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It's sometimes the case that we plan our budget and set money goals with the best of intentions―and then life happens and throws us off course. Without an organized system, you may lose track of where your money is going or lose sight of your financial goals.
Getting more organized with your money can help you live within your means, pay bills on time and reach your financial goals. Here are six ways to organize your finances.
1. Review Your Budget Monthly
Make it a habit to review your budget at least once a month to see if you've been spending within your means. If you've gone over budget, cut costs and adjust your targets as needed. For example, if you splurge on new shoes, try cutting out a few restaurant meals from your plans for the month and cook at home or have a picnic instead.
If you're not already tracking your spending and budgeting your money, you can start a budget now. Types of budgets include zero-based budgeting for a seriously structured budget or the 50/30/20 rule, which you can tailor to your needs.
2. Automate Your Savings
Pay yourself first to ensure that you've covered your saving and investing bases before you do your shopping or go out for dinner. Make saving a habit by automatically transferring a portion of each paycheck into your emergency fund and other savings. Consider housing this money in a high-yield savings account.
Experts also suggest directing at least 15% of your pretax income into a retirement account, including an employer match if you're offered one. If your work offers a 401(k), you can set up automatic withholding to invest a portion of your pay pretax. You can also set up a traditional or Roth IRA through a brokerage.
3. Create a Payday Routine
A payday routine is one way to stick with a schedule and structure your money goals around your paycheck. That way, you'll be able to direct your funds toward boosting your financial health every time you get paid.
Here are some tips to create a payday routine:
- Commit a time block each week to your routine, such as 15 minutes each payday. Keep your financial documents on hand while you complete your routine.
- Check your bank account to ensure your direct deposit was deposited into your account. Review your actual income against your expected income.
- Check to make sure your automatic savings transfers went through.
- Allocate your income toward categories in your budget.
4. Separate Discretionary Spending
If you're using one checking account for all your expenses, including your housing payment, utility bills, groceries and entertainment, try separating your necessary expenses from your "fun money" to make it easier to control your spending.
If your employer allows it, you may be able to split your direct deposit into two accounts. One account could be used to pay housing expenses, bills, retirement contributions and other unavoidable costs such as groceries. A second account will be used for your discretionary spending money. Putting money into this account is like giving yourself an allowance.
You could also use a dining and entertainment rewards credit card to earn points every time you treat yourself. Be sure to keep your spending to your budgeted amount with balance alerts, and pay off your balance before the grace period ends to avoid incurring any interest.
5. Organize and Automate Your Bills
It's easy to forget to pay bills without a system in place, but missing payments can carry consequences. Late credit card payments appear on your report, and even missing a payment that doesn't show up on your report can add stress to your life—and your budget.
Try these tips to streamline your bill payments:
- List all of your bills, including utility bills, subscriptions and minimum debt payments, in one place. Write down the due date and typical amount due next to each provider's name.
- Use your bank or credit union's bill payment center to make it easy to track and pay bills. You can usually choose between making one-time bill payments or setting up autopay.
- Consider adding calendar notifications on your phone or other device so you'll be reminded when a bill is coming up and can make sure you have the available funds.
- Plan for irregular bills such as renewing your car registration by setting up sinking funds and earmarking money throughout the year.
6. Make a Plan to Manage Debt
Here's how to get more organized in your approach to debt management:
- List all your debt in one place, including your credit card or personal loan balances, mortgage, auto loan or student loans.
- Next to each of your debts, note all pertinent information: the total balance, the interest rate, the minimum payment due and the monthly due date.
- Focus your efforts on erasing one debt at a time while still making the minimum payment on all other debts. Where should you start? You can use the debt snowball method and start with the smallest balance first, or use the debt avalanche method and pay down the highest interest debt first. You can also try gamifying debt repayment to incentivize your progress.
Monitor Your Credit Score
Just as organizing your finances makes reaching your money goals easier, you can get organized in your approach to monitoring your credit report to increase your credit score.
Signing up for Experian's free credit monitoring can help you stay on top of your credit, monitor your credit balances and receive real-time alerts to changes in your score. Staying in the know about your credit history and how lenders may see you as a borrower can help you plan for large purchases down the line and avoid any surprises when you apply for credit.