With the majority of the world practicing self-isolation and social distancing, and individuals being urged to stay home by local government ofﬁcials, National Cleaning Week (March 22-28) could not come any sooner.
In addition to to decluttering your home, personal ﬁnance expert Rebecca Gramuglia of topcashback.com recommends people dedicate their newfound time and attention to other areas of their lives as well – such their personal ﬁnances.
Here are six steps to help achieve ﬁnancial success this spring:
1) Set up a system. Whether you track your spending on a spreadsheet, ﬁle away receipts and bills in folders or handle everything electronically, it’s important to keep all paperwork and digital data related to your personal ﬁnances together in a safe place. From receipts, bank statements, medical insurance information and other important documents, create a ﬁling system that works for you – whether it’s using a ﬁle box, a ﬁle cabinet or even a set of shoeboxes. If some of your ﬁles are electronic, make sure you have them backed up, either on external drives or to the cloud. Plus, an organized tracking system will make gathering information for your tax returns easier.
2) Create a realistic budget, and stick to it. Setting a realistic budget is a critical step in getting your ﬁnances in order. Not only does a budget help you control your spending and ensure you don’t spend more than you make, but it’s also the ﬁrst step toward using your money well. It can also help you keep your spending priorities in check. A basic budgeting tool is the 50/20/30 rule, which entails spending only up to 50 percent of your after-tax income on essentials, such as housing and food; 20 percent on ﬁnancial priorities such as debt repayments and savings; and 30 percent on your wants, such as vacations. Another way to view the 50/20/30 rule is as the Needs/Savings/Wants rule.
3) Coordinate payments with paydays. Create a bill calendar that correlates bill payments with paydays. If you ﬁnd that one payday seems to have more ﬁnancial obligations than another, space out your bill payments by talking to your credit card company or lender to see if you can change your billing cycle. This will help you meet all your payments without struggling ﬁnancially for part of the month.
4) Evaluate and pay off debt. Juggling debt payments on top of utilities, mortgage and other necessities can be difﬁcult if you don’t stick to your bill calendar and budget. So, make a plan to tackle your debt now. Evaluate how much you owe and how much you are paying in interest. Then, strategically pay off debt by adopting the debt avalanche method. This method requires you to make minimum payments on all your debts while focusing your main debt payoff on one single account. With the debt avalanche method, you pay off debt by interest rates instead of accrued balances. This is a more cost-effective method that targets high-interest debt ﬁrst to save money in the long run. Then, as each debt gets paid off, its minimum payments get added to the monthly payments for the next high-interest balance on your list. By the time you get to the last debt on your list, you’ll be eliminating large chunks out it each month, speeding up the debt payoff process.
5) Automate savings. Make saving money a top ﬁnancial priority this spring. One of the smartest yet effortless ways to save money each month is by having part of your paycheck automatically deducted into a savings account, or set up a regular transfer of funds. This way, you won’t be tempted to spend the money elsewhere. Financial emergencies – such as a job loss, reduced hours, an illness, major vehicle or home repairs – can strike at any time, so set money aside in an emergency fund as well. Having an emergency fund is like having a security blanket. It eliminates any future ﬁnancial stress and frustration when something major occurs and you need additional money for it (that would normally be out of your budget).
6) Plan for your future. It can be easy to get distracted with spending on the “now,” but these decisions can impact your ﬁnancial future which can affect your credit score. So, whether you want to apply for a mortgage, purchase a car or open a new credit card in the future, your credit score is used to determine your creditworthiness. There are ﬁve main factors that determine your credit score: payment history, inquiries, average credit age, credit utilization and variety of accounts. Keep in mind that missing payments or applying to several lenders at once could drop your credit score signiﬁcantly, and new credit card inquiries remain on your credit report for two years.