Spring is finally here! After such an intense winter, the only thing on your mind at this time is this year’s vacations and summer plans. Nothing wrong with that.
But before that, why not take some time to assess your financial situation so that you can enjoy the warm weather without money concerns on your mind? April presents the perfect opportunity to take steps toward better finances. You are already in spring cleaning mode. If you haven’t, you will soon (hopefully) be done filing your income tax. And in case you didn’t know, April happens to be National Financial Literacy Month, and for good reason.
Now, I know your interest in financial literacy should extend well beyond April. But if you feel like your personal finances can use a tune-up, there is no better day to begin than today.
So, let’s get to it. Follow these five simple steps to help you get started cleaning up your finances.
1. Empower yourself with knowledge.
In order to create an effective plan toward financial wellness, it helps to first understand your current financial situation. A simple quiz or calculator can help you do this. Make the most of Financial Literacy Month by utilizing the resources available to you.
Many organizations participating in this initiative are offering helpful tools and interactive ways to empower you with financial knowledge. For instance, Money Management International (MMI) offers a 30-step plan to help you achieve financial wellness. They also offer some great tools like free webinars, useful calculators, and free eBooks that will help guide you in the process.
Ally Financial is also in the game by challenging consumers to get wise about financial literacy by offering tips and videos on Twitter and YouTube throughout the month of April.
2. Spring clean your finances.
Now that you are in the know, it’s time to start organizing your finances. Start by reviewing your credit card and bank account statements and find how much you are paying in interest and maintenance fees (if any). Compare your rates to national averages by using websites like Bankrate.com or Creditcards.com. If you find that you are overpaying, call your financial institution to negotiate your rate or research other options with lower rates to find one that fits your needs.
While reviewing your statements, also look for unnecessary monthly subscriptions or expenses. You may find inactive accounts racking up fees that you can just eliminate with a quick phone call.
3. Review your credit reports.
Did you know you are entitled to a free credit report per year from each one of the three major service bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian)?
In order to access your reports all year round, it’s a good idea to just order one every four months. And since April marks the fourth month of the year, you can request your first report now that you are doing your financial spring cleaning (talk about perfect timing).
Make sure you scan your report for irregular activity, and take any steps necessary to remove any errors or fix any discrepancies. Also, don’t forget to remind yourself every four months going forward to request another report.
4. Live on a budget.
I know it’s easier said than done, but spending less than you earn is a must. Everyone’s financial situation is different. And while the first two steps listed here are important, they may not apply to everyone. On the other hand, earning more money than you spend is a critical element of any successful financial plan. Start by keeping an eye on every dollar your spend. This will help you realize where you are overspending and where you need to cut back.
If you are sitting there right now thinking — I wish I could keep a budget, but I just don’t have the time — well, I have news for you. In today’s technological world, this excuse is no longer valid. Free tools such as Manilla and mint.com help you get a full picture of all your monthly bills and expenses and even categorize your transactions to help you create a budget.
5. Save as much as you can.
This is another challenging step when it comes to your finances. It’s recommended that you have an emergency fund of six months of income aside from your regular savings. But realistically speaking, this does not work for the majority of us who are still in debt from just getting a college education or struggling since the recession.
When it comes to savings and finances, there is no one-size-fits-all kind of plan. So in order to be able to start saving, you need to stop thinking about the norm, and use these money saving tips to build a savings plan tailored to your lifestyle.
Remember, it’s OK to dream big, but start with a small savings goal. After setting up your budget, choose a comfortable amount to set aside monthly and gradually increase it over time.
Daphne Veras is the community director at Refundo.com, a national provider of affordable financial products and services tailored to meet the unique needs of the financially underserved. After expanding her career in retail banking for 6+ years, she decided to join the Refundo team and combine her banking and marketing capabilities. At Refundo, Daphne and the team hope to help solve real-world problems with technology. They recently introduced a revolutionary mobile banking solution that combines “local community bank service” with “awesome” technology.
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