With a little tidying up here and there, you can make your finances look sharp this spring.
It might not feel like it yet, but spring is here. The days are getting longer, and the sun will soon be shining again (with any luck).
While it’s still too cold to break out the shorts, there’s no need to put your spring cleaning schedule on hold. In fact, while you're at it, why not take the opportunity to give your finances a quick tidy too? Here's what you can do to get your money in order:
1. Ditch the clutter
Getting everything organised and simplifying as much as possible is a good place to start your financial spring clean.
Separate your important documents
Gather your insurance policies, tenancy agreement or mortgage documents and other contracts and file them together in a safe place. This way, you can find them quickly should you ever need them.
Chuck what you don’t need
You probably don’t need paper-based bills and bank statements, so it’s a good idea to go paperless wherever you can. Aside from making things simpler, many companies offer paperless discounts and online-only offers, which means you could lower your bills or get an exclusive deal in the bargain. Just remember to stay safe online by always setting strong passwords. Always shred any documents with personal details (or use a black marker to blot out your information) before you throw them away.
Take the maintenance out of bill payments
If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth setting up direct debits on all your credit accounts so you won’t have to remember a due date ever again. Don’t forget to make sure your bank account has enough money to cover all the bills though. Otherwise the payments won’t go through, and they’ll show up as missed payments on your credit report.
2. Tidy up your budget
Now that you’re clutter-free, it’s worth taking a look at your budget. Spring is all about new beginnings, and what better way to give your finances a fresh start than to make sure your budget is actually helping you achieve your goals?
Go over every item and think carefully about how well you’re sticking to it and why. Is there any particular area where you tend to go over budget? An expense you always forget to account for? Or an area where you tend to budget less or more than you actually need?
Once you know where you stand, think about ways you could improve:
Check whether you could lower your bills by changing providers. For example, the Energy Helpline reckons you could save up to £537 a year by switching supplier.
Ditch subscriptions you don’t use. According to the Money Advice Service, the average Brit wastes £18.62 a month this way, mainly on gym memberships (you know who you are).
Think about purchases you tend to regret and see if you can cut them out. For example, does that extra round on a night out fill you with dread the morning after? This is usually much more effective than cutting down on things you care about, like hobbies or going on holiday.
3. Fish out 'lost' money
We're not talking about checking under the sofa cushions here. According to Compare the Market, we’re collectively sitting on £1.2 billion worth of money we’ve “lost” in dormant bank accounts. These are accounts banks have archived because they’ve been inactive for a long time.
Your bank should be able to check your account’s status and give you your money back. If you’re unsure which bank you should talk to, MyLostAccount can help you track down your account for free.
You may also be eligible for a refund from an old energy supplier if your account was in credit when you switched. According to My Energy Credit, the average credit balance on these accounts is £50.
It doesn’t matter how long ago you switched. If your account was in credit, you have a right to a refund. To claim it, simply call up your old supplier and they’ll advise you about their claims process. If you’re owed money from one of the Big Six energy suppliers, you can also make your claim through My Energy Credit for free.
4. Buff up your savings
While you should try and save all year round, spring is one of the best times of year to do it.
The tax year is about to end, so you have limited time left to use up as much of your yearly ISA allowance as you can (perhaps you could set aside what you saved on bills or recovered from your dormant account?). This year, the allowance is £20,000.
When the new tax year hits, some banks take the opportunity to offer new products and deals. This means you can usually find great introductory offers if you open a new savings account, switch or transfer an old ISA around this time. You could also get money for switching your current account - HSBC and First Direct have some good deals on right now.
While you’re at it, it’s also worth spending some time thinking about your financial goals and setting specific targets. For example, you may want to save £300 in six months to pay for a weekend away. This makes it easier to pick the right savings account, track your progress and stay motivated.
5. You're all set!
With your finances nice and organised, your spring cleaning is off to a good start. Now if only the weather would make up its mind...