9 Things to Do to Spring Clean Your Budget

While you're cleaning the house, make sure your budget is just as spotless.

Many of you probably have a spring-cleaning ritual. It is the time of the year when you wash the windows, air out the bedding and declutter. However, have you ever thought about sprucing up your budget?

That may sound strange, but it is the perfect time of year to take a good look at your finances. We’ve got some ideas of what to do to spring clean your budget.

1. Check Your Envelopes

Now would be a good time to make sure your cash envelopes (see how they work here) have the right amount in them. Take a look at your spending and determine if you need to make adjustments (up or down). Even if you don’t use cash, you should do this with your virtual envelope system as well.

You also need to make sure you don’t need to add new envelopes. Perhaps you find that you always go to your dining out envelope to get money for family fun. Why not make a separate envelope just for family fun? Now you have envelopes with a designated task and don’t need to take from one to fund another.

2. Clean Up Your Bills

Take a look at your spending. Are you paying for things you don’t need? Sometimes, we get so used to paying regular expenses that we ignore them.

For instance, you might not be ready to cut cable completely. However, are you paying for channels you really don’t watch? Go through your bills and make sure you aren’t wasting money on things you don’t use. (You can see seven easy ways to lower your cable bill here.)

3. Looking for Discounts

One of the goals of a budget is to help you keep as much money in your pocket as you can. Look back on your spending and you may discover you have items that could offer you a discount.

Believe it or not, there are many utilities that offer discounts to customers. You just have to know how to get them. You can take the time to research what others pay and call each company and try to negotiate your rates.

Once you make the phone calls, take additional steps to lower your utility costs. Your budget will thank you.

4. Establish New Goals

Goals are a tool we use in many areas of life, but what about budgeting? The truth is, you might already be setting goals and without realizing.

A goal could be as simple as paying down one credit card. It might be going on a dream vacation. Perhaps it is buying a car without a loan or paying for the first year of college tuition.

Whatever your goal, make sure you write it down. That instantly solidifies the goal. Then, you can place it somewhere you see it, every single day.

The more you see the goal, the more you remember what you want to achieve and hopefully avoid impulse purchases.

5. Lower Your Grocery Bill

This may seem like a strange one, but it can make a huge difference. It might mean shopping at a somewhere else.

For example, I slashed my grocery budget by switching to a difference store. By using this store to get most of our food, I dropped our grocery spending by more than $200 a month.

6. Transfer Your Credit Card Balance

This is the perfect time to look into getting a card with a 0% interest rate And transfer your balance to the new card. This will help eliminate interest on your balance, which might help you pay it down more quickly.

Just watch the introductory period. You need to pay the balance in full or transfer it again before the period lapses. Otherwise, you could end up paying even more in interest. (Interest rates are often based on creditworthiness — See two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

7. Lower Your Cellphone Bill

Most people think they are stuck paying whatever their wireless provider charges. That is true, for the most part.

However, you might be able to negotiate a lower rate. You may want to consider changing providers completely. Just call and see what happens.

8. Automate Your Savings

If saving money is difficult for you, you are not alone. Many people don’t have the discipline needed to save money every month. That is where automation helps.

You can see if your employer allows for your check to be directly deposited into multiple accounts. If so, have them deposit some of your paycheck directly into a savings account. If that is not an option, set up an automated transfer from your checking account into your savings account each month.

Once you do that, you will need to adjust the spending in your budget. Even saving just $25 a paycheck is better than nothing. You’ll be surprised at how much you do not miss the money.

9. Review Your Insurance

Take a look at not only your auto insurance but also your homeowners and life insurance.

Do some comparison shopping to make sure you are getting a good rate. If you get insurance from different providers, check to see if any of them offer any type of bundle discount. That might be reason enough to move all your coverage under one company.

If you’ve built up your emergency fund, you might be able to raise the deductible and lower your monthly out-of-pocket cost and save more than the deductible costs. Increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000 could save you a lot of money in your monthly costs.

In addition, if you do not yet have life insurance, now is the time to consider purchasing it. It isn’t for you. It’s for your family. Read more about why you need life insurance.

