It’s spring. The sun is shining. Flowers are blooming. Bees are buzzing. As everything bursts into life, most people find renewed energy for the tasks they’ve been avoiding all winter – like cleaning out the garage or tidying the kitchen cupboards – but one area that often gets neglected throughout the year is your finances. These need just as much of your attention as your home all year around – not just when you do your planning and budgeting in January – so take a break from smelling the blossoms and take these six steps to get your money matters back in order.
Check your credit recordEvery South African is entitled to one free credit check through a credit bureau per year. While you may not think that you are in any financial trouble, it is possible that you have had a default or judgement against your name without your knowing it or that someone has fraudulently taken out credit in your name.
Do a real accounting of your debt It can be very easy to stick your head in the sand about accumulating debt from different providers. You may think you only owe R5 000, but if you actually add up what you owe on your grocery cards, your clothing accounts, your chemist account and your credit card, you’ll probably find that it’s a lot more than you thought. Working out exactly what you owe is the important first step to making a realistic repayment plan and hopefully avoiding too much credit in future.
Read more: Find out how you can go about dumping your debt. You have three options.
Get new car & home insurance quotes It’s always worth shopping around for insurance quotes, but it’s also important to ensure that you are comparing apples with apples. If you find a cheaper quote, make sure that you won’t be paying a larger excess on a claim, for instance. And look at the different benefits, and whether you are likely to use them.
Before you change insurers though, be sure give your current insurer a chance to match the quote – some will, some won’t – and also have a conversation to make sure that all your details are up to date. For example, an upgrade to your home security system or the decreased value of your car could reduce your monthly premiums.
Try to understand your rewards programmes You probably have a loyalty card at your local supermarket or chemist, at your bank, on your credit card and with your medical aid. Chances are that using these intelligently will get you discounts, freebies or money back. But most of us don’t use them strategically at all. Take some time to sit down with all your rewards programmes and compare the exact benefits you can expect for certain behaviours - you’ll probably have to make a couple of phone calls to figure them all out. Then try to remember how you score the best rewards (for instance, is it better to buy shampoo at your local pharmacy or supermarket?), and try to shop smart in future.
Top tip: Financial journalist Maya Fischer-French has great advice for getting the most out of your loyalty programmes.
Revisit your savings goals and your budget Most people start the New Year with some idea of what they need to do and what they’d like to achieve financially. But life happens, and come spring, your goals might have changed and you may have fallen short of your targets. It’s time to reassess what you were working towards, pat yourself on the back for your successes and create a new budget for dealing with the changes.
Perhaps you’ll have to skip your September break if you want to spend two weeks at the beach in December. Perhaps you’ll need to downscale your summer wardrobe shopping spree because your children have shot up and need new school uniforms. Make the compromises now rather than going into debt later.
Read more: Budget miles off the mark and you’re not sure why? Find out why your budget might not be working for you, and download a free spreadsheet to help get it right.
Check out your bank charges and clean up your accounts The big banks increase their charges during the year, so now’s a good time to have a look at what your financial institution is costing you. Find out if they offer more competitively priced products for your needs. Assess whether the accounts that you hold are actually offering you benefits that you use. And get rid of any accounts that are costing you money but that you don’t use at all.
Top tip: Ask for a meeting with consultant at your bank to go through your whole portfolio of accounts and services. They are able to help you to see the bigger picture and tell you about new products or services that you might need.
Happy spring! If there is any other money admin you’ve been avoiding, make a date with yourself to tackle it. We’re on our way into summer and the December holidays are just around the corner, so life is going to get expensive. Cleaning out your finances will give you a boost this spring and help you to plan for everything that’s coming your way.