Here's how to clean up your finances post-summer vacation

Over the summer, many Canadians took a vacation from their finances. Don't wait until the New Year to make money resolutions. Start to deal with that holiday spending hangover now.
According to an RBC survey, the average personal debt in Canada is $16,000 ((iStock))

Over the summer, many Canadians took a vacation — from their finances. Whether it's spending a little extra on a holiday or doing some back-to-school shopping for the kids, your wallet may feel lighter.

Well, you don't have to wait until the New Year to make money resolutions. Start now so when January rolls around, you're in better financial shape — and that holiday spending hangover will be a whole lot easier to deal with.

Clean out your financial cupboard

You may set aside some time on the weekend to swap out your T-shirts for sweaters, but don't neglect your financial cupboard. Pull out your paperwork and look through your bank and credit card statements for any unusual charges.

While you have everything laid out, take the opportunity to de-clutter.

You can toss receipts that are more than a month old (after you've checked them against your statements). Keep bank and credit card statements for a year, and tax records for 6 years.

All that paperwork should go through the shredder before it's recycled, to prevent someone from peeking at your personal information.

Some things should never be thrown out: Hang on to birth and marriage certificates, divorce papers, records of big investments, and file away any paperwork for loans that you've paid off.

Credit check-up

Some people hate to visit the dentist, while others avoid checking their credit. Take the time to do a review, because it can make all the difference when you want to get a mortgage or buy a car — just look at the experience of these Canadians.

Credit reports are available from Equifax or TransUnion. The report is free by mail or about $15 if you want the details delivered immediately online.

Your personal financial history stays on this report for several years, so if you spend time to check for mistakes now, it can save you a world of hassle later on.

You can also go one step further and get your credit score for an additional $20. That's a number that's calculated based on the information in your credit report, which lenders use to decide if they want to give you a loan. If your score is below 650, you'll need to work on paying back your debts on time. 

Dig out of debt

American poet Ogden Nash once said, "Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them." Just think though, the sooner you come up with a plan to tackle your debt, the sooner you can be free of it.

There's no time like the present to take stock of how much you owe. Three-quarters of Canadians polled by Royal Bank last year said they are in debt and owe an average amount of nearly $16,000.

One strategy could be to focus on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while making the minimum payments on other accounts.

Another method is to deal with the smallest debt first, which might be faster to pay off and could help you psychologically if you feel like you're making progress.

You should also consider asking your credit card company to give you a lower interest rate. It never hurts to ask.

Make a call

Many people might be intimidated asking companies to lower their bills, or they might be frustrated by the prospect of hanging around on hold, waiting to talk to someone.

But spending the time negotiating can knock a few bucks off your bills, and that can add up to big savings on how much you pay for internet, cable and cell phones.

Be calm and polite when you call the company, and ask if they have any promotions that could save you some cash. Remember  you're paying for a service and you hold a lot of power.

Count your points

How many loyalty cards and rewards visas do you have in your wallet? When was the last time you counted up the points you have? Often we forget to check in and the points expire, which can be a big waste.

Redeeming points for travel or gift cards can ease the upcoming burden of holiday spending. And if you have points but can't find a way to use them, try exchanging them for a different type of reward.

A nudge to budget

Let's be realistic not many people sit down every month and go over their budget. If you haven't looked at your spending plan in a while, or if you don't have a budget, dig in and get started.

This a good time since kids are going back to school and there may be some extra expenses; plus, you can plan out the next few months instead of a mad rush before the holidays.

And while you're at it, set some goals — pay off some debt or pump up your savings, so in the New Year you can focus on your waistline, not your wallet.

About the Author

Nisha Patel

Nisha has covered business and economics for CBC for several years. She's passionate about personal finance and loves a good deal, especially when it satisfies her wanderlust for an exotic vacation. Born and raised in Calgary, Nisha is trying hard to make line-dancing trendy in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @nishapatel.


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