10 Easy Steps to Simplify Your Finances and Improve Your Life


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How to declutter your financial life, your home and your social life and breathe easier.

We live in a world where modern lifestyles pull us in all directions. It’s no wonder we are overwhelmed and stressed out by our busy lives and cluttered homes.

UCLA researchers even wrote a book on the subject, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors,” and found many families had garages too full to accommodate cars, backyards that are never used, and mothers with elevated stress hormones.

If you’re ready to step off the hamster wheel, here are some basic strategies to simplify your life.

1. Consolidate accounts

Photo (cc) by KarenPhoto (cc) by Karen

It’s hard to say no to the $100 bonus for opening a checking account when the new bank comes to town. Or maybe you can’t refuse the great sign-up offer available from the latest rewards credit card.

Before you know it, you could have a half-dozen accounts at various institutions. Your IRA is in one place, the checking account is in another. You also have a mortgage, emergency savings and insurance products to juggle.

Rather than having accounts scattered to the wind, try to consolidate them in a couple of places. Pick one bank for money and credit, and one company for all insurance needs. In the end, you not only have fewer accounts to manage, but also may get better rates or terms for bringing more of your business to a particular institution.

2. Purge the paperwork

Photo (cc) by Camila Ruedo Lopez

Photo (cc) by Camila Ruedo Lopez

Consolidating accounts is only the first step. Next, purge the paperwork.

Sign up for paperless statements, which most financial institutions offer. With the exception of a few vital documents such as birth certificates and titles, scan and shred almost everything else in your filing cabinet.

For great ideas on how to digitize most everything, read “Five Tips for Paperless Finances.”

One caveat: For some people is may still be better to receive old-fashioned paper credit card statements. For some of us, getting the paper statement is an easier way to review the charges, a better reminder to pay the bill and a simpler way to keep an eye on fees. If that describes you, create a folder for each card, keep credit card statements for up to a year, then shred them.

3. Pay cash whenever possible

Photo (cc) by Nic McPheePhoto (cc) by Nic McPhee

Don’t underestimate the power of cash to simplify your finances.

Paying with cash can prevent you from overspending, and it eliminates much of the stress of daily money management. Never again will you have to worry about whether your card will be declined because the fuzzy math in your head isn’t quite right.

4. Automate your life

Photo (cc) by Jiugang Wang Photo (cc) by Jiugang Wang

Free yourself from the anxiety of paying the mortgage on time by automating your finances.

If you’re not being paid via direct deposit, sign up. Some employers will let you split your paycheck among two or more accounts. If that’s possible, send at least 10 percent of earnings to your savings account.

Use a bill-pay service. Depending on your bank and billers, you may be able to request bills be electronically delivered, and the amount due paid automatically. Otherwise, you can set up recurring monthly payments.

For expense tracking, skip the spreadsheets and use an app or tracking software, such as our partner PowerWallet.

5. Stop buying more stuff

Photo (cc) by Christopher DombresPhoto (cc) by Christopher Dombres

Minimalism is one of the core principles of simple living.

The less stuff you have, the less time you’ll spend maintaining, rearranging and obsessing over what you’ve got. Plus, when you stop spending, you have more money for saving, or for splurging on important things.

6. Declutter what you have

Photo (cc) by Devin SteinPhoto (cc) by Devin Stein

As the UCLA researchers discovered, clutter can stress us. So focus on getting rid of the excess stuff you already own.

Before investing in yet another organizational system or storage unit, consider boxing items and shipping them to the thrift store or the landfill. Or, sell what you don’t need. After all, simplifying can be good for your wallet as well as your state of mind.

Just today, my husband unloaded a fancy computer bag — rustic, yet guy-chic and possibly indestructible — through Craigslist. We now have one less exceptional (and unused) item, and $250 cash.

7. Cut loose toxic and high-needs people

Photo (cc) by Dan4th NicholasPhoto (cc) by Dan4th Nicholas

When simplifying, don’t forget to look at the people around you.

Toxic personalities make lives difficult. They steal our good days and put demands on time and attention that could probably be put to better use elsewhere.

Consider how many times you’ve gotten off a phone call with a high-needs friend only to discover you’ve lost your mojo to get anything done for the rest of the day.

Do yourself a favor and cut off the emotional vampires feeding on your positive energy.

8. Reconsider your commitments

Photo (cc) by Z SPhoto (cc) by Z S

Juggling multiple activities is much more complex than focusing on one. Simplify your schedule by reconsidering everything on your calendar.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I need to do this?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • Can I delegate this to someone else?
  • What happens if this doesn’t get done?

We wear our “busyness” like a badge of honor, so saying no won’t come naturally at first. However, an uncluttered calendar is a key to a simple life.

9. Unplug at least once a week

Photo (cc) by Christina zur NeddinPhoto (cc) by Christina zur Nedden

At least once a week, put away all the electronics. Power down the computer, put away the phone and turn off the TV. Spend time getting reacquainted with your family, paper books, an old hobby or your backyard.

Unplugging helps you slow down. Electronics tend to be “in your face” — loud, bright and engaging. When they constantly surround you, it’s easy to lose track of time and start operating on autopilot.

Give yourself some quiet time to contemplate something more meaningful.

10. Create routines

Photo (cc) by Christian CararraPhoto (cc) by Cristian Cararra

Finally, a simple life thrives on routine. Without it, you may waste time and energy wondering what to do next.

Don’t confuse a routine with a schedule. A routine isn’t set in stone with time constraints. Rather, it’s a general idea of how your day will go.

A routine means knowing that you get up in the morning, have breakfast, load the dishwasher and go for a walk. It could also be paying the bills on Monday, shopping on Tuesday and doing your weekly dinner prep on Saturday.

Routines take the guesswork out of regular activities and make life simpler.

What are the things that complicate your life, or your tricks for simplifying? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Stacy Johnson

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