Taking the time to review your budget is wise, but we don’t always take a close look. Plan to do this each year along with your spring-cleaning schedule and you’ll never forget again.

Image: DGLimages

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When to Sell Your Stuff to Make the Most Money

It's time for spring cleaning. Here's how to get top dollar for your unwanted items.

If you’re like most folks, you have a lot of things tucked somewhere in the garage or storage shed that you aren’t using. But the thought of sorting through it all and trying to sell it can sound annoying at best and daunting at worst, especially when you think you won’t get much money for it.

“Nearly half of all Americans have $1,000 worth of unused items sitting around their homes, but the effort of having to spend the afternoon at a consignment store (or manning a garage sale) deters them from cashing in,” said Kelly Stephenson, director of marketing at OfferUp, an online marketplace.

But what if you could virtually guarantee you’ll get top dollar for your junk … ahem … stuff? Just think of what you could do with an extra $1,000. You could take a vacation, pay off your credit card debt, start an emergency fund or pay down your student loan debt.

The folks at OfferUp put together a list of the best times of year to sell different kinds of items, so you can get top dollar for your things. Whether it’s your old weight bench or your classic ’65 Mustang, knowing the right time of year to sell your stuff can make a big difference.

And by all means, avoid the garage sale option. Do you really want people showing up at your house at 7 a.m. to rifle through your things and haggle you down? Unless you enjoy a good barter, make it easy on yourself and use an online selling platform.

“The beauty of buying and selling online is that it simplifies the process,” Stephenson said. Many sites allow users to photograph and post items for sale immediately with their mobile phones.

Keep in mind when buying or selling online that it’s important to use trusted, verified sites and apps that include ID verification, user rating systems and other safety features that keep your credit card and personal identification information safe. (Be sure to check your credit report for errors or anything else fishy. You can get a free credit report snapshot at Credit.com.)

Here are the best times of the year to sell your stuff.

January Is Best for Gym Gear

With the surge of New Year’s resolutions about getting fit, many folks look for a good deal on gear to help them do it. The treadmill collecting dust in your garage can earn you the most money in the month of January. Same is true for hand weights, foam rollers, yoga mats and fitness DVDs.

February Is Best for TVs

If you upgraded your TV set over Christmas, get rid of your old one and put some extra cash in your pocket by selling it in February. The Super Bowl is this month, and TV sales tend to soar as many people want to host a party and watch the big game on a good TV.

March Is Best for Yard Gear

April showers may be gearing up to bring May flowers, but those with a green thumb are eager to get started on their gardening no matter what the weather is like. Your extra flower bulbs, shovels, gardening gloves and pots will sell well in the month of March.

April Is Best for Summer Festival Tickets

Coachella marks the beginning of music festival season in April and it continues on through the spring and summer with Outside Lands in California, Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Lollapalooza in Illinois, and Sasquatch in Washington. By April, tickets are already available (and are often already sold out), so if you decided to buy a ticket and have since changed your mind about attending, April is the best time to get cash back and maybe even earn a profit if demand is high.

May Is Best for Sports Cars & Convertibles

If your mid-life crisis sports car is gathering dust in the garage, or your family’s move from L.A. to Seattle means the convertible is no longer going to be in the regular driving rotation, DMV.org data show that springtime is your best time for selling them.

June Is Best for Kids Toys

With summer break around the corner for most schools, June is a great time to cash in on unused toys lying around your home. Put any soccer balls, bikes your kids grew out of and puzzles or board games they’re sick of up for sale this month.

July Is Best for Baby Gear

More babies are born in July and August than any other months of the year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. For families with old cribs and newborn baby gear packed away in the garage, a great time to sell them to get the most bang for the buck is in in the summer.

August Is Best for Back-to-School Items

Backpacks, lunch boxes and any unused school supplies left over from past school years can earn you some cash in August. Art supplies can also sell well because teachers are always looking to save cash stocking up on supplies for their classrooms.

September Is Best for Furniture

Many people, especially those with kids, tend to move during the summer months. The weather is better, the kids are out of school, the housing market is bursting with more options. By September, folks are moved and settling in, looking to fill their new space with the furniture they need. Take advantage by selling that old sofa during this month.

