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Your Money

Understand Your Finances

5 ways to get your finances under control in 30 days

Let your core values determine how spending, financial goals align

The following article is part of "Real Money/Real Talk," a series presented by Chase Slate in which people share stories of how their personal finances have evolved. 

Save on balances and new purchases with Slate. Learn more.

Getting organized and eliminating physical clutter has many benefits—from a reduction in stress, to greater mental clarity.

It can also help improve your finances. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that living in a cluttered place impairs our self-control, which can lead to more impulse spending.

While our financial life can feel overwhelming, there are easy steps to take in 30 days, or less—like decluttering—that can help you get back into the right money mindset.

Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Become best friends with your credit report

Checking your credit report regularly is a good habit. It's a good way to keep track of where your credit stands, and to quickly identify—and remove—potential mistakes.

A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that one in five people had an error on at least one of their credit reports.

Carefully review the types of accounts listed on your credit report. Here are some questions to ask: Do all of the accounts belong to you? Are accounts you previously shut off reported as open? Are any accounts reported incorrectly as delinquent, or late?

As of July 1, 2017, the three major US credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—no longer include tax liens and some civil debts on credit reports. It's a revision that has the potential to help raise some people's credit scores.

2. You know those letters from your bank? Open them

You may occasionally receive in the mail letters from your card issuer. You may think they're not important, but you should read them.

Your financial institution may be reaching out to increase your credit limit--which may help to increase your credit score. That's because your credit utilization (the percentage of how much available credit you are using at any given time) contributes to your credit score. In general, the lower your utilization, the better it can be for your score.

For example, if you have a credit card with a $5,000 credit line and you are using $2,500 of that in a particular month, then your utilization is 50 percent. If you increase your credit line to $10,000 and maintain that same $2,500 balance, then your utilization drops to 25 percent. 

3. Reevaluate your spending, even the little things

At least once or twice a year, review all your financial commitments to be sure you're not spending money on things you don't need or that don't align with your goals.

Review the last three months of your credit card and bank statements. Ask yourself: am I spending too much on little things like coffee and lunch? Try packing your lunch, or cutting back on that afternoon coffee. The little things add up, quickly.

4. Think big and save bigger

Americans spend most of their income on housing, food and transportation. While you're evaluating small expenses that add up--and may sometimes be invisible drains on your budget—also look to optimize or reduce your expenses in these big categories, says Grant Sabatier, who runs Millennial Money, a Chicago-based personal finance site for young adults.

For Sabatier, deciding a few years ago to move to a smaller apartment that was closer to his job allowed him to ditch his car and walk to his office, saving over $800 a month.

While you may not be able to move to a new home in 30 days, you can start to think about how to reduce spending on the biggest expenses you have and create a plan to follow over the following months.

For those must have big purchases, setup balance alerts with your credit card so that you can stay on top of your spending.

5. Ask yourself, what do you truly value?

Boston-based certified financial planner Eric Roberge, advises clients to align their spending with their values. It's a way to quickly identify what expenses to eliminate.

For example, a married couple Roberge was advising commuted to work together everyday in their car, spending $400 a month on parking in Boston. All the while, they were struggling to save for a vacation. In discussing their core values, the couple recognized they each wanted to have some autonomy in their relationship: some individual alone time to read, and reflect. That was a core value.

"The commute was a perfect time to do this, except one of them always had to drive and sometimes traffic made it too stressful for them to focus," says Roberge. To solve this, they decided to stop carpooling and instead, take the commuter rail. The total cost $240, a savings of $160 per month. "This would provide them with a more peaceful ride, without traffic, where they both get to take advantage of some autonomy."

In the next 30 days, block off an hour to sit down and write what you really value, either by yourself or with your significant other.

"Once you identify four to five core values, look through your spending over the last few months," says Roberge. "You can probably identify a handful of recurring expenses that don't line up." 

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