This story was originally published on July 7, 2020.
To say that it's been a messy year is a massive understatement. Life has been… complicated. No wonder so many of us took whatever downtime we could get during the pandemic to simplify and declutter our homes, our closets, our kids' rooms—even our dinners.
There's one more area where a lot of us could stand to simplify and declutter, and that's our finances. While organizing and simplifying your finances may seem daunting at first, it's easier to approach once you break it down into a few simple steps.
Here are 4 ways to declutter your financial life, starting today.
1. Clean out your wallet.
How many old receipts and never-used rewards cards are still sitting in the dark creases of your wallet? Clear out any expired coupons or old receipts. You might even find unused gift cards or rewards that you've accumulated at your local coffee or nail shop.
This is also a time to size up your wallet—thumb through your cards and make a note of those you use often (and whether there's a bill coming up or how you're tracking on payments), as well as the cash you have on hand. It's always good to have an accurate sense of the state of your plastic and paper.
2. Organize financial documents.
Whether you use an old-school file cabinet to house your financial documents, save e-statements in your email folders or have everything saved to the cloud, take some time to make sure your documents are organized.
It's a good idea to create separate folders (either file folders or digital folders) for financial categories, helping you easily locate important files. Some of the common folder categories to create include:
- Tax returns
- Insurance (medical, dental, vision, auto, life and home)
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Auto documents (payments, maintenance records, lease or title)
- Investment and retirement accounts
- Medical documents + bills
- Home documents (your lease, or home loan and property documents, plus maintenance and repair records)
- Estate planning documents
If you're not sure what financial documents are good to keep and what can be let go, FINRA has a helpful checklist outlining how long to keep various financial papers. And when throwing out outdated or old documents—such as old bank statements or bills that have been paid—make sure to discard them properly. These documents often have sensitive personal or financial information, so opt for shredding them instead of tossing in the recycling or garbage.
3. Consolidate your accounts.
Take stock of all your financial accounts. Maybe you have an old checking or savings account with just a few stray dollars left in it that you keep forgetting about. If so, consider consolidating those funds into one account. This will help you streamline and stay on top of your finances overall, making it easier to see how you're tracking against your financial goals.
As you consolidate, take time to review your monthly expenses—all of them—to see if there are random subscriptions or unnecessary bills that you can cancel. These fees can add up before you know it. For instance, Mint users spent $785M on streaming TV subscriptions alone over the last year!
Try pausing or canceling a few for a month or two (most services actually don't charge you an additional fee or deposit to do so) and see which ones you truly miss. You can even take it a step further after cancelling by calling the company to see if you are entitled to any reimbursement of fees incurred. You'd be surprised what you may get back in refunds for subscriptions or services that you cancel.
4. Set up new systems.
Anyone who's ever overdrafted or been late on a payment knows that paying late fees is worse than actually paying bills themselves. An easy way to avoid that is to set up autopay for your monthly bills, like rent, student loans and credit card payments. Many credit card companies even allow you to pick when you want your autopay to take effect, which means that you can choose to pay your bills during the time of the month when you feel most financially secure. No matter how disorganized we all feel sometimes, digitizing and automating payments is a great way to stay on top of your finances.
Personal finance apps like Mint and Turbo are also helpful here—Mint's goal setting feature lets you set and plan both short-term (pay off a credit card) and long-term (save for college) money goals, while Turbo gives you a holistic view of your total income, credit score and debt.
Just as decluttering a closet can give you a new relationship with the stuff you already own, decluttering your financial life creates a bridge to a more transparent relationship with your money. When it comes to finances, you are the person in the driver's seat, so if there are things you want or need to change, taking initiative to simplify your finances is the first step.