9 Tips to Declutter Your Finances

Lately I’ve become overwhelmed with clutter. Everything from my office to my home to my finances is filled with unnecessary stuff. And all this stuff creates stress and reduces efficiency. Just the other day my wife and I spent one hour searching for two bills that, as we eventually learned, were at the bottom of a pile of stuff on our kitchen counter. And now I am just plain fed up with all this clutter.

So I’ve started embracing what Leo Babauta (famed blogger of Zen Habits) calls The Power of Less. In his new book of the same title, he describes “the fine art of limiting yourself to the essential . . . in business and in life.” And that’s what I’m trying to do, beginning with our finances. So here are 10 tips to help you declutter your finances:

1. Reduce your mail and deal with it immediately: Mail can build up into an unwieldy mound of paper in no time. Let the mail go for even a day or two, and you’ll find a pile of junk mail, bills, magazines and everything else growing on your kitchen counter or wherever you throw your mail. And if you are like me, when this happens an uneasy feeling begins to build in the pit of your stomach that somewhere in that pile is a bill or other important letter that you need to deal with if you could only find it. To avoid the stress and distraction, give your mail the one-two punch.

First, reduce the junk mail you receive. There are some paid services you can use, but the Direct Marketing Association offers a free service that they estimate will eliminate 75% of your junk mail. You’ll find DMA’s online application form here. Second, deal with the mail you do receive daily. If you receive a bill, pay it immediately or file it with your other bills to be paid twice a month or on whatever schedule you follow. The point is to deal with every piece of mail the day you receive it.

2. Automate Bill Pay: For bills that you pay every month, set up automatic payment from your checking or other bank account. We pay most of our monthly bills automatically, including the mortgage, home equity line of credit, utilities, garbage collection, internet phone, cable, and cell phone. Not only does automatic bill pay save time, but it also eliminates the chance we’ll forget to pay a bill on time.

3. Go Paperless (Part I): Credit card companies, mutual funds, banks and other companies are moving towards paperless statements. Vanguard, for example, eliminates certain annual fees if you agree to receive investing materials electronically. Not only do paperless statements save trees and money, but they also cut down on your time processing mail and dealing with clutter.

4. Go Paperless (Part II): For those documents you do receive and must keep, consider scanning the document and saving it electronically. We have an inexpensive scanner that also serves as our printer and a copier. Scanning is easy, and it reduces the clutter in our home. Here are some Energy Star scanners from Amazon that are reasonably priced.

5. Use Google Docs: This is one of my favorite personal finance tools. With Google Docs, you get a word processor and spreadsheet software for free. And because they are Internet based, you can access or share your documents via any computer with Internet access. The spreadsheet can be used to track your monthly budget or balance sheet. We also use spreadsheets to track important information, rather than keeping it in paper form. You can get started with Google Docs here.

6. Consolidate Debt: You may have debt from credit cards, car payments, a home equity loan and so on that can be simplified by consolidating some or all of it. Of course, there are factors that must be considered beyond just simplifying your finances, such as interest rates, the term of the loan, recourse, and so on. But if you can take multiple loans and reduce them to one or two, it can make life much simpler. I’ve done that with balance transfer credit card offers, and it makes paying the bills each month a lot easier.

7. Automate Investments: If you make regular investments or savings contributions, set up an automatic investment plan. You can have a portion of your paycheck directed to a savings account or broker. And you can set up automatic investments with any broker or mutual fund company. We invest each month in an automatic investment plan with Betterment. Once you set up the automatic investment plan, you don’t have to worry about missing an investment, and it makes saving a lot easier.

8. Use Personal Finance Software: Personal finance software such as Quicken or YNAB make tracking your finances really easy. You can download banking, credit card, or investment transactions into the software, and it makes setting up a budget really simple. There are also several free budget software options you can use, too. Either way, personal finance software packages are an important money management tool that beat tracking your finances on paper.

9. Use a Debit Card: We use our bank debit card for just about everything. Because it is a MasterCard, it is accepted just about everywhere. By using a debit card, we have a record of every purchase we make. It makes tracking our expenses very easy, and we don’t have to worry about carrying a lot of cash around. For online purchases, we use a credit card for security reasons. We also use a credit card to take advantage of travel rewards. But whether it is a credit card or debit card, the convenience and expense tracking our the same.

