Back in the old days, spring cleaning was essential after months of tightly shut living quarters and wood or coal heating. Walls and floors were scrubbed clean of dirt and soot. Rugs got thrown over clotheslines and beaten. Windows were washed and curtains laundered. The result was a cleaner, brighter, more livable space.
“Spring cleaning” is still part of our collective unconscious, even though we now let vacuum cleaners and washing machines (or maybe a housekeeping service) do the heavy lifting. And spring is also the perfect time of year to take a closer look at our money goals.
After all, longer days and milder weather tend to give us more energy and a sense of optimism. These housecleaning-related tactics can help you spit-shine your finances. Do the work, then watch your financial health blossom like the first flowers in spring.
1. Dust (off your budget)
Remember your New Year’s resolution of sticking to a budget? You even did it … for a month or two. Then a few unexpected expenses popped up, or you simply grew tired of paying attention to your dough, and your commitment to budgeting (like so many other resolutions) ultimately dwindled and died.
Knowing where your money goes is essential to a healthy financial life. You wouldn’t set out on a vacation without an itinerary, would you? Think of your budget as a money map — the route to a secure financial future.
Not sure how to get started? Find tips at:
- “4 Rules for Creating a Painless Budget“
- “How to Use the 50/20/30 Rule as Your Budgeting Plan“
- “8 Secrets to Building a Budget That Works“
- “How to Create a Budget You Love: 5 Things You Need to Know“
And if you’d rather have some day-to-day help? Plenty of folks swear by a popular budgeting app called YNAB (You Need A Budget).
2. Wash (your hands of debt)
Debt is dragging you down. More than half of American consumers carry a credit card balance from month to month – and 15% of them owe $5,000 or more.
That’s a lot of monthly interest – and every dollar you pay in interest is a dollar that can’t work for you any other way. It all adds up to some serious opportunity cost.
Whether you use the debt snowball method, the envelope system or some kind of budgeting app, we implore you: Pay. Off. That. Debt. These articles can help:
- “How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt in 2023“
- “3 Powerful Tools to Destroy Your Debts and Renew Your Credit“
- “How to Wipe Out Debt for Good“
While some forms of debt (such as medical debt) can’t be helped, overspending on non-necessities is often the culprit. That’s where a good budget comes in: It includes a category for the fun stuff along with the needful things. Knowing you have a certain amount of discretionary income can help keep you on a sensible spending path.
3. Declutter (your pantry/freezer)
Food prices are out of control lately. That’s why it’s crucial to not just be a savvy shopper but also to use everything you bought. Sadly, Americans throw out lots of food, which is like emptying their wallets into the trash.
Don’t throw away your paycheck! Instead, inventory your freezer and pantry and then get creative about how to use what you have. One of the simplest ways is to ping Bing: Just type what you have into an online search engine and see what pops up. For example, entering “recipe canned tomatoes chicken breasts green chilies” returns recipes like Southwest Chicken Breast, Smoky Tomato Chicken Breasts and Santa Fe skillet. You’re welcome.
These articles can help, too:
- “11 Ways to Turn Table Scraps Into Delicious Meals“
- “13 Easy Ways to Cut Food Waste and Save Money“
- “Stop Letting These 8 Leftover Foods Go to Waste“
4. Polish (your financial plan)
Wills, retirement plans and other similar items are not one-and-done. They’re living documents, and they need to be revisited as life circumstances change. For example:
Got a raise? Adjust your 401(k) contribution accordingly, especially if there’s an employer match. Don’t leave that money on the table!
Sold off some possessions or bought new ones? Make sure your home/renters insurance coverage reflects those changes.
Had another kid (or grandkid)? Be sure to update your will. If you have life insurance, talk to your agent about whether the current plan is sufficient for the new addition to your family.
Get married or divorced? Definitely talk to your financial planner about your new goals. Speak to your insurance agent as well to add coverage for your engagement/wedding rings and maybe add another driver to your policy. (Fun fact: Married people tend to get better auto insurance rates.)
Note: Spring is also a good time to get new quotes for auto, home and life insurance. Switching providers could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
5. Scrub (unneeded subscriptions/fees)
The gym membership you rarely use, subscription boxes your kids have stopped noticing, magazines that go unread, the streaming services that are largely ignored because your household has too many choices – these and other fees are sucking dollars from your budget each month.
Free apps such as Rocket Money and Recur will flag these unused (and costly) items so you can scrub them from your budget. The money saved can be startling. Americans underestimate how much they spend on subscriptions, according to a 2022 survey – and by as much as $133 to $400 or more a month. That’s a whole lotta cash.
Keep the ones you value. Ditch the rest.
6. Throw out (bad habits)
Every spring, my mom would purge our home of things that weren’t being used. Our very small place housed six people, and there simply wasn’t room for unneeded items. Old clothes went to younger cousins; if they were in tatters, the clothes became cleaning rags. Toys and games we’d outgrown went to Goodwill.
Your finances may have some unneeded items too. If you’re at all concerned about tobacco use, an over-reliance on alcohol, excessive sweets or other issues, make this the year that you address these things. Cutting an expensive habit in half (or, maybe, cutting it completely) can have a major impact on your household budget.
No one’s saying you can’t have a glass of wine or a candy bar. But if you need these things every day (or multiple times a day), think about what that means to your life and your pocketbook.
It may not be easy. Ask whether your workplace benefits include counseling, tobacco cessation programs or anything else that helps you get control of your habits.
Throwing out all this bad stuff improves more than the bottom line. It can also improve (or maybe save) your life.
7. Refresh (your financial goals)
Home magazines like to talk about a “spring refresh” of your dwelling. Flannel sheets get stashed until next fall in favor of lighter linens. Deck furniture comes out of the basement. Some folks change out rugs and throw pillows or put out vases of springlike silk flowers. Same home, different look.
A “refresh” of your financial goals is a way to make sure that they still suit you (and your spouse/partner if you have one). For example, maybe you’ve been stashing cash toward a down payment on a rental unit for an additional income stream. Perhaps you fell in love with the “FIRE” movement (financial independence, retire early) a few years ago and have been aggressively pursuing this way of life.
Ask yourself this: Is that still what I/we want? Could be that you or your spouse is having second thoughts about being a landlord. Maybe one of you wishes they could drop down to part-time work for a while in order to have more time with your kids.
Refreshing your financial goals could start with a quiet, relaxed conversation about what the future looks like. Maybe you’ll agree that what you have is still what you want to do. But you won’t know unless you talk about it.
8. Wax (rhapsodic about the changes)
After taking one (or more than one) of the steps above, give yourself a pat on the back. Then, take a closer look at your finances. Notice any differences?
The changes might be noticeable fairly soon. For example, this might be the first time in a while that you’ve had more money than month. Dropping an unwatched streaming channel, paying less for car insurance, no longer having to shell out credit card interest – no wonder your bank account is a bit plump!
Now all you have to do is keep going. Every dollar you save is a dollar that can work for you in some other way. Spring-cleaning your finances will help put you back in charge of your cash and your life.