Whether it's tossing out your old clothes or sweeping clean your dust-laden garage, springtime marks a season of renewal and an opportunity to kick all your personal matters into order. Few of us may think of financial planning in the traditional sense of spring cleaning, but according to the experts, there's no better time than the warming months to launch some domestic to-dos into action. Here's some top picks for how to streamline your budget this spring. (For additional reading, also check out 5 Spring Clean-Up Tips For Your Finances.)
1. Review Your Budget
As you gear up to pay your taxes, you'll have an accurate picture of your income for the past year and that can help you plan better for the upcoming fiscal year. Take this opportunity to look over your current budget, update changes in income and/or expenses, and plan for contributions to savings accounts. Check out sites like Mint, BudgetTracker and PearBudget that offer free online software to plan your budget.
2. Decide What Expenses Can Be Trimmed
Cathi Brese Doebler, author of "Ditch the Joneses, Discover Your Family," suggests evaluating your "wants" from your "necessities." To start this process, she recommends brainstorming a list of all the items you spend money on in a year and checking off all the expenditures that are truly needed. What is leftover is your "wants."
3. Shred or Organize Your Financial Documents
It can vary, but generally, it's advisable to keep all tax returns, canceled checks and returns, and other receipts verifying tax deductions for six years, as that's the window for Internal Revenue Service audits. All paperwork - for documents outside that timeframe - can be dumped, and those in the questionable category should be scanned into copies and stowed away in secure spot. (For related reading, see Audit Stories You Won't Believe.)
4. Review Your Insurance Coverage
As you are sorting through your belongings and deciding what to throw out, it's also an opportune time to assess your insurance coverage. Homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, health care insurance and auto insurance are some of the most-commonly held policies. If you've acquired expensive, high-worth items, such as jewelry, a boat or artwork, over the course of the year, you may also want to consider individually-insuring each item on your existing homeowner's policy or increasing your overall liability coverage. Gary Raphael, a senior vice president with ACE Private Risk Services, suggests adding up how much it would cost to replace all of your valuables and compare this figure with the amount of coverage in your homeowner's policy to determine whether you are over- or under-insured.
5. Organize and Update Your Financial Passwords and Documents
Many of us commonly use the same username and password for all of our online accounts. A spring cleaning of your finances should also include organizing all your passwords, varying passwords, and compiling them in a single, secure spot, such as a password protected computer or a locked box.
The Great Recession and Financial Planning
Americans - who are known better for their spending habits than an ethos for saving - have one of lowest savings rates in the world, but Americans are now saving more as a result of the economic havoc of the late-2000s. In 2010, the personal savings rate hovers between 5 to 6% compared to around 2 to 3% of disposable income Americans saved on average back in 2006. (For related reading, also check out Budgeting When You're Broke.)
The Bottom Line
Remember, when the urge to start your spring cleaning strikes, make sure to clean-up your finances too. Undoubtedly, getting your budget and financial documents into tip-top shape is going to help you cut out unnecessary expenses, cover unexpected losses and save more.