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5 Ways to Streamline Your Finances

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Money mess runneth over? Here’s how to get a grip.

There are a few areas that just seem to attract disorder, and the financial aspects of our lives is a main culprit. Receipts get stuffed into the wallet, bank statements are pinging in the email, and 48 credit card offers bloom in the snail-mail slot every day. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind. For this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s look at a few ways to whack back the money clutter—no CPA degree required.

Set recurring payments

About 56 percent of bills in the U.S. are paid online—that’s 8.2 billion bills, reports a 2017 study from ACI Worldwide. But only 32 percent of those are bills set up on a recurring basis. That means there’s plenty of room for us to grow into the idea of setting up recurring payments, rather than logging into an account each month and manually paying a bill online. See what regular payments—rent, mortgage, car insurance— you can automate.

Go minimalist with credit

Close old credit cards and resist the temptation to have a bunch of store credit cards. Having just one card lets you closely monitor what you’re actually spending, to watch for fraud, and to avoid missing payments.

Reduce your goals

Having goals is noble, but Bob Lotich, of SeedTime, writes that having multiple financial goals not only spreads your efforts too thin, but can cause confusion. Pick one goal, such as paying off a credit card, then, move on to the next, such as building up a rainy-day fund. Stay focused on one at a time and you’ll succeed.

Consolidate accounts

If you’ve moved cities or jobs a lot, you may have left a trail behind of savings and 401(k) accounts. That can lead to a lot of statements, passwords and overall unkempt finances. Lump the savings accounts into one, or into a CD. Talk to your financial advisor about getting the 401(k)s moved into an IRA, or, you may be able to get it rolled into your current employer’s 401(k) program.

Take the one drawer challenge

Nancy Anderson, a Forbes contributor and financial planner, writes that you can get your financial life into one file drawer. Hard to believe? Here’s what you need. One hanging folder should contain original documents ready to go in an emergency—birth certificates, marriage licenses, insurance information. Another file folder is for documents relating to this year’s taxes. One more should be marked “if I pass away” info for beneficiaries. Then, keep the tax returns only for seven years the IRS requires. Everything else gets shredded, tossed, or if it’s important, scanned. The electronic versions can live on Dropbox or iCloud. Feel lighter? Good! As Francine Jay said, “Your home is living space, not storage space.”


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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