Getting a handle on your personal finances might seem intimidating. Fortunately, some simple strategies can help give you a clearer idea of where you stand and where you’d like to be, no fancy math required!
Identify Your Goals
Before you get started, take a few minutes to consider what you want to accomplish with your money. Maybe you’d like to pay down debt, save for a car, or simply make paying bills less stressful. No matter what your goals are, write them down and spend some time brainstorming specific steps you can take to accomplish each one.
Now think about all the different places you keep your money. Pull up your banking websites (or lay out your latest paper statements) and consider whether you have the right number of accounts and cards for your current life circumstances. Do you really need two separate checking accounts or three different credit cards? Conversely, would having a dedicated savings account inspire you to reach one or more of your goals more quickly? If you’re still using paper statements, think seriously about whether you can go paperless for at least some of your accounts. Finally, look carefully through your credit card and checking account records (go back at least two or three months) to spot any subscriptions or other recurring charges you may need to cancel.
Make a Schedule
Next, think about the recurring charges you don’t want to cancel (such as utility bills). Would paying bills be simpler if you set up automatic payments? If you prefer to make each payment yourself, can you call the various companies and change due dates so that you can knock out all the bill-paying in a single afternoon, or spread the bills throughout the month if that’s a better fit for your pay schedule? Also commit to looking through your transactions line by line at least once a month so you can spot anything suspicious, print any documents or record any data you’ll need at tax time, and keep an eye on your spending patterns.
Search for Overlooked Money
Now for the fun part. Do you have any savings bonds that are past maturity? Maybe it’s time to cash them in. How about gift cards you never got around to using? Go ahead and spend them, or look into trading or selling them online. State governments maintain databases of unclaimed property; entering your current and past addresses may result in a pleasant surprise. Even that jar you’ve been mindlessly dumping your pocket change into may contain a much higher total than you’d think.
Investing a little time and effort will yield great results when it comes to your finances.