During these troubling times, it is a good time to take a look and make a change when it comes to your finances.
Spring Cleaning Your Finances
If you find yourself cooped up in your house during this troubling time, there is probably no better activity you can pursue than spring cleaning your finances. It is an ideal opportunity to take inventory, recalibrate, and prepare for your re-emergence. Start by analyzing your spending habits and then creating a no-more-excuse budget.
Analyze Your Spending Habits
Spend a day thoroughly analyzing your spending habits going back six months. If your personal finances are online (online checking and credit card accounts) it should be relatively easy. Some online accounts include functions that can break down your spending by category. Online tools such as Mint.com will link to your bank and credit card accounts and download it into worksheets. Once you categorize and total your expenses, look to see where you can cut back spending. List your splurge and impulse buys. Figure out how much you should be spending relative to your income and savings goals.
Create a No-More-Excuses Budget
When trying to adhere to a budget, many people become a “victim of life” allowing things that happen to throw them off track. The key to staying on track is to set realistic and manageable spending and savings goals and build in some accountability measures. If your goal is to pay down debt or save more money, plug a realistic number into the top line of your budget. That is what you pay for first each month or with each paycheck. All other expenditures are planned around your goals. If you come up short, look for ways to reduce spending on non-essential expenses, including entertainment, dining, clothing and find ways to save on essential expenses, such as coupon shopping, driving less, etc.) No more excuses.
Clean Out Your Files
The next step is to organize and clean out your financial files. Many people avoid doing this because they are not sure how long they are supposed to hang on certain documents. Here is your guide:
Tax information and returns
The IRS has three years from when you file your return to start an audit (no time limit for fraudulent returns). So, you should keep your returns and the documents that support them for at least three years. You can then shred the documents that support your oldest return each year. It is advisable to hold on to your returns.
Investment records and statements
You need to hold on to your investment records to support your tax returns. You should also keep documentation of sales and purchases for three years after you report the transaction on your tax return.
Online banking makes it possible to keep your physical banking record lean. You should make sure your bank provides access to canceled checks for three years as support for your tax returns. The same with bank statements. Most online banking provides access to bank statements going back at least three years. Otherwise, you should hold onto bank statements for several years.
You should keep your paystubs for three to six months in the event you want to apply for a loan. If you receive direct deposits from your employer, they can provide you with copies of your pay stubs.
Credit card statements
If you receive physical credit card statements, you should hold on to them for a year in case you need to dispute a charge or want to return an item. Most credit card companies offer online statements that can be retrieved for several years.
Keep utility bill statements and other household receipts for three years if you claim these expenses as tax deductions. Otherwise, there is no need to hold on to them for more than a year.
Never throw out a warranty if you own the product it covers.
You only need to keep insurance policies and claims information for as long as the policies are in effect.
Home deeds and mortgage information
Hold on to this information for as long as you own the home plus three years as documentation for tax purposes.
Documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, divorce or child support orders, military records, and business agreements should be kept forever, stored in a secure place.
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