Five steps to carry out a financial spring clean

01 February 2022

As we emerge blinking into the daylight from the pandemic, now is a perfect time to be rethinking, resetting and working to take back control of both our short-term money management and budgeting and our longer-term financial planning and aspirations.

Here, money coach Emma Maslin outlines how to do this through a five-point financial 'spring clean', though emphasising this is something you can do at any time of the year.

As Emma explains: "Financial admin doesn't typically top the list of things that people want to get stuck into. But, unlike healthy eating and physical exercise, which you need to stick at consistently to see the results, for the most part once you have taken action on these five things you have done the hard work.

"You don't need to keep doing them over and over, day in and day out. So hopefully that gives you the motivation you need to get things done, so you can enjoy having a tidy financial house."

Here, then, are Emma's five ways to haul back control of your finances, bring order and clarity to your financial situation and, in turn, get yourself into a much better place emotionally and mentally by taking ownership of your financial life goals.

5 tips for a financial spring clean

Emma shares 5 practical tips on how to give your finances a spring clean and boost your financial wellness.

Part of WPA's series of resilience boosters.

1. Take stock of where you are financially right now

"If you were going to start a healthy eating and exercise regime, you would likely take some measurements before you started to give yourself a benchmark against which to measure your progress. Weight, BMI, body measurements of different parts of your body. It is the same when we approach our finances," explains Emma.

"You need to know your starting position to be able to set goals and measure how you're improving. Your financial benchmark is what we call your 'net worth'. And your net worth is simply a list of all your assets, everything you own, less all of your liabilities, so everything you owe. Tracking your net worth over time acts as a huge motivator to increase your assets and decrease what you owe, so your overall net worth builds.

"A positive net worth brings an enormous sense of financial security and positive mental wellbeing. The exercise of pulling together your net worth will help you to understand your current financial situation and measure your financial health by seeing what would be left over if you sold everything you owned to cover all your debts.

"It gives you a reference point for measuring your progress towards any specific financial goals you might have in place, like building an emergency fund or paying off your mortgage early, for example," Emma adds.

So how do we compile our net worth? Emma explains: "Firstly, you want to list all of the things you own, your assets and the value of each of those. They will include things like your home, any investment property you may have, money in the bank or savings accounts, cars, investments such as ISAs or share trading accounts, and any business interests.

"Then you want to list all our liabilities, so the things you owe to other people. That will include the mortgage on your own home or any investment properties, overdrafts, credit card or store card balances, car loans and student loans. You deduct the total of your liabilities from the total of your assets to give you your overall net worth.

"This current net worth is a snapshot in time, really, of your finances right now. And you can use this snapshot to frame any financial goals you have for the year ahead. Maybe you want to build your emergency savings or pay off consumer debt? Maybe you want to start investing and build that asset pot?

"Every decision you make around your money should be aimed at increasing your net worth, either by increasing your net assets or decreasing what you owe," Emma adds.

2. Learn how to check your credit score, and do it regularly

"Throughout your life your credit score plays a key role in the financial products that you are able to take out. For example, when applying for a credit card or a mortgage, or even a mobile phone, your credit score could be used to determine whether your application is accepted or not and, ultimately, what interest rate you end up paying," says Emma.

"It is vital that you check regularly that yours is accurate. If it isn't, you could find yourself in a difficult situation when you next engage with a financial institution, whether that is opening a new bank account or applying to remortgage with a new lender. Your credit report includes your borrowing history and your track record from repaying your debts on time.

"Your credit score is a subset of this report and is a tool used by lenders to help determine whether you qualify for a particular credit card, loan, mortgage or service. Having a good or bad credit score will ultimately impact lots of financial decisions you are able to make. Everything from being able to take out a phone contract or having to stick with pay as you go to getting certain types of insurance," Emma continues.

"So, it is really important not to neglect looking after it and to review it for accuracy regularly. In the UK, we have three major credit reference agencies, which provide your credit score for free. They are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Just be aware that each of them has different scoring systems and they won't always show you the same results.

"Checking your credit score should be something you do regularly. What you're checking for is any mistakes, fraudulent activity, anything like that, so you can report them to the agencies and have them corrected. Also, if your credit score isn’t great, a check-in might be the prompt you need to begin working to improve it," Emma adds.

3. Write a will and keep it up to date

"This isn't a hugely enjoyable task because, let's face it, who wants to think about dying? Which is probably why a staggering proportion of the adult population in this country don't have one. But there really are no excuses," Emma advises.

"If you haven't got round to writing your will yet, there are a few different ways to go about it. You can either approach a solicitor or professional will writer to do it for you or you can use an online will-writing service, which guides you through the process, looks for errors along the way, and makes sure youhave all the various situations covered.

"Whichever you choose, the important message here is: 'get your will written'. Don't put it off. Write your will today and update it as you go through life. Remember, you're not writing the will for your benefit; it is a thoughtful act for your family and your loved ones.

"If you do have a will already, to take five minutes to review it.Does the contents of your will still make sense? If you have a letter of wishes, which sits alongside your will, does that need updating? If you keep a document for your executors, with maybe a list of your assets, you will want to do a review of that and update anything that needs to be updated," Emma adds.

4. Get on top of your pensions and retirement saving

"Knowing how much you have in retirement savings is a really essential part of your future planning. If you don't want to be working forever, you need to be building a decent-sized pot to live off in your later years," Emma outlines.

"Increasingly, people are switching jobs frequently or working several roles at any one time. In that scenario, you may find that you have several pension pots. Do you know where all your pensions are and how much is saved in each of your various pensions?

"If the answer is 'no', it is really easy to trace your old pensions. You can head to the government's free pensions' tracing service to locate all your old pensions. Once you know where they are, make sure they have all of your current details, including your postal and email address. Register for online access, too, so you can keep up to date with your balances.

"Once you know what the total amount is in your pension, whether that is with one provider or many, you are then better placed to see whether it is on track to deliver a decent amount to retire on.

"Google 'pension calculator' and put in your current pot size and what you intend to contribute going forward. It will then tell you the size of your projected pension and the age at which you wish to retire. If you don't think you could live on the projected figure, you need to think about ways to grow that pot now," Emma adds.

5. Automate your finances, especially your saving

"Money is a hugely emotional topic, and the decisions around what we do with it tend to become emotional ones. Unfortunately, this often means our emotions can end up sabotaging our good intentions. But there is a way to outplay our emotions," Emma outlines in her final 'spring cleaning' tip.

How you do this is by, effectively, removing your 'choice' to make a bad decision, or no decision at all. You can do this by proactively automating the 'good' financial decisions you want to make – and know you should be making - to secure both your day-to-day and your longer-term financial future. Decisions that will, of course, also help to preserve and protect your financial wellbeing.

As Emma explains: "By setting up a process and automating it, you no longer need to think about it. It is really easy, for example, to say 'I am going to save £20 a week into a Christmas fund starting in January, so that by Christmas we have got £1,000 saved'. But the reality is that we may spend it on other things; we might decide Christmas is so far away we'll start later on in the year; or we'll simply forget to transfer the money into a savings point.

"Automating our savings means we make sure our good intentions happen, whether it's Christmas savings, building an emergency fund, saving regularly for your children, or over-paying your debts. Set up a standing order to go out on pay day. Make that standing order the very first payment out of your account before you pay any other bills. Once you have automated that financial goal, you will achieve it consistently.

After completing all these five tasks, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment for getting your financial house in order.

About the author

Nic Paton is one of the country's foremost journalists on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, and is editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine. He also regularly writes on the health and employee benefits and health insurance markets.