How to spring clean your financial house

It's almost spring, you guys. I don't know about the weather in your neck of the woods, but that's a welcome thought where I'm at, and I live in Texas!

(Northerners, feel free to make fun of my idea of a cold winter. I don't care. I did not sign up for anything colder than highs of 50 degrees.)

At any rate, I've been on a cleaning and organizing kick, a bit of early spring cleaning, if you will. I don't know what's gotten into me. Maybe it's that the days are getting a little longer and that we've finally had some consistent sunshine around here. And those might be the reasons we spring clean in the first place, according to TLC's How Stuff Works:

“Ultimately, spring cleaning may have more to do with simple biology. During winter, we're exposed to less sunlight due to shorter, often dreary days. With a lack of exposure to light, the pineal gland produces melatonin — a hormone that produces sleepiness in humans. Conversely, when we're exposed to sunlight, our bodies produce much less melatonin. It's possible that we spring clean simply because we wake up from a winter long melatonin-induced stupor and find more energy as the days grow longer when spring arrives. After all, it's easy to allow a house to get a little gross around the edges when you're sleepy.”

OK, I don't know about gross. I am, after all, my mother's daughter. Case in point: Last Christmas, my mother bought me a Roomba. And she did it because we had a lengthy conversation about how great it would be to have a robot vacuum for daily cleaning. In between real house cleaning, of course.

At any rate, when I awoke from my melatonin-induced stupor, I realized that my files, both physical and digital, were a bit of a mess.

Files, files everywhere

My husband and I are selling our vacant land, and we finally have buyers — yea! (Buyers who need things like our septic system design and copies of permits and title documents — boo!)

The good news was that I kept all of these things in a file folder. The bad news was that every scrap of paper related to the land was also shoved into that folder. So, I started organizing the file. That led to organizing our tax return files. Then I just did the whole stupid file cabinet.

Then I realized that some of my files live on the computer, like last year's tax returns. But my digital file cabinet was a mess too, so I spent a few hours organizing those files.

Not so fresh and so clean

I was quite proud of my gangsta organizing skills. I labeled stuff. I purged. I digitized the heck outta some documents. My files were pristine.

But then I read a report from Experian's ProtectMyID, and my bubble burst.

Now, as a financial writer, I get a lot of reports and studies in my inbox. I trash most of them (you're welcome). But this one caught my attention. It was about tidying up files to safeguard your finances and your identity. And the reason that it caught my attention was that I wasn't doing a lot the stuff they said I should be doing. Gasp! My financial house was gross around the edges!

So, I demanded some answers. Or rather, I kindly requested an interview. Here's what I learned from Becky Frost, senior manager of Experian's ProtectMyID.

1. Shred like Steve Vai. Spring cleaning is a good time to get rid of things you no longer need, including old documents. “You probably have documents that you no longer need to keep, like old financial statements from 1992,” says Frost.

But don't just throw them away; shred sensitive personal documents you don't need to keep. “If a document has your current address or an account number on it, for instance, you should shred it,” says Frost. “I highly advocate having a personal shredder at home, and today they're pretty affordable.”

What to look for in a shredder? One that crosscuts, says Frost. “You don't want a shredder that shreds in strips, which are easy for a thief to tape back together.”

Also, for tax documents, check with IRS.gov to find out how long you need to hold on to records before shredding.

2. As seasons change, so should passwords. Want to hear something sad? I'm so bad at remembering my own passwords that I tried using one of those services like LastPass that remembers your passwords for you. Then I somehow got locked out of that too. This was what that looked like.

So point is, I'm good at setting unique, strong passwords. I just don't remember them. And to throw another wrench in this operation, I just learned that I need to change my passwords regularly. Double d'oh.

“We recommend changing passwords with the change of every season,” says Frost, “but that's not something that everyone likes to do.” No, everyone does not.

But Frost had an old-school suggestion for me that she says is perfectly safe in a digital world: Write your passwords down on a piece of paper. It sounded dangerous, but she says it's “completely fine as long as you store that piece of paper in a secure location, like a locked safe box.”

Other password tips?

  • Passwords should have at least eight characters, including numerals, upper and lowercase letters, and special characters.

