I’ve been in a major decluttering mode lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending way too much time on Pinterest. Or, maybe it’s because my grandmother had to move in and there are boxes everywhere that are giving me anxiety. Either way, I’m on a mission to declutter as much of my life as possible.
I decluttered this blog (deleted or consolidated over 270 posts), I decluttered my bedroom and earlier this year I decluttered my closet.
Now, I’ve gotten to the point where it’s time to declutter the finances. According to a poll conducted by ConsumerReports.org, one in every four Americans has misplaced an important financial document. To make matters worse, 16 percent of the people polled had either lost money or incurred a charge because of their lack of financial organization.
Not to mention, having cluttered and disorganized finances is very stressful. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you can never get it together in the financial department.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just streamline the process as much as possible? Wouldn’t it be more suitable to just declutter your finances once and for all?
The truth is that finances do require some organization on your part. You need to keep an eye on them and it does require some maintenance as time goes on.
The good news is there are now tools, apps and strategies that are available to help you easily decluetter your finances. Below you’ll find the exact strategies I use to stay organized and stress- free when it comes to my money.
Step 1: Define specific financial goals (with numbers!)
Most people will tell you to begin decluttering your finances by whipping out all of your statements, bills and financial papers and figuring out where you stand. While this is definitely an important step, it shouldn’t be where you start.
If you aren’t clear about your specific financial goals then it’s going to be difficult to organize your finances in a way that make sense for you. You have to know what you want so you can go after it.
And it’s not just about arbitrary goals like “Save three months worth of living expenses in an emergency fund.” That doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know what the actual number is.
That’s why it’s important to get clear on the specifics of your financial goals. It’s much more powerful to say “I want to save $5,000 in an emergency fund by the end of 2015” than it is to say “I want to start an emergency fund.”
If you’re clear on the numbers you can begin to create steps, take on habits and partake in financial behaviors that will help you achieve them.
Step 2: Figure out where you stand.
The second step in decluttering your finances is to figure out where you actually stand financially. This requires you to bring out all of your financial papers – bank statements, bills, credit card statements, loan papers, insurance papers, mortgage papers, etc. – and get crystal clear on how much money you have coming in versus going out on a monthly basis.
There are several reasons why this is an important step to decluttering your finances. According to Kate Northrup’s research in her bestselling book, Money: A Love Story, most people do not know how much money they spent in the last month within the $100 range. Some of them also have no idea how much money they actually brought in either.
If you don’t know what’s actually going on then you can’t begin to properly declutter your finances for good. Now, this is the part people tend to avoid. Especially those who feel like they have too much debt, don’t want to deal with their money or are afraid of numbers. But, if you’re going to get your finances together, it’s crucial that you not only figure out where you want to be (Step 1), but also where you currently are.
Here are some things to look for as you look through your financial papers:
- How much do you bring in from your salary every month?
- How much extra money do you deposit each month? (Side hustle, investments, etc.)
- How much do you owe? What kinds of debts are they? What are the interest rates? What are the monthly payments? (Of course, you always want to strive for more than the minimum. Otherwise you’ll be crawling out of debt until the day you die.)
- Are you contributing as much as you can to a retirement account?
- Do you have an emergency savings account?
These are just some of the areas you want to begin investigating. You can also take it a step further by finding your leaks.
Bonus – Factor in Non-Monthly Expenses
Non-monthly expenses like medical costs, annual fees, Christmas shopping, dental insurance, an accountant during tax time, web hosting etc., always catch us by surprise. In fact, they’ve been the bane of my existence all year long. Next year I already know better. I’ve created a list of all of my regular non-monthly expenses throughout the year so I won’t be shocked by them the next time around.
Step 3: Figure out where you’re leaking money.
If this is the first time you begin the process of decluttering your finances, it’s likely that you may be leaking money. This is money that is being wasted on things like fees, high prices or on stuff we don’t actually need.
This is the part where you look at your spending and see where you can make some adjustments. The reality is that the less money we waste, the easier it becomes to manage our finances because there’s less stuff to be on top of.
