The article “You Spring-Clean Your House – Why Not Your Finances? Here’s How to Buff Up Your Budget” was originally published on The Financial Post on April 10, 2015.
Here’s How to Buff Up Your Budget
Many Canadians engage in regular spring cleaning rituals like checking fire alarms, rotating mattresses and planting gardens. They’re tedious and time-consuming tasks, but they need to be tended to by responsible homeowners.
Those responsibilities shouldn’t end at household chores. Spring is as good a time as any to dust off and polish up all things personal finance. You’re already sorting through slips and statements to file your taxes, so you might as well take some time to focus on the little things that you can do to improve your finances.
I’m a big fan of consolidating accounts. Having multiple bank or investment accounts may mean more fees and less visibility. But consolidating other accounts – like utilities and insurance – with a single provider is also a surefire way to put money in your pocket.
Make sure everything you can bundle is bundled. And if you see a promotion from other providers that beats your current pricing for phone, cable, Internet or insurance, call your provider. They would prefer to offer you similar pricing over losing you. It’s cheaper for most companies to provide you with a discount and keep you than it is for them to replace you with another customer.
Beyond that, consider what you really need and don’t need. Home-phone land lines are so passé. And how can $100-a-month cable bill compete with streaming services that are a fraction of the cost?
Scan your bank statements. Look for recurring monthly costs like memberships or subscriptions that you don’t need and should probably cancel anyway.
And if you’re not regularly in the habit of scanning your statements, consider a budget app to start tracking your spending proactively instead of reactively.
Cash in your accumulated rewards. Whether it’s points or miles or whatever else, make use of them on gift cards or financial rewards and free up your cash flow for investing or debt repayment.
Do you have gift cards from Christmas that you haven’t used? There are websites that will buy your unused gift cards so you can turn them into cash.
Do you still have credit card balances from the holidays? Hopefully not, but if you do, or if you’re carrying credit card debt generally, contact your credit provider and request a rate reduction. Chances are they’ll go for it rather than losing you to a 0% promotional rate from a competitor.
While you’re at it, you might as well check your credit report and make sure everything is up to date. This will help protect against identify theft by ensuring that no fraudulent credit applications have been made in your name and also prevent any potential errors on your report from impacting your credit score. The two national credit bureaus in Canada are TransUnion and Equifax.
Combine your spring cleaning with your spring financial clean-up. If you have furniture or other personal items that might be of value to someone else, consider selling them online so you can kill two birds with one stone – getting rid of stuff you don’t need and getting money for them.
I’d be inclined to do a financial audit each spring so that you’re checking, reviewing and haggling once a year. It can be tough for busy people to block off time to focus on finances, so don’t fall victim to personal financial procrastination. Try to use spring cleaning season to focus on more than just your house – and get your financial house in order as well.
Jason Heath is a fee-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and income tax professional for Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto, Ontario.