How to Give Your Finances a Summer Makeover

US News

Summer might be vacation season, but a break from the frenzy also offers a good opportunity to get your finances organized. Consider these 10 steps to shore up your money during the year's hottest days:

1. Put papers in their proper place. Setting up a file system that makes it easy to track different expenses will make filing taxes a breeze next year. Regina Leeds, the "zen organizer" and author of "One Year to an Organized Life," suggests setting up a file system to easily store receipts that pile up throughout the year. For example, you might want to have separate files for expenses related to your car, business, health care and child care. (She adds that the super ambitious can set up an online system to eliminate the need for so much paper.) You also want a file for household expenses, related to maintenance or repair work, as well as income-related paperwork such as 1099s, Leeds says.

2. If you don't need it, toss it (or archive it). You'll probably need to hang on to important documents (some states require taxpayers to keep up to 10 years of filings on hand), but much of your old paperwork belongs in the trash or the shredder if it has valuable information on it like bank account numbers. Store your most important documents, like certificates, in an archival box or locked metal file cabinet that's separate from your day-to-day files, Leeds advises. "Every year, take a look at your archived files. You might be able to eliminate a few projects each year," she adds.

3. Go electronic, go green. "Just about everything these days is online, so all the old rules about what you need to keep are changing," says Russell Wild, a fee-only financial planner in Allentown, Pa. Credit card statements, bills, paycheck records, investment account statements and even tax paperwork can often be shifted online. "Just make sure you have access," Wild says, meaning a system for keeping track of all your passwords.

[Read: How to Create Your Own Money Roadmap.]

If you're still hooked on old-fashioned paper statements, try this: As soon as your first-quarter account statements arrive, shred the monthly statements for January and February, says Rita Cheng, a financial adviser with Ameriprise.

4. Check your credit. Your credit report deserves a little TLC, too. Get your free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com to check for any errors, and fix any mistakes that could be dragging down your score, Cheng says.

5. Pay it down. If you're still carrying debt on credit cards, check their interest rates and balances, and make a plan to pay them off, Cheng suggests.

6. Prepare for emergencies. Summertime can bring extreme weather. Already this year, we've seen flooding, forest fires and storms that knocked out power lines for days. While you might not be able to avoid such disasters altogether, you can prepare for them and minimize the impact on your own bottom line. Since one of the priciest costs of a weather emergency is the cost of alternate housing if you are forced to leave your home, create a list of affordable and nearby hotels that you could count on if necessary. It's almost impossible to search for good deals if you lack wireless access or electricity. Keeping batteries, flashlights, granola bars and other essentials on hand can also help.

[Read: New Personal Finance Tools You Should Use.]

7. Make sure your insurance is up to date. The worst time to discover that your rental or homeowners insurance has lapsed is after you need it, so make sure you've paid all the necessary premiums with your provider. And make sure you know just what it covers and what it doesn't. According to the Consumer Federation of America, consumers are often forced to pay for more of the costs than they realized, including deductibles and coverage gaps for weather-related damage like flooding.

If you're not happy with your coverage, now is a good time to shop around. Experts generally recommend getting at least three quotes from different providers, so you can compare rates and coverage. Don't hesitate to ask your agent questions if wording is unclear, as it often is.

8. Keep other essential documents handy, too. If you ever had to leave your home quickly because of a flood, power outage or other emergency, you'll want to know just what to grab. That essential stack of documents includes identification, insurance information and any family documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, that you would want to protect.

[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]

9. Check up on your home's water and energy consumption. Energy bills can go sky-high during the summer months as air conditioners work overtime to cool down homes. Make sure your home is properly insulated so you can use less heat and air conditioning. Closing doors to unused rooms, like a guest room, helps, too. Also, be sure to unplug appliances, turn off lights and shut down computers at night. Even televisions can use power when they're turned off, so either unplug them or use power strips that automatically shut the power off when they're not turned on.

10. Clean out your car. This more traditional spring-cleaning move will actually help with your bottom line, too. Cleaning out the junk in your trunk, especially big, bulky purchases of water or other supplies, weighs down your car and forces it to use more gas, Leeds says. Instead, use your garage for storage, and keep your car as light as possible. Also, take advantage of the nicer weather to check your tire pressure and get a tune-up, which can also boost your gas mileage.

The good news? All of these steps can be completed with an iced beverage in hand.



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