If you know of other tips to help declutter finances, please leave a comment.

Published or Updated: September 20, 2014
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Jason Unger says:

    Great tips! I agree wholeheartedly about using a debit card for all purchases — it’s essentially the same as using cash, but you don’t have to carry around a fat wallet and you can track all of your purchases online.

    The more financial automation you can do in your life — bill pay, track spending, save and invest automatically — the less you’ll have to worry about and the better off you’ll be.

    • Joy says:

      My debit card has been hacked twice (had to be replaced) and now I just heard that Home Depot purchases with debits has been invaded. So, I am now considering using my credit card, that gives more security backup, for everything and paying it all once a month before the interest is added in.

  2. George says:

    Yes personal finance software is definitely very important… There are many choices other than Quicken or Money though. I recommend Fortora Fresh Finance, it’s super easy to use and it’s available for Mac and PC.

  3. Ann says:

    Tip #1 – Great tip. I go through the mail everyday at the kitchen table. Sales circulars and other type of “junk mail” gets put in one pile to go into the recycling bucket. Items such as CC offers (still get some) & other things that might have sensitive material gets put in another pile to be shredded. Bills are filed in our mail rack in chronological order as to due date. Everything else (personal correspondence, kids’ school notices, etc.) is addressed as needed. This really does have to be done daily because a couple of days or more of mail then becomes a BIG chore to go through instead of a five or ten minute SMALL chore to do.

    Tip #9 – love this one! We have been using Quicken ever since we got our first computer for over 14 years ago. What a great time saver. Just the ease & speed of reconciling our checking accounts makes it worth using.

  4. Craig says:

    I always mentally automate my finances meaning that when the check comes in I automatically transfer it right away myself. A lot of people recommend setting it up to automatically do it so they don’t have to worry about it or make the decision.

  5. Ken says:

    My problem with debit cards is I forget to record my purchases. My wife carries the checkbook and I can’t record until I get home and the receipt gets set on the table and “I’ll record it tomorow” begins…then the receipt gets mispplaced…we have to declutter this problem. Any suggestions?

    • fee says:

      Maybe just write the info in a notebook or your diary & transfer it once a week?

    • Joy says:

      Put a small basket inside your door or next to where you put your keys when you get home and drop your receipts in it before you do anything else :)

  6. Joe says:

    “…the fine art of limiting yourself to the essential…. ”

    Something we always have to keep in mind. Our culture is a consumerist culture – a culture that tends to store clutter. After all, we define prosperity with the wealth (and assetts) we amass.

  7. RAJEEV SINGH says:

    Great post.. yes lesser things on one plate makes it easier to amnage it… in that sense truly agree with you.

  8. Great post .. thanks

  9. Dave says:

    Your first tip reminded me of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. That book isn’t about personal finance, but really helped me figure out what was making the day-to-day feel so cluttered, and helped me get things under control. If you haven’t read it, you should take a look.

    Just keep in mind that its not a quick-fix. He spends alot of time talking about the psychology and mindset, and leaves a lot of the details up to you.

  10. Jeff D says:

    Not to sound like a broken record but these are some great, useful tips. If you use Excel for budget sheets, you can easily save them to an Office Live Workspace via an Excel plugin, rather than having to go save your files via a website, and you can still access them from any computer with web access. If you don’t use Excel, there are free web app versions of Office products you can use to edit spreadsheets and type documents as well. Here are some screenshots: http://workspace.officelive.com/LearnMore
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    MSFT Office Live Team
    @office_live

  11. I am looking at simplifying my finances but from a different angle. As of March 31st I started a one month experiment to see if you can even live without electronic banking, debit/credit crads, direct deposits and auto bill pay. I am going Old School Finances @ ChangeJarSavings.com

  12. DR says:

    Ken,
    One idea would be to carry your own register and number the items as you record them. Then when you get home just use the number and the amount of the deduction to record in your wife’s register.
    Mrs. Dough

  13. DebtGuru says:

    I found several tips listed that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. This is a great article. I never really did put much thought into the stress that pile of mail actually causes me.

Speak Your Mind

*