While you’re working on remembering to turn off the lights and reduce your usage of plastic straws and bottles, how about taking a moment to tidy up your financial clutter. It’s an endeavor that could save you both money (paying bills late because you can’t put your hands on them not just results in penalties but interest charges as well) and significant time. According to research from the National Association of Professional Organizers, more than half of consumers surveyed said they’d save anywhere from 16 minutes to an hour a day if they were better organized. That’s roughly 2 to 15 days a year. So how do you do it?
Know what to save, shred, toss and keep. Keep receipts until you get the monthly statement, credit card/bank/brokerage statements until you get the year-end summary, and insurance policies until you get new ones. Keep anything tax-related for three years (and anything related to taxes where you took a loss for seven). Keep paperwork relating to assets (homes, cars, investments) as long as you have those assets. And keep Social Security Cards, birth, marriage and divorce certificates and estate planning documents forever, preferably in a fireproof safe. But you also want to digitize and store copies of those docs online – you can store them in dropbox, your brokerage firm may also have a digital safe. (Scans aren’t legal documents, but they can make requesting copies of the originals if they’re lost or damaged much easier.) Finally, once you’re done with a document, shred it.
Clean your physical desk: If your desk is in the kitchen or some other high traffic area of your house, it’s possible that someone walking past it could access personal information that could open you up to identity theft. Addresses, institutions you patronize, a birthday card addressed to a relative, a reminder that it’s time to take Fido to the vet. Add up enough information like this and a smart identity thief can put together a profile that can be used to swipe your info. There’s a name for the type of identity theft perpetrated by people you actually know – friendly fraud – and it amounts to hundreds of thousands of cases a year.
But don’t neglect your computer and phone ones: Delete files and apps you’re no longer using. Getting rid of all the clutter will actually help you focus and winnow down the time you spend on your devices. Also, make sure you install the latest app and software updates. They are likely to have not just the most-up-to-date bells and whistles but also security patches. Finally, scrub your social media presence to get rid of the aforementioned identifying personal info as well. It’ll keep your finances safer.
Consolidate retirement accounts. Whether you change jobs every few years or have a series of sidegigs, you may end up with more retirement accounts than you can manage consistently. Personally, I like being able to sign onto a single portal or two to look at my investments. It’s makes the task of appropriately allocating your investments – keeping the right mix for your age and risk tolerance in stocks, bonds and cash – much simpler. And, while you’re at it, consider using an app to track your overall financial life. Mint and Personal Capital are both top notch.
Save Some Money – And Make Some: While we’re tidying, let’s save something. Take a look at your credit and debit card bills for the past few months. Are there subscriptions you no longer use? Cancel them. Then, take the spoils of the rest of your spring cleaning – the clothes you’re no longer wearing, the furniture your children have outgrown, etc. – and sell them online.