October Is Best for Children’s Snow Gear

No parent wants to take the gamble in April that the snow boots they’re buying for their kid are going to fit come December. If your kids have grown out of their old boots, jackets, pants, gloves and hats, sell them in October to ensure you’ll get solid offers from buyers.

November Is Best for Holiday Decor

If you have boxes of holiday decorations you know you won’t be using this year, dig them out of the garage and sell them for cash in November. Folks already gearing up for the upcoming visits from family will be interested in finding new ways to deck their halls.

December Is Best for Jewelry

The holidays not only spark a surge in the purchase of engagement rings and other sparkly gifts for significant others, but also a peak in breakups. So, if you’ve been dumped in the past year, or just want to sell some unwanted jewelry, now’s the time to sell it on a site like I Do, Now I Don’t, and get some extra holiday cash.

Now get out there and sell!

Image: bowdenimages

The post When to Sell Your Stuff to Make the Most Money appeared first on Credit.com.

Here’s Your Ultimate Spring Cleaning Shopping List

Spring cleaning is hard work. But with the right tools, sprucing up your home can take a little less elbow grease.

It’s been a long winter, and hibernating has not done us any favors — many of us have probably put off giving our caves a deep spring cleaning. But now that it’s (mostly) above freezing, it’s time to throw open those windows, let in some fresh air and get scrubbing.

A few friendly financial notes before you get going: While you’re sprucing up your home, it might be a good time to do the same with your finances. You can begin by getting a free credit report snapshot, updated every two weeks, on Credit.com. Also, be sure you don’t go overboard when it comes to buying Spring cleaning supplies. If you’re good about staying on budget, consider a solid shopping credit card to reap rewards off of your purchases. Just be sure to pay that balance off at the end of the month, so you don’t wind up losing those points, miles or cash back to interest.

With all that money stuff in mind, here’s what you need to know before you tackle the deepest clean of the year.

1. Spring Cleaning Tools

Sure, you’ve been vacuuming all along, but it’s time to go deeper. There’s no need to scrub on your hands and knees or wrestle with a mop. The Duop System ($29.99 and up) can be used with a handle or your hand. Created for professional cleaners, it’s designed to reduce the risk of injury while cleaning. The handle height is easy to adjust, whether you’re dusting the ceiling or washing the kitchen floor. The interchangeable microfiber pads, which come in a variety of sizes, can be used dry or wet, moistened with water or a mild cleanser.

For other areas, Leslie Reichert, green cleaning coach and author of The Joy Of Green Cleaning likes the General Purpose Cloth or the Kitchen Cloth from e-cloth ($7.99 each). Like the Duop, the cloths are microfiber so they often require nothing but water.

“If you have some spots that have a buildup of grease, you can spray the area with a touch of rubbing alcohol to break up the buildup and then wipe with the e-cloth,” she said. “The fibers in the cloth work to get underneath the dirt and lift it off without harming even delicate surfaces, like cabinets.”

As you move around the house with your Duop and e-cloth, bring your water in a lightweight bucket, like the colorful Kikkerland Collapsible Bucket ($10). When you’re done cleaning, it collapses flat for easy storage.

2. All-Purpose Cleaner

For tasks that require more than water, there’s no need to purchase a product with a long list of mysterious — and potentially toxic — ingredients. The Force of Nature Electrolyzed Cleaning Starter Kit ($59.95) converts salt, water and vinegar into a powerful cleaner by electrolyzing them. The kit includes everything you need to create several batches of non-toxic, fragrance-free cleaning solution. It also comes with travel-sized spray bottles to take on the go.

3. The Many Uses of Vinegar

Alyssa Kaldahl, merchandising manager at women’s apparel site Jane.com, suggests using vinegar for tough cleaning jobs. For instance, use equal parts vinegar and water on a sock to clean your blinds. Cleaning the fridge is a dreaded spring cleaning task, but here’s her fix.

“Throw away any expired food and then wipe down all the shelves and drawers with vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle,” she said. “You can also add some lemon or other citrus essential oil to your mix if you want to leave a nice scent.”

To get out stubborn carpet stains, she suggests spraying the spot with one part vinegar and two parts water, putting a damp rag over the spot and ironing the rag. Repeat until stain is gone.

