16 Ways to Simplify Your Finances During a Time of Economic Turmoil

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Financial Housecleaning

With all of today's turmoil and upheaval, streamlining and simplifying our daily lives has become more valuable than ever. That includes streamlining your financial picture to put time and attention where it’s needed most. From putting bills on autopay to reducing monthly expenses, here are some ways personal finance experts recommend tidying up your financial act. Do you have other methods? Let us know in the comments.

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Paying Bills using calculator

Perform an Income and Expense Evaluation

Perhaps one of the first and most important steps to take when it comes to simplifying your financial picture is to conduct a thorough review of your expenses and income. “Doing so will allow you to cut out expenses and better adapt to your situation,” said Adem Selita, CEO at The Debt Relief Co. “This can be a little time consuming. But do it once, and you won’t have to worry about tracking your budget again. The simplest way to do this is on an Excel sheet.”

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Cut Nonessential Spending

Take the expense evaluation effort one step further: After you’ve identified areas of spending that are not essential, eliminate them. “Right now isn't the time to splurge. It's not a good time to go on a shopping spree if you're concerned about finances,” said consumer analyst Julie Ramhold of DealNews. “Instead, cut out anything that isn't absolutely essential. Try to find free alternatives for the fun things you enjoy. Now's a good time to stick to staying in for date nights, returning to hobbies you already have the supplies for, or even just catching up that stack of books you've been meaning to read.”

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Negotiate Debt Repayment

Negotiate Debt Repayment

Now is also a good time to be taking advantage of deferment or leniency offers your creditors are providing. “Banks are much more open to renegotiating your credit card debt right now, whether it be renegotiating APRs or the balances owed on your debts,” Selita said.

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Consolidate Accounts

Consolidate your accounts, whether they be savings accounts or credit cards. “Having one savings account makes it easier to keep track of how much you really have rather than having to check on several different accounts,” said Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies. “This is also true for credit cards. A lot of people open different cards for perks such as zero interest. These perks are not always applicable forever though, so switching to just one card after there are no more rewards to redeem is much simpler.”

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Set Up Automatic Payments for Bills

Paying bills can fall through the cracks when we’re busy — or overwhelmed by juggling a million tasks. Help yourself by setting up automated payments for as many bills as possible. “You can use automatic payments for bills that are the same amount each month, as well as bills that have varying payment amounts,” said Lisa Torelli-Sauer, editor at Sensible Digs. “Most credit card companies have a payment option that automatically drafts your checking account for the minimum payment due. You can still make an additional payment each month if you’d like, but you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your payment will never be late.”

Data Scientist

Create a Balance Sheet

Ultimately, simplifying finances is about creating a greater sense of control and understanding over your financial life — which can lead to better decision-making. “The 30,000-foot view of your financial life is your balance sheet. Every account, every asset, every liability — all in one place. Do this every year to keep your finger on the pulse of your personal financial life,” said Jacob Sadler, a certified financial planner for Woodstone Financial.

Direct Deposit

Establish Direct Deposits for Money Goals and Priorities

If your employer allows it, consider establishing direct deposits for checking and savings accounts. “This will help ensure you meet your savings or investing goals first,” said Kimberly Hamilton, a certified financial education instructor and founder of Beworth Finance.

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Forget Late Fees

Change Due Dates for Bills to Align With Payday

Many credit card companies, lenders, and utility providers will change the due date of bills at your request. Hamilton suggests making sure bill payments align with paydays. “Not only does this better position you to pay your bills, but it also allows you to pay them all around the same time, saving you the hassle of having to revisit your bills multiple times later in the month,” Hamilton said.

Using Phone

Use Alerts to Stay on Top of Bills

Banking and credit card alerts can be a lifesaver and a money-saver when life is unusually busy. “If you're stressed about money, it's easy to forget to pay something — which means you could get hit with a late fee, not to mention your credit score might take a hit,” said Rebecca Lake, creator of Boss Single Mama. “If your bank or credit card company lets you, set up alerts to track due dates. Using those to stay on top of your bills can make life easier.”

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Take Steps to Make Your Debt Less Expensive

Having debt becomes even more of a financial burden if your income drops because of a layoff or reduced hours at work. Lake suggests looking at all of your debt categories and identifying ways to reduce payments. This might include shifting credit card balances to a zero-interest credit card or even simplifying student loan debt. 

Pay with Credit Card

Minimize the Ways You Pay for Things

In today’s world, we have so many options for paying for things — credit cards, cash, debit cards, Venmo, PayPal, you name it. “Who knows how much you've spent across all these channels?” said Kari Lorz of Money for the Mamas. “Pick what works best for you and stick with that. My advice is to have two credit cards. Use one for all your purchases, and I mean everything, so you can go back and look at all your spending in one place. You have a second credit card just in case you need to cancel the first one, so a backup.”

Not Checking Your Credit Report for Mistakes

Freeze Your Credit With the Credit Bureaus

Freezing your credit with bureaus such as Equifax, Transunion, and Experian restricts access to your credit report and can prevent identity thieves from opening a fraudulent account in your name. Lorz suggested doing it to ease financial stress. “That way, you know that nothing shady is going on in case there's a data breach. And there will always be data breaches,” Lorz said. “The peace of mind that this provides is priceless, and you’ll never have to clean up the aftermath of a stolen identity.” Keep in mind, however, that freezing your credit prevents prospective creditors from accessing your credit file — they won’t be likely to offer you credit if they cannot see your report. In other words, a freeze prevents you from opening accounts, which could be good or bad, depending on your circumstances.

Paying Bills

Prioritize Your Largest Debts

With the economy on such shaky ground, focus your financial resources on reducing your largest debt as soon as possible to prevent disasters down the road. “If you have several debts, now is the time to strategize to ensure you’re taking the safest way in case of recession,” said Aleksandra Arsic, co-founder of Capital Counselor. “Make sure to increase your payments on your most substantial debt, or the one with the highest interest rates, just in case all of this economic turmoil hits you personally. It’s good not to have a quickly growing debt.”

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Paying Bills
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Set Aside 1 Day Per Month to Review Your Finances

Designate a specific day each month or every few weeks to pay bills that you can’t use autopay for, and to review all of your accounts. “Look for unusual charges, review subscriptions you may not want to keep anymore, and ensure any direct deposits you were expecting came in,” said Wade Schlosser, CEO and founder Solvable

Create Spending Alerts for Credit Cards and Checking Accounts

Create Spending Alerts for Credit Cards and Checking Accounts

Again: It’s good to review your accounts regularly to watch out for fraud. When life is hectic, this task can fall through the cracks; Schlosser suggested setting up automatic spending alerts for all your accounts. “If you set up spending alerts to be sent to your phone or email each time activity occurs on your account, you’ll find out about unauthorized charges immediately,” Schlosser said. “I recommend automating spending alerts and then reviewing all accounts monthly just to make sure nothing slipped through.”

Use a Personal Finance Website or App to Track and Manage Spending

Use a Personal Finance Site or App to Track Spending

There are countless websites and apps available to simplify your overall financial picture. If you simply do not have the time to manage money matters on your own, pick an app that does the work for you. “I use Mint to help track all of my finances,” said Scott Trent, CEO and president of the real estate and investment website BiggerPockets. “With this service ... everything is automatically processed. Then at the end of each month, I can review my spending to analyze my spending habits for that month. The entire process to set up your account takes less than 10 minutes.”