March Challenge: Spring Clean Your Budget
As the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy once said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” It’s so true. The birds start singing, the buds start blooming, and the budgeters start looking for new ways to meet those money goals.
Something about the newness in nature this season gets us all in the mood to clear out the old. But spring-cleaning isn’t just for the house. You can spring-clean your budget as well. Give it a good once-over to see where you can save more money and stop bad habits.
This type of cleaning will get your budget working even better, making you a happier budgeter. Let’s get happy. Let’s get cleaning.
How to Give Your Budget a Spring-Cleaning
1. Set a budget meeting with your spouse.
You can’t move forward—and you can’t hit those money goals—if you and your spouse are going in different directions. And the thing is, you might have a really good money conversation and think things are just peachy. But then later down the road, you see you’re both spending with opposing intentions.
It’s time to check in. Budgeting is a journey you’re on together, so be in communication regularly so you can go the distance with your money.
Action step: Set up a good old-fashioned budget meeting this month. Look at last month’s budget. Where could you have done better? What can you change for the upcoming month to help you reach your goals? Then book a time to meet every month to review the budget and your dreams.
2. Get your legacy plans (aka estate planning) in order.
First, if you don’t have a will, put it on your calendar to get one this month. It will take only about 20 minutes with our recommended online will provider. And if your will is outdated, update it. Then, if you don’t have 10–12x your annual income in term life insurance, it’s time to get on it. Work with our recommended insurance provider to make sure you get the best deal possible on the exact coverage you need. That way you’ll take care of the people who matter the most when the thing you don’t want to talk about happens.
Why term life insurance instead of whole? We could go on forever about this, but basically just remember that term life is better for your finances, while whole is . . . a whole lot of no thank you. Whole life treats your insurance plan like an investment with a revolting rate of return and costs around $3,600 more than term life. See. A whole lot of no thank you.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable—because it means thinking about death. But it’s important, so we’ve got to get past the discomfort and get our legacy plans in order.
Action step: If you don’t have a will, put it on your calendar to get one this month. If yours is outdated, update it. If you have whole life insurance, or no life insurance at all, it’s time to get on it. Work with a term life insurance pro to make sure you get the exact coverage you need. That way you’ll take care of the people who matter the most when the thing you don’t want to talk about happens.
3. Look at your other insurance policies.
So often we set up renter’s, homeowner’s or car insurance once and just roll with it forever. But what if you don’t have the best policy possible? You could be tossing some serious cash out the figurative window. Insurance isn’t a slow cooker you set and forget. You saw how well that worked out for Jack in This Is Us. Be proactive. Don’t use slow cookers with fabric cords—and check in on your insurance.
Action step: Sometimes we don’t even know where to start with this stuff. If you need some help, take our 5-Minute Coverage Checkup. And if you’re ready to know if a better policy is out there, get in touch with an independent insurance pro to see what kind of money you could be pocketing rather than paying out.
4. Update your W-4.
Maybe you got a hefty tax return this year. It feels good at the time, but it means Uncle Sam’s been in charge of all that money all that time—instead of you. Yuck. Think of all the stuff you could have been doing with that cash while he was doing who knows what with it.
That’s why we think you should update your W-4. Instead of overpaying Uncle Sam this year, pay yourself.
Action step: Adjust your withholdings so you break even next year. Put that extra income to good use each month by paying extra on any debt, investing for retirement, or saving for your dream trip to dive with the dolphins. Say goodbye to giving interest-free loans to the government and hello to making the decisions with your own money.
5. Review your New Year’s goals.
You wrote them out. You made them measurable. You started seeing how they work in the rhythm of your everyday life. And then you realized some of those fabulous financial goals need tweaking.
It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure when you adjust your goals. It means you’re in tune with reality.
Action step: Sit down with your goals and do a solid review. Are you on track? Do you need to get honest and adjust things? Or do you need to get that January 1 motivation back and remind yourself why you’re doing this? It wouldn’t hurt to cut out pictures of your goals or write them out with a dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror. Your hard work has a very good reason. Spend time this week remembering that reason and reminding yourself it’s going to be worth it.
6. Have a moment of truth with your spending habits.
And while you’re there, pull out your EveryDollar budget and have a conversation with yourself about your spending habits. It’s time for a moment of truth with the person in the mirror.
Maybe you need what’s called the “compliment sandwich” which would go like this: “Hey, self. I see you’ve got that grocery budget under control. I’m so proud of you. But, look here. You went $100 over budget in the entertainment line three months in a row. It’s time to cancel your membership to the Mister Freeze Memorabilia Museum and your beginner fly-fishing lessons. But you’re killing it by turning off lights when you leave a room. The electricity bill thanks you.”
Whatever it takes, it’s time to get real. With yourself.
Action step: All jokes aside, give your budget a line by line look-over. Where are you missing the mark each month? What can you do to make budget in that area? Remember, it’s okay to change your planned amounts. But if you up the amount in one budget line, you have to lower another to balance everything out. And don’t be afraid to call yourself out on any overspending habits. If you won’t be honest with you, who will?
7. Automate your savings with direct deposits.
If you’re trying to make saving money a priority, it can get lost in the shuffle of rent, restaurant tabs underwater hockey club fees. When you set a portion of your paycheck to direct deposit into your savings account, you’ll be working on those savings goals without a second thought.
Action step: If you’re already using this method, consider automating even more savings. For example, that car insurance payment you save up for over six months—you could put that money on the direct deposit plan too. If you’re not automating any savings, get with your HR department or your bank to figure out how to start the process.
8. Clean up and sell off your stuff.
This is the actual spring-cleaning portion of our tips. Go through closets, get in the attic, and clear out the garage. You could be sitting on stuff you don’t use that other people would gladly pay money to use!
Action step: Select one spot in your house each weekend and clear it out. Toss the junk and sell the good stuff you just don’t need. Try online groups like Facebook, Craigslist or Poshmark. See if your work has a forum to post things for sale. Or get out those multi-colored price tag circle stickers and have yourself an old-fashioned yard sale. Donate what’s left to get the clutter out of your life. And what should you do with all that earned money? Reward yourself in a budget-friendly manner and then put the rest of that cash toward your money goals.
9. Start planning for summer vacation.
Spring has sprung. Boing!
And it’s got you thinking about all that sunshine to come. Warm days on the beach with the sand in your toes, a book in your hands, and your worries miles and miles away. But where’s the money for this dreamy summer vacay coming from? Not Mastercard—they’re not going to master you. Not Chase—your new budget-boss attitude has them on the run. Not Visa—they’re . . . okay we ran out of puns here. But you get the idea.
You can pay cash for your getaway. But you should start saving now.
Action step: It’s time to create a summer fun sinking fund. Divide the total amount of money you need for your trip by the months until you head out. That’s how much you need to save each month so you can cash-flow your vacation. Start saving now and those toes—and everything in your suitcase as well—will be covered in sand before you know it.
Why Spring-Clean Your Budget?
These spruce-ups are just what your budget needs as it blossoms out of the cold months of the year into the warmth of new beginnings. If you’ve been going strong on those money goals—it’s a great time to see what’s been working and keep headed in that direction. If you’ve been struggling—it’s a great time to figure out what’s been tripping you up so you can set a new course toward WinningTown, USA.
You’ve got a great team in your corner. Trustworthy insurance pros giving you advice and directing you to the best policies for now and the future. Your EveryDollar app making budgeting easier, clearer and better than ever. And you—because you’re the one making this happen. Every. Single. Day.
You’ve got this! Out with the old, and in with the you.