For many of us, 2023 was a financially challenging year for navigating inflation, realizing the end of a pandemic, accommodating high-interest credit card rates, and deciphering headlines around student loan repayment. Finding and maintaining best practices for your finances is time and energy-consuming; and with the residual effects of daylight savings time, people often feel like they’re running behind. Still, there is no time like the present to spring clean your finances – out with the old and in with the new!

Spring is not just the time to clean your house and rearrange your closet but also the perfect opportunity to tidy up your finances. By cleaning up your financial life, you can pave the way for a brighter economic future; and we have six simple steps to help you do just that.

Step 1: Polish Your Financial Goals

If you haven’t set goals yet, don’t worry! Begin by envisioning your financial future, what you want it to look like, and contemplate how to achieve your dream. Next, put your goals into a SMART list. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. Your financial goals can be both short and long-term. Short-term goals can be achieved within the next year or two, while long-term goals are those extending beyond five years. As you identify your goals, prioritize them based on their importance – think about which ones are critical, which are needs, and which are wants. Doing so will help you allocate your funds accordingly. Last, set tentative target dates for when you plan to achieve each specific goal.

Step 2: Dust Off Your Budget

Before you choose a budgeting method that works for you, examine all your sources of income to determine your monthly earnings. Afterward, analyze your expenses. Once you clearly understand your income and expenses, you can start allocating money into different categories to achieve your financial goals. The 50/30/20 method is a popular method for those just building a budget. It splits your income across three main categories, with 50% allocated to needs, 30% to your wants, and 20% to savings. Alternatively, the “Pay Yourself First” method prioritizes savings. Typical spending habits are usually getting your paycheck, paying bills, using leftovers for spending money, and then putting whatever is left into savings. With “pay yourself first,” you re-order these steps with a portion of your paycheck going to savings first, next you pay your bills, and then use the remaining amount for discretionary spending.

Step 3: Toss Out Your Debt

First, make a comprehensive list of all your outstanding debts, how much you owe for each, and include respective monthly minimum payments. This assessment will give you a clear picture of the total amount you owe and the payment schedule to which you’re currently committed. Next, take note of the interest rate of each debt. It may be worth consolidating multiple high-interest loans into one loan with a lower interest rate. Remember, the ultimate goal is to save money and pay off debt as efficiently as possible. Once you clearly understand your debt, create a plan of attack. There are two main strategies for paying off debt – the “snowball method” and the “avalanche method.” The “snowball” tackles the smallest balances first, while the “avalanche” begins with the highest interest rates first. For each scenario, it’s important to continue paying the minimum due while using the remainder to make higher payments on the debts you want to pay off first.

Step 4: Make Sure Your Credit Report is Squeaky Clean

Your debt is what generates your credit. Your report and credit score can influence some of the most important decisions of your life, so it’s important to make sure they’re squeaky clean. Your credit report can determine whether you’re approved for a loan, and it can impact the interest rate you’ll pay on your loan. A higher credit score generally translates to lower interest rates, saving you money in the long run; that’s why you should always review your credit report before financing big purchases. Once you check your credit score, determine whether you need to take action to improve it.

Many people avoid reviewing their credit reports and scores, afraid of what they might find; but the more frequently you review them, the sooner you’ll spot errors and can request they be corrected. Chartway’s Online Banking Credit Score tool gives you a free credit report snapshot. Another resource for free credit reports is, which allows you to pull your credit report every week from each of the big three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Once you’ve pulled your credit reports, review them closely to ensure all debts listed are yours and all identifying information is correct. If you notice anything unusual, investigate and dispute it with the agency.

Step 5: Deep Clean Your Savings Habits

Maximizing unexpected windfalls is a great way to boost your savings. Consider putting tax refunds, work bonuses, monetary gifts from family, and inheritances into your savings or emergency fund. Spring clean your home by going through every room, closet, and storage space to rid yourself of things you no longer want or use, then sell them at a yard sale or online to earn extra cash. Do you have a talent or hobby that could earn additional income? You might want to consider doing part-time work or selling your creations on platforms like Etsy. Ultimately, your savings account is something to “set and forget.” So, whenever extra money comes your way, put it in your savings or emergency fund in ways that increase its return potential, like CDs or Money Market accounts. 

Step 6: Make Your Investments Sparkle

If you haven’t already, consider starting a 401(k) or 403(b) with your employer to set yourself up for future financial success. And if you’re already contributing, make sure it’s enough that you’re not leaving any free money on the table – you want to get your employer’s maximum match. To boost your retirement savings even more, consider increasing your contributions by a small percentage of your income each year; this incremental approach will pay off over time. If you also have outside investments, reviewing your portfolio is a good idea to ensure you’re diversified, maximizing your returns, and reducing your tax burden. If you need help, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a Chartway Relationship Manager.

As we enter the Spring season, we want to help your finances bloom and grow. We’re grateful for the opportunity to educate you, with the help of our financial education partners at GreenPath, by providing practical tips to spring clean your finances. As you pause to smell the budding roses, we encourage you to stop by one of our branches and connect with a team member to learn more about SMART saving, spending, and borrowing as well as investment options for building your finances.