Once you’ve eliminated all unnecessary expenses, your budgeting picture should be much clearer.


How to find the simplest system for paying down debt (and let it work its money magic).

Winter has a tendency to allow things to build, whether that’s dirt and grime in your home … or an overextended budget spurred by holiday spending.

While tackling the dust on your baseboards might seem more entertaining than giving your finances a good spring cleaning, you’ll appreciate the long-term effects of the latter much more.

Here are three ways to get started.

1. Seriously: take advantage of your free credit report

Whether you’re fully aware of a few negative marks on your credit report or you’ve never seen a credit report in your life, now is the perfect time to get a grasp on your full credit picture.

Luckily for you, it’s entirely free.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) must give you one free copy of your credit report each year upon request.

While this doesn’t include your credit score, it does offer a snapshot of what potential lenders see when they determine your creditworthiness — delinquent accounts, bankruptcy filings, lines of credit, and payment history, among other things.

Credit reporting agencies often receive information from different sources, so reports may vary. Check each one thoroughly to ensure all information is complete and correct. If you have a dispute, follow the proper protocol to inform the credit reporting agency or reporting company of the complaint.

The good news? Unless they deem your claim frivolous, they must investigate.

2. Eliminate sneaky, unnecessary expenses

Have you signed up for a subscription you’ve long since stopped enjoying but still seem to be paying for? Are you sitting on a ridiculously high cable bill with a hoard of channels you never watch?

Oftentimes budgets become bloated with expenses we’ve become accustomed to but wouldn’t notice if what they provided disappeared. Check your monthly spending for these “invisible” money drains, and start cutting accordingly.

When was the last time you checked your car insurance rates?

After being informed of a hefty price hike on my insurance, I was forced to do some research about my rates compared with those at other companies. The result was an impressive $50 drop in my monthly bill. (That’s 600 bucks a year!)

Examine your essential bills and start calling your providers — think cellphone, cable, insurance — to see what they can do for you. If they are unwilling to budge, it may be time to jump ship.

One thing to note: if they push extra services instead of a drop in the bottom-line price, remember that adding extra features won’t give your budget the wiggle room it might need.

3. Find ways to simplify your budget

Between work, managing a household, and maintaining both professional and personal relationships, you probably don’t have much brainpower left to deal with finances on a regular basis.

That’s why automation, with quick, routine check-ins, can be a lifesaver.

Once you’ve eliminated all unnecessary expenses, your budgeting picture should be much clearer. Where should your money be going and how can it get there in the quickest, safest manner without your always having to orchestrate the process?

For me, this means a percentage of my paycheck is automatically deposited into my savings account on payday. From there, every bill that does not vary by the month is set on auto-pay. Every other bill is paid on the 1st, regardless of due date.

What streamlined system would work best for you? The physical act of paying off debt isn’t always the hardest part — it’s the process of creating the best system to pay off the debt that often presents the challenge.