The new year may have come and gone, but that’s no excuse to just let your financial mess sit there. Now is the perfect time to take control of your finances and get yourself in order. You can even do it quickly and with relative ease. All it takes is five days and a little attention to detail.
Day 1: Check Your Credit Report
First thing - make sure you’re only being held accountable for the financial decisions you’ve made. Check out your credit report for all three bureaus at annualcreditreport.com and look over each of them to make sure only your own financial responsibilites are reporting to you. If you see something that looks incorrect, contact the reporting credit bureau right away to dispute or otherwise report the matter. Once that’s all done, you may want to head over to CreditKarma.com to give your credit score a look, just to know what you’re working with.
Day 2: Consolidate What You Can
Here’s what you’re going to do - take all similar accounts or debts, group them together, and see if you can make them one. Transfer balances on credit cards, consolidate your student loans, and consolidate bank accounts, if you’ve got more than one. It’s a lot easier to know what you’re working with when you’re managing a smaller number accounts, and it’s going to make Day 3 a lot easier, too. So take everything you’ve got, and make the number of accounts as small as possible.
Day 3: Automate
You want to make sure your most important expenses are being paid first, so if you haven’t set up auto pay for absolutely everything you can, today is the day. Set all your pressing payments from rent and utilities to loans and credit cards to withdraw automatically the day your paycheck comes in. That way, you’ll know that your most important expenses are covered without worry, and that what’s left in your account is actually available and not needed elsewhere. Plus, if you’re looking to build some savings, now’s a great time to automate a transfer between your checking and savings to make sure the money goes in before you accidentally spend it.
Day 4: Ready For Retirement
Have you rolled over your 401(k) from a previous employer? Do you even know how much you’re depositing? Today is the day to get things straight in terms of retirement. Roll over that 401(k) to a new employer’s plan, and while you’re at it, take a look at your contributions. If you aren’t making any - start making some. If you’re already making some, see if you can up it just a little even one or two percent could yield noticeable difference down the road.
Day 5: Finish Off Your Budget
It should be no surprise now that over the past four days you’ve been able to create a fairly workable budget plan, accounting for necessary expenses, savings, and retirement. Now is your time to finish it off. Put it all on paper so that you know what the numbers are, and once all of your expenses have been accounted for, decide what you’re going to do with the rest of the money you have left over. Save it? Spend it? Spend some, save some? It’s up to you. Just know what goals you’re hoping to accomplish with the cash you’ve got left. And don’t forget to treat yourself - people who know how to use their money moderately tend to do better in the long run than either extreme spenders or savers.