4. Homemade Stain Remover

Lisa Batra, founder of My Kid’s Threads, an online consignment shop for kids’ clothes, knows stains. She said while it’s ideal to treat a stain ASAP, her team often doesn’t know how long a stain has been there. They inspect about 1,000 items each week and have had success with a homemade stain-remover recipe:

Combine one tablespoon baking soda, four tablespoons dish soap and eight tablespoons hydrogen peroxide in a small container and stir well. “Apply directly to the stain and rub gently with your finger, a piece of fabric or an old toothbrush,” she said. “Allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes and then wash normally.”

For surface stains, like on cabinets or counters, decluttering expert Kelly McClenahan, of the Live Uncluttered blog on PriceSelfStorage.com, suggests Mr. Clean MagicErasers ($5.76 at Walmart — check out our review of the Walmart credit card here).

“Use them to remove almost any surface stains, especially the burner areas of the flat-top stove and those occasional crayon marks you may find on your walls,” McClenahan said.

She also recommends using cotton swabs and old toothbrushes “to get down to the details with hard-to-reach, itty-bitty spaces.”

5. Get Organized

According to McClenahan, no spring cleaning is complete without sorting your stuff. “Box up items you no longer need in your home,” she said. “Separate things you want to keep, store, donate and trash.”

A great way to organize the items that you’re keeping but not using currently is to store them in boxes with labels. The Brother P-Touch Label Maker ($39.99 at Staples) is fun and easy to use. It has different fonts and modes to add your own flair. For storage boxes, my go-to is the Container Store, which carries boxes of virtually any size, shape or color.

If you’re worried more about your wallet than your abode as winter breaks, we’ve got 50 ways to give your finances a fresh start right here.

Image: omgimages

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4 Things You Shouldn’t Just Throw Away When You’re Spring Cleaning

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It’s that time of year again. You’re getting ready to clean out your closet — and your wallet. But be wary of simply throwing out every stray item you come across. Certain items can lead to big problems if they fall into the wrong hands, particularly when it comes to identity theft.

Here are four things you shouldn’t simply throw away while you’re spring cleaning this year.

1. Old Identification

Avoid chucking your old driver’s license and passport, no matter how bad your hair may have been in the photo. While the pictures can change, some of the personally identifiable information (PII) may stay the same. (Take your Social Security number, for instance.) Thieves can also glean info from the biometrics page on your old passports and this information can be used to perpetrate all kinds of identity theft. In lieu of trashing, store old IDs someplace others won’t think to look or can’t easily remove like a safe. Or run them through a cross-shredder before trashing.

2. Credit Cards

If you’ve been dealing with debt, it may seem like a good idea to trash those extra credit cards in your wallet. But there’s no guarantee a dumpster-diving thief won’t find the payment method and run up a big balance in your name. Formally cancel any credit card accounts you no longer wish to use (consider first whether or not doing so is what’s best for your credit score.) And cut up old/expired cards, too, in lieu of just chucking, to be extra-safe.

3. Financial Statements

There may not appear to be enough information on any of your old financial statements to cause too much harm, but thieves can be more savvy than you think. They could potentially use small bits of info contained in those pages to bypass security questions guarding an account. (Ever have a customer service rep ask for your home address before proceeding with your questions?) Put hard copies of documents through a shredder or consider switching to e-statements if you’re looking to accumulate less trash.

4. Junk Mail

It may seem counterintuitive to keep your junk mail, given its name, but you should think twice before tossing this correspondence in the trash. It could give clever thieves enough information to commit fraud or steal your identity. Pre-approved credit card solicitations, for instance, are particularly problematic, since criminals may be able actually apply for the credit card with a few other pieces of pilfered information. You can opt out of receiving these applications in the mail by calling 888-5-OPTOUT. In the meantime, take these through a shredder, too.

Remember, if you do have reason to believe any of your personal information has been compromised, you can keep an eye on your credit. A sudden drop in credit scores or mysterious line items on your credit reports are signs identity theft is occurring. You can look for red flags by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

If you do find errors related to fraud or otherwise, you should dispute them with the three major credit reporting agencies

More on Identity Theft:

Image: Marili Forastieri

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