simple finance for an extraordinary life

Financial Spring Cleaning

Spring time is here! Well, it’s officially here, but depending on where you live you still may be trying to shake off that left over winter weather.

Spring is arguably one of the best times of the year. It brings a sense of renewal in many aspects of life and in nature.

Like many others, I always find this time year to be the perfect opportunity to do a little spring cleaning. For me this usually entails tackling closets or other areas of my house where stuff has accumulated and purging unused items to a point of where I feel more organized and better about myself. It’s amazing how just clearing things out can lower stress and just improve your overall well-being.

With that said, I find it is also a great time to do a little spring cleaning with our finances. Usually this involves me reviewing our budget and refining my vast array of spreadsheets that I use to track spending, school tuition, retirement, re-occurring expenses, etc.

Here a few areas I also recommend re-visiting to help keep you on focus with your finances and to ensure you are staying on track:

Review Your Streaming/Subscription Services

Most people these days are choosing to “cut the cord” from traditional content providers and opting for streaming/subscription based services as an “a la carte” way to save money and only pay for content that piques their interest.

While this is a great idea, if you aren’t careful it can end up costing you just as much, if not more than that expensive cable company you just ditched last year. To add to the mix, there are also no shortage of content based subscriptions for music, news, magazines, games, mindfulness, and the list goes on.

Make a list of all of your monthly subscriptions. Chances are you may be signed up for services that you seldom use or may have even forgotten you had in the first place. Remember that “free trial” you signed up for 6 months ago? If the trial period is over it’s highly possible the company could be automatically billing you a monthly fee or potentially even a 6-12 month subscription all at once.

Prioritize your list from most important to least important. Determine which subscription based services are most important to you and/or your family and rank them starting from 1(highest priority) to 10(lowest priority). Be sure to list out the monthly fee beside each of them.

Choose what fits within your budget. Determine your monthly budget for subscription services and choose only the ones from your priority list that fit within that dollar amount. Cancel all the others! It may also be worth looking for opportunities to pay 6 months or more up front to lower your overall monthly cost.

Look for complimentary deals. Often times if you are a paying customer of one service you might be applicable for a discount or special offer on another service via partnership between organizations or a bundle when services fall under the same corporate umbrella. For example, there are certain AT&T Internet plans that come with a free subscription to HBO Max. Or, Hulu customers can also opt for a bundle that includes Disney+ and ESPN.

Renegotiate Your Bills

In the age of smart phones and high-speed Internet access, competition for your business has never been greater, nor have there been nearly as many options available to you as a consumer.

Companies are always running promotional specials or discounts or creating new and better plans, but these tend to always be marketed toward new customers. Unless you are someone that checks often you could be missing out on a better product or service than you have currently at an even cheaper cost.

I try to make it a habit once per year to review some of my services such as high-speed internet or cell phone plans. Not only am I looking to see if there are better plans available at a better cost, but I also like to look back at my usage over the last 6-12 months to be sure that I’m on a plan that’s suitable to my needs.

The marketing people have a way of making you think you need “1 Gig” Internet, or “unlimited data” when in fact, a much cheaper plan may be more than sufficient for your needs and more friendly toward your budget.

Several years back we were helping my grandmother with this process to attempt lowering some of her bills. Of course she still had a land line telephone at the time.(Yes they still exist!) When we called the phone company it was noted that she was still paying for an original phone plan that she had signed up for sometime in the 90’s! We were able to change up some of the features on her plan and substantially lower her monthly bill.

Unless a company has a reason to move you off of one plan and on to another they are more than happy to just continue taking your money into perpetuity it seems!

At the end of the day, most companies would rather not lose you to their competitors. Making a simple call to inquire about moving to a new plan or to see if there any specials available to existing customers could end up in significant savings! That money could be easily re-directed to something more important like investing, paying down debt, or contributing to your Emergency Fund.

Determine How Much You Spend Eating Out

There is a lot of data out there in regards to how many times the average American eats outside of the home per week or how much they spend eating out. For most of us, it’s ALOT!

Even for the most budget conscious among us, life gets in the way, and sometimes we find ourselves eating out to satisfy an impulsive craving or simply because it’s much less time consuming and more convenient than cooking a meal. And, we have Uber Eats and Waitr to thank for giving us the ability to get pretty much anything we desire delivered straight to our door!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going to your favorite restaurant or enjoying that Starbucks latte, however, this is a category where if you aren’t careful it can quickly destroy any hopes you had for a budget.

Look back over your credit or debit card statements for the last few months and tally up all of your charges from restaurants or cafe’s on a monthly basis. You might be very surprised to see just how much of your money is going to prepared food or coffee/drinks.

Here are some ways you can avoid overspending on eating out:

  • Start making your lunch at home! Buy everything you need at the grocery and bring your lunch with you to work or eat at home if you work remotely.
  • If eating out on the weekend is your thing, make a commitment to drop that down to every other week or only a couple of times per month. (Be sure this fits within your budget!)
  • Save expensive meals out for special occasions.
  • Set a monthly budget for prepared food/beverages and stick to it.
  • Just Say NO! Say no to friends and family that want to go out when it doesn’t fall within your budget.

Get Rid Of Credit Cards You Don’t Need

When is the last time you counted up all of your credit cards?

Over time we tend to open up new credit cards for a variety of reasons. Two that come to mind are receiving an instant discount on a purchase or a large sum of hotel or travel rewards points.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these reasons, its probably worthwhile to just take a look and determine if having a particular card is still necessary. Maybe its rarely used but still racking up an annual fee or perhaps you use it infrequently, increasing the chance you’ll forget to pay it.

A quick way to do this would be with an Excel spreadsheet or even a just a pencil and a piece of paper.

Make a list of all your credit cards. Include the following:

  • Annual fee (if applicable)
  • Last time you used the card
  • Length of time you’ve had the card
  • Credit limit
  • Any benefits that make the card worth keeping

There is no specific formula here, however by listing out the items above you should be able to narrow down the list and get rid of any cards where the cost exceeds the benefit.

While it’s beyond the scope of the conversation here, you may want to consider how long you have had a card open before you decide to close it. There are many factors that determine your credit score, and while the “oldest credit line” category may only have a moderate impact on your overall score, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Are there any other areas that you look at when doing your own financial spring cleaning?

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