits can help you save on your cooling bills by pointing out areas where your house is losing energy. Technicians also generally assess your home’s heating and cooling systems so you don’t get stuck in a particularly hot day without a working A/C unit. Knowing areas where your home is losing energy can help you plan to make repairs or add insulation to lower your monthly bills.

Re-Assess How Much You’re Paying in Taxes

Now is the perfect time to change how much you’re withholding from your paycheck, since taxes are still fresh in your mind. If you are getting a big refund check from Uncle Sam, then you might want to think about calling up Human Resources and asking them to change the amount they withhold from your paycheck. The same goes for if you owe money to the IRS. You should ask HR to withhold more throughout the year. This will help keep you from having to unexpectedly write a check you weren’t planning on every April.

Make Your Money Earn Money

Long time readers know I harp about the importance of emergency funds. I am a firm believer in having enough money to cover six to twelve months’ worth of expenses, instead of the standard three. This results in stocking away thousands of dollars into a savings account. Right now interest rates are so low though, you’d be lucky to be earning one percent on your money. That’s pitiful. Instead earn more money from your money by putting part of your money into CD’s. The smartest way I’ve ever seen this done is to “ladder” your money into CD’s that come to maturity one month after the next. That way you always have some cash available for emergencies and you’ll have more coming to maturity only 30 days later. CD’s are great because you can still withdraw your money even if it’s invested in a CD; it just takes a few days. Granted you’ll lose the interest you’ve acquired thus far, but the investment is very safe and it puts your money to work for you!

Make a Plan for Your Debt

Debt isn’t going to magically go away, especially if you are only making minimum payments. You simply have to pay more than that. Grab your credit card statements and make a list of what interest rate each card is charging you. No matter what the balance is of each card, pay off the card that charges you the highest interest rate first. That is the most important debt to pay off first because it’s costing you the most money. Put most of your available cash towards this card while making at least the minimum payments on the rest of your cards. Putting your tax refund towards your debt will put you that much closer to being free and clear financially.

Create a Will

This is something we always say we’ll do but never get around to doing. That’s why RIGHT NOW is the best time to do it! If you die without a will, your assets may not be divvied up like you want. It will pass to your spouse or your estate will have to go through probate which is expensive and will reduce the amount of money your heirs will receive. The great thing is that creating a will isn’t as expensive as it once used to be. You don’t have to hire a lawyer for simple wills. Check out D-I-Y software programs by Quicken or download one from an online service like legalzoom.com for less than $100. If your estate is worth more than $1 million or you have extensive instructions, using a lawyer is best. Expect to pay $500 or more for a lawyer in this instance.

Review Your Stock Portfolio

When was the last time you looked at your 401(k) or IRA? If it’s been more than a few months it’s time to pull out your statements and review your investments. Take a look at the investments you have versus your spouse, make sure you don’t have the same investments. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Also take a look at your portfolio mix. Make sure your investments are in line with your long term financial goals. Any investments that have lost more than 20 percent of their value since you bought them need to be sold. No matter what! Don’t hold onto a stinker for emotional reasons instead of logical ones. Check out my previous article on appropriate portfolio mixes by age.

Approach the spring cleaning of your finances in the same way you approach the spring cleaning of your house. Gather all your supplies, statements, calculator, pen and paper, before you get to work. Make sure you do this on a day when customer service representatives and financial services will be available to take your call should you require them. Use one of those vacation days that they say we Americans never take!

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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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