Personal Finance

Take time to spring clean your budget

How to clean up your finances

While you shed the winter funk and spring clean your home, don't forget to cut the clutter and straighten up your finances. If you don't know where to begin, start with your budget.

"You have to know what's coming in and going out. In terms of expenses, most people don't know what they spend and most underestimate [their spending]," said Ellen Rogin, a certified financial planner in Northfield, Ill.

For example, Rogin said she was creating a financial statement for one of her clients who had bank accounts in multiple locations. The client "was 40 years old and she still had a custodian account she never cleaned up," Rogin said. 

When the client saw her net worth, she suddenly remembered she had stock certificates in a safe deposit box that her parents had given her years before. "She had half a million dollars and didn't even know it," Rogin said.

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OK, you probably don't have half a million dollars you're unaware of, but you should still know your net worth. That's your assets, such as your savings and investments, minus your liabilities, such as credit card debit and student loans. Having a budget and regularly checking it will help you keep an eye on your net worth. 

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If you don't have a budget, mobile apps make building one simple. "For millennials, they are comfortable with apps and a lot of my clients use Mint or YNAB (you need a budget) because they are both really easy to use and help you manage your investments," said Leslie Beck, a certified financial planner in New York City.

When you have your budget in order, then it is time to clear out what you don't need. Are you spending money on things you don't even use, like a gym membership? Are you paying too much for cable or car insurance? American drivers overpay an average of $368 each year for car insurance, according to a 2013 NerdWallet survey. What about you cell phone data plan? The Citizens Utility Board for Illinois found customers spent a total of $1.4 billion a year on cell phone data that they didn't use ... and that's just in Illinois.

 "No one needs to pay full price for things like cell phone data or cable. They are constantly updating to better deals and all you need to do is call," Beck said. 

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Once you remove the clutter of unnecessary expenses from your budget, you can make room for what's really important to you. Whether that's saving for a home or investing for retirement.