Spring is coming. With it comes the re-emergence of large portions of the population from their winter hibernation. Spring cleaning will commence with cars being scrubbed, closets being purged, and desks being re-organized. Who says you can’t spring clean your budget while you’re at it?
Strike while the iron of motivation is hot, I say. If financial success is on your agenda, then living within your means is the name of the game. A spending plan, less affectionately known to the world as a budget, is the strategy that will get you to the finish line.
How do you know if you should spring clean your budget?
Try to budget regularly, but Christmas was a free for all and you’ve never really bounced back?
Come up short each month wishing you could put more toward savings?
Want to free up money to pay off debt more quickly, but aren’t sure where to pull it from?
Have no clue where all your money keeps disappearing to?
Want to get a grip on spending?
If you fit any of these descriptions (as I have, time and time again), then it’s probably time to pull out the calculator, bring up your bank statements, pour some coffee, and spring clean your budget.
How to Spring Clean Your Budget
1. Assemble your data.
Start by writing a budget. It doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate. Consider it your rough draft on a sheet of paper or on your computer. Start with your monthly income, then write out your expenses. This is the starting point, just like donning the rubber gloves, picking up the bucket, and loading it with cleaning supplies (or Norwex cloths for all of our chemical-free spring cleaners) before you attack the first room in your house to be cleaned.
Assemble your old statements via online banking, a calculator, your budget, your distraction-free brain, and even your stopwatch if you need the accountability to stay on task.
2. Trim expenses.
We all overspend from time to time. More so the longer it goes unchecked. Grab the hedge trimmers and start snipping expenses out of your life. Perhaps you just need to cut back on some things. There are still many ways to enjoy life without feeling broke.
The average premium coffee costs $3.25. Cutting one out of your week or swapping it out for something home-brewed would save you $169 in a year.
Replace Friday night pizza delivery – which costs $16.13 on average – with frozen. The average DiGiorno costs $6.69, saving you $490.88 this year.
Now you’ve seen how trimming back two pretty small expenses can save you over $600 in one year. That’s just the beginning.
3. Tidy up sloppy habits.
Good intentions destroy many budgets. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re spending your money.
Take a quick look at your last 30 days of spending and count how many debit card transactions there are. Would you say it’s a surprising amount? Physically print off your statement or take a snapshot and circle the transactions that you consider “potential problem areas.”
Is online shopping your vice? Is it Amazon one-click? Is it Best Buy? Is it Starbucks? Whatever it is, you need to educate yourself and face the music. I’ve dug up some sloppy habits in my budget, and they only got better when I acknowledged them and chose to change.
4. Perform routine maintenance.
Now is a good time to sit down and make a list of all the non-monthly financial items that require your attention. You don’t have to tackle the entire list, but tackling a few of them will add to your progress. Here are some examples:
- Saving money by switching monthly auto insurance to annual payments.
- Getting a will.
- Meeting with your financial advisor for an annual check up on your investments.
- Organizing your debts to start a debt snowball (paying each debt off from smallest to largest).
- Starting a spreadsheet to categorize your non-monthly expenses like license plate tags, replacement car fund, replacement roof fund, vacation, Christmas, taxes (if you owe), etc.
5. Install new habits.
After someone cleans a storage room, there is often space left over to begin fresh. It doesn’t make sense to simply fill that space up with junk again (not that I haven’t done that…). Instead, people purchase new boxes or bins. They use fresh labels and improved filing systems, right?
The same goes for your budget. Don’t be that person who takes a pledge to radically change everything and never spend money again. We all know how well that works out.
Instead, chose one step in each of these five areas and go forward. Perhaps you need to re-connect with you spouse* or accountability partner about the financial position you find yourself in. Perhaps you need to schedule a few appointments with a financial advisor or with yourself, even. Being intentional goes a long way.
*If you have a reluctant spouse who isn’t very keen to make these changes with you, remember a couple things:
- Own your role in this; don’t attack theirs. Odds are you’ve both contributed to whatever financial problem you’re currently facing. Start with simply explaining what you’ve observed about your own spending habits and what you’d like to try differently.
- Focus on the positive outcome. One of the best things you do for yourself and your reluctant spouse is to keep the focus on the positive future rather than mud-slinging over negative things that happened in your past. If saving for a big trip makes your spouse excited, then focus on that. If no longer living paycheck to paycheck is your goal, then make that the focal point.
Now that you’ve brainstormed about each of these areas where you can spring clean your budget, what’s your next step? Share how you plan to spring clean your budget in the comments below.
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.