The arrival of spring often signifies a time of renewal, a reminder to dust off the cobwebs and get rid of the dirt and grime that have built up throughout the winter season. And while most spring cleaning projects are likely focused on your home, you could take this time to evaluate and clean up your personal finances as well.
Examine your budget..and stick with it
A budget is the centerpiece of any good personal financial plan. Start by identifying your income and expenses. Next, add them up and compare the two totals to make sure you are spending less than you earn. If you find that your expenses outweigh your income, you'll need to make some adjustments to your budget (e.g., reduce discretionary spending).
Keep in mind that in order for your budget to work, you'll need to stick with it. And while straying from your budget from time to time is to be expected, there are some ways to help make working within your budget a bit easier:
- Make budgeting a part of your daily routine
- Build occasional rewards into your budget
- Evaluate your budget regularly and make changes if necessary
- Use budgeting software/smartphone applications
Evaluate your financial goals
Spring is also a good time to evaluate your financial goals. Take a look at the financial goals you've previously set for yourself — both short and long term. Perhaps you wanted to increase your cash reserve or invest more money toward your retirement. Did you accomplish any of your goals? If so, do you have any new goals you now want to pursue? Finally, have your personal or financial circumstances changed recently (e.g., marriage, a child, a job promotion)? If so, would any of these events warrant a reprioritization of some of your existing financial goals?
Review your investments
Now may be a good time to review your investment portfolio to ensure that it is still on target to help you achieve your financial goals. To determine whether your investments are still suitable, you might ask yourself the following questions:
- Has my investment time horizon recently changed?
- Has my tolerance for risk changed?
- Do I have an increased need for liquidity in my investments?
- Does any investment now represent too large (or too small) a part of my portfolio?
All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful.
Try to pay off any accumulated debt
When it comes to personal finances, reducing debt should always be a priority. Whether you have debt from student loans, a mortgage, or credit cards, have a plan in place to pay down your debt load as quickly as possible. The following tips could help you manage your debt:
- Keep track of your credit card balances and be aware of interest rates and hidden fees
- Manage your payments so that you avoid late fees
- Optimize your repayments by paying off high-interest debt first
- Avoid charging more than you can pay off at the end of each billing cycle
Take a look at your credit history
Having good credit is an important part of any sound financial plan, and now is a good time to check your credit history. Review your credit report and check for any inaccuracies. You'll also want to find out whether you need to take steps to improve your credit history. To establish a good track record with creditors, make sure that you always make your monthly bill payments on time. In addition, you should try to avoid having too many credit inquiries on your report (these are made every time you apply for new credit). You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Visit annualcreditreport.com for more information.
Assess tax planning opportunities
The return of the spring season also means that we are approaching the end of tax season. Now is also a good time to assess any tax planning opportunities for the coming year. You can use last year's tax return as a basis, then make any anticipated adjustments to your income and deductions for the coming year.
Be sure to check your withholding — especially if you owed taxes when you filed your most recent tax return or you were due a large refund. If necessary, adjust the amount of federal or state income tax withheld from your paycheck by filing a new Form W-4 with your employer.