Here is where beginners can begin looking for leaks:
- Are you spending any money on things you don’t actually need/use? (Ex. subscriptions, going out to the movies, overspending on stuff, etc.)
- Is there a way for you to lower your bills? (Ex. Shopping around for lower insurance premiums.)
Here is where you can look after you’ve got the basics covered:
- Can you lower fees on some of your accounts? (Ex. finding an online bank with no fees or negotiating a lower APR)
Of course, if the game were all about saving then you would only get so far. That’s why as a bonus I encourage people to find ways of making extra money – whether it’s selling your used stuff online or building a side business.
Step 3: Go paperless.
The next step is to take out all of those financial files, scan them and store them on a secure cloud system.
This makes life SO MUCH EASIER. There is far less paper clutter, everything is organized and you can use a search function to use whatever you need.
I recommend using e-File Cabinet (affiliate link). My accountant recommended it to me when I hired him for it’s security features, popularity among finance professionals and easy access should I ever get audited (here’s knocking on wood that I don’t).
Here are some snapshots of how I organize my eFileCabinet account:
After scanning , uploading and organizing all of your financial files in a secure cloud system, get in the habit of uploading your financial papers once a month.
The most time consuming part is the beginning when you have to scan a lot of files and manually upload them. I think it took me an entire weekend when I did it a year ago.
Once you have them up and organized it’s much easier to stay on top of it. You also feel at ease because you no longer feel like you have a million papers in a plastic box somewhere in your closet.
The best part is if I ever need to find something – let’s say, an insurance claim – I can just use the search function and pull up what I need.
I’ve had such peace of mind knowing that all of my files are secure and organized that I actually just signed up and paid for the next three years.
Click here to learn more about eFilecabinet. (affiliate link)
The second part of going paperless is using something like Mint.com to keep track of everything on a day to day basis. I literally use Mint.com to create budgets, set goals, check for fees, check in on my investments and basically keep an eye on about 95 percent of my financial life.
Step 4: Automate as much as you can.
While you do have to stay on top of your budget, you can automate a lot of it. In his book, The One-Page Financial Plan, Carl Richards talks about how if people need to think about saving they are actually less likely to do it.
Here are some areas where you can automate your money on your road to decluttering your finances:
Create an automatic savings plan that goes from your checking account to your savings account. For example, set up a plan to deposit $200 into your emergency fund each month.
In addition, I encourage you to sign up for Digit (referral link), which is a free service that basically rounds up tiny bits of money ($5 here, a few cents there) and deposits it directly into a high yield savings account. I’ve been using it for a few months and it’s already saved me over $250 of loose change that would have gone to waste otherwise.
Retirement and Investments
If you have a 401(k) or equivalent at work you can just go the HR department and set up automatic deposits from your paycheck. This is easy enough and you’ll definitely want to do it if you’re getting any sort of match – otherwise you’re losing out on free money!
Now, if you have an individual retirement account (Roth IRA) you can set up automatic deposits into the fund of your choosing. I am personally a very big fan of using Betterment because do asset allocation and tax loss harvesting for you.
It’s also incredibly easy to get started. I signed up a couple of months ago and am incredibly pleased with the ease, service and low cost. I’ve even made a better return in a very short amount of time than I ever did elsewhere.
FYI, you can also set up automatic investments in a non-retirement account through Betterment as well.
Step 5: Outsource (Or, get help if you need it).
My finances became much more organized when I hired my accountant. First, I had to get organized in order for him to do his job. Second, he keeps me organized for tax time.
In fact, last time estimated taxes came around he did it all for me. All I had to do was write a check to the IRS and mail out the form he’d already filled out for me.
The point is that if you need help with your finances don’t hesitate to outsource or hire the help you need. Other examples include looking into credit counseling if you’re having major debt issues or finding a financial advisor if you have investments.
You don’t have to hire them all at once, but just keep them in mind should you ever need them. Hiring good people definitely goes a long way in decluttering your finances.
While there is a lot of work upfront when decluttering your finances, you’ll feel much more at ease once it’s actually done. From this point forward all you need to do is keep an eye on things, make sure to continue uploading important papers on a cloud and adjust your budget when your goals change.