  • They should never be obvious, like part of your name or your mother's maiden name. “Unfortunately, one of the top five passwords people use is still ‘password,'” says Frost.

  • You should have a different password for every account.

“Also, if you're using something like a bank app, remember to log out of the app each time and to password protect your mobile device's lock screen,” says Frost. “Don't give a thief easy access.”

3. Clean out your wallet. Most of us know that you shouldn't carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If you didn't know that, get that thing out of your wallet! Ditto for passports, birth certificates, and anything with your Social Security number printed on it.

But Frost goes a bit further, saying that we should only carry what we need on a daily basis. “If you have multiple credit cards, only carry the ones you use most often,” says Frost. “Keep the others in a safe place, which means a box or a drawer with a lock on it.”

And the lock is important. Many times fraudsters and thieves turn out to be family members, friends, or employees, and not masked bandits. “Put a lock on the drawer so you won't give people the opportunity to commit a crime in the first place,” says Frost.

Another reason to carry the bare minimum? You might lose your wallet. That happened to my dad last week, and he had to remember what was in it to figure out whom to call and what to cancel.

So, after talking to Frost, it seems that I still have some cobwebs to clean. But what about you? Do your files and accounts need a good spring cleaning? Also, I'd like to ask for your paper shredder recommendations, if you have any!

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Dave @ The New York Budget
Dave @ The New York Budget
6 years ago

I am embarrassed to say that when I read the line “TLC’s How Stuff Works” my immediate thought was “I haven’t heard of that song by them”. I immediately figured it out, but it didn’t stop “Waterfalls” from instantly getting stuck in my head. Good advice though!

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Good tips. I have some shredding to do!

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
6 years ago

Another good piece of advice (I believe I read it on this site 🙂 ) is to photocopy the back and front of everything you regularly carry in your wallet. That way if it gets lost or stolen you have a record and a quick way to go through the items and call to cancel cards. This is particularly useful when travelling.
Also – I definitely agree that creating, remembering, and changing passwords is a huge pain. 🙂

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
6 years ago

I scan mine and store it online in the ‘cloud.’

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

Clothing and paper are my nemesis. If it weren’t for those 2 things I’d be the neatest thing ever.

April
April
6 years ago

Haha. Dave, this is for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9U6JsBHpJg

April
April
6 years ago
Reply to  April

Uh, okay, weird comment thing happening. My comment was supposed to be in reply to Dave above…

Dave @ The New York Budget
Dave @ The New York Budget
6 years ago
Reply to  April

Haha – thanks April!

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I’m so bad about the passwords. Every site has different password requirements so I already feel like I’m trying to memorize a zillion- and then I’m supposed to change them every few months? ahhh. I’m ready for fingerprint technology.

Cookster
Cookster
6 years ago

Stefani, I keep an index card in the top drawer of my desk with all my passwords to sites. This is KISS.

Barbara
Barbara
6 years ago
Reply to  Cookster

Where do you live?

AZ Joe
AZ Joe
6 years ago

Good things to think about. Personally I don’t change passwords all that often (I cornered a “security specialist” once and asked why they had to be changed frequently, he said “everyone says that” but other wise had no real good rationale – unless you have had a password compromised) My passwords are non-words, long and unique. If you must change passwords frequently, one possibility to help keep track is to use the same password for each site all the time and add the year and quarter’s number from two years ago (or when ever, your choice). It is possible to… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
6 years ago
Reply to  AZ Joe

I’ve heard the reason that one should switch passwords is because passwords when discovered are not used immedaitely, but the theifs are stealing and compiling passwords and wait until they have enough. (Once they start using the information, law enforcement can determine the common link.) So if you change your passwords every 30 days to 3 months, you can have a new password before you’re a victim.

Jen
Jen
6 years ago
Reply to  AZ Joe

One think I like to use to create passwords at work (where I have 40+ different sign ons and have to change the password every 6-8 weeks (depending on the app) is I’ll use Shakespeare soliloquies so

Tbontb#1 (To be or not to be)
Tisq&&&2 (That is the question)

This way I always have the next password lined up. It also works with famous speeches, song lyics ect.

Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
6 years ago

My credit union offers free shred days a couple times a year and my husband’s work also has a secure paper disposal system as well. You might want to look into free options so you don’t wind up spending the money and taking up the space if you don’t need to.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

Great tips, April! I recently learned the password thing the hard way :/

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago

Winter in Indiana has been awful this year and I am sooooooooo ready for spring!
We just moved and I took extra care to “spring clean” as we moved our stuff in. I even went through our old filing cabinet and shredded about a million things we didn’t need anymore (like oil change records for cars we no longer have). So, all in all, I think I’m ahead of the game this year.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
6 years ago

Obsessive much? Shredding oil change records from cars you don’t own any more?

hannah
hannah
6 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

you’d be surprised what information is on an oil change invoice, and what harm it can do.
Scammers will glean small bits of knowledge about you from things like that or from bank statements, emails etc, and then pass themselves off as yourself.
This is particularly an issue in the financial world. As an experiment, call your ur bank and ask for your account balance without volunteering anything beyond your name. See if your bank does an adequate job of asking questions only you should know, and not just account # and SSN. You might be unpleasantly surprised.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
6 years ago
Reply to  hannah

I had no idea. Thanks!

Thomas @ i need money ASAP!
Thomas @ i need money ASAP!
6 years ago

This is also a great opportunity to get your free credit report. You get one free every year so why not take this time to check up on your credit history. It’s a great way to catch and errors or “funny business”.

Yenka discount
Yenka discount
6 years ago

Great Article. your All Information is Really Helpful for Me. Thank you very much for Sharing.

Phil
Phil
6 years ago

“You guys”? If you were from Texas you would have said y’all 😉

Helen
Helen
6 years ago

what scanner, program do you use

Another Beth
Another Beth
6 years ago

I have been early spring-cleaning, too! I decided I would tackle one drawer or shelf every day. It’s a slow process, but I have cleared out about two boxes of Stuff we can donate or sell at our yard sale this summer, and that’s just from two rooms. I am only doing one a day because I know how I work. 🙂 If I thought about tackling an entire room of shelves and drawers at once, I would lose steam after about an hour and then skip the rest of the house for a long time. I’m only spending about… Read more »

HKR
HKR
6 years ago

Great tips! The last one about losing your wallet and having to remember a zillion numbers to get everything cancelled reminded me of a handy service my bank offers, and I’m sure lots of others do too: My community bank offers a Plus package on its checking accounts. Now, there is a monthly fee, which I know alot of people find ridiculous in the age of Free Banking, but by taking advantage of two features that fee comes out to $1.45/mo. First, if you have the bank’s credit card you automatically get $50 rewards every year, and second they do… Read more »

Elissa @ 20s Finances
Elissa @ 20s Finances
6 years ago

Definitely shredding! It’s very important, more so than most realize. Better to be safe than sorry.

Alex
Alex
6 years ago

One way that I found really useful when it comes to keeping my desk clean and clutter-free is by getting a PDF scanner. It works really well to digitize all my documents and makes it easy to look for later on.

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

I remember being told in school that spring cleaning came about because old methods of heating made a lot of dust and soot, and warmer weather made it possible to open the house and wipe everything down. I never knew anyone with coal or wood heat indoors, so I don’t know if it’s true or not.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
6 years ago
Reply to  Marie

Oh, it was! My mother used to have to revarnish the furniture every spring, and they heated with coal. Their walnut tables that my Dad refinished when I was a teenager turned out to be golden oak! That coal dust got everywhere.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I have a shredder that I use regularly but I really need to dig into some old file and get rid of them.

Lisa @ CreditsPoint
Lisa @ CreditsPoint
6 years ago

This is a great idea! Financial Spring Cleaning is something everyone should do. The miscellaneous papers can really build up and the sooner you can fight the chaos the better. Thanks for the great tips!

Terry J
Terry J
6 years ago

This is a great article, I am always so unmotivated to get cleaning but once I get started it’s hard to stop. If you want to earn about personal finance I will be updating my blog financeforfools weekly with new articles. I’d love to do a guest article on this site!

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