Now is the perfect time to finally get your financial ducks in a row, since a new year is upon us.
On "The Early Show" Tuesday, AOL Consumer Adviser Regina Lewis told how to do that in only five days.
"There's no better time than now," Lewis notes. "A lot of us are off from work and, for those of us who aren't, it's generally a slow week, so we have the opportunity to focus more on personal issues. There's no reason why this new year can't be the beginning of a whole new financial you!"
DAY 1: VISUALIZATION
The holidays are a hectic time. We tend to overspend and rack up a bit of debt and right now you might be wondering how do I dig myself out of this mess? The first step is really a mental exercise. You need to get reacquainted with your goals and priorities. Think about where you want to be in the next year personally professionally and financially. Do you want to buy a house in the new year? Do you want to go back to school in 2011? Do you want to get married? All of these goals carry price tags. And the sooner you take inventory of these goals and commit to sticking to them, your money becomes less abstract and motivation kicks in. Visualization gives you incentive. If you want to pay off your car, take a picture of your car and make it your computer screen saver. When you're constantly looking at that, you'll be reminded that that's the reason why you want to get your finances in order. If you're trying to save up to pay a mortgage, get pictures of that and keep them around.
DAY 2: ASSESS THE MESS
Assessing the mess is doing the hard math. This can be a brutal exercise, but you've gotta be candid with yourself and uncover where your money is going. Steps one, look at your credit card bills. Be honest and count up every penny. What's outstanding? Step 2, look at your savings account if you're lucky to have one and see how much is left. If you have money in multiple places, pool it all together. Finally, Step 3 is to know your credit score so you can size up the work you're going to have to do on that front. Go to annualcreditreport.com for your free credit report which you can get annually.
DAY 3: MAKE A GAME PLAN
From this day forward, you are ready to roll up your sleeves. From year-end statements to tax-related paperwork and receipts, some things need to stay and others can get the boot.
What to keep: Set aside all paperwork for your bills that you need to address in January from your credit card statements to your utility bills. Gather up all related receipts and paperwork that you will need once you file taxes on April 15, including receipts for charitable contributions, out-of-pocket medical expenses and business or work-related expenses.
Things you can toss: We get more mail in December than probably any other month - all those holiday catalogues, the marketing material, the credit card solicitations. You want pull out the shredder to get rid of all those holiday mailings with your address labels and any piece of paper with personal information.
Rules of thumb: When in doubt, keep the new, throw out with the old. If you have a new version of an insurance policy, you can toss the old one out. Just make sure it hits the shredder first. Keep tax filings for a minimum of 3 years because the IRS tends to audit within that time frame.
DAY 4: SCHEDULE IT!
Automate your bills. I'm a big fan of online banking including scheduling bills to pay them automatically. It guards against mistakes which can be really costly. It instantly makes you feel real organized. You can do it for your credit card bills to pay your minimum balance. You can always pay extra, but this way, you've never going to be late or miss things and will prevent your credit score from being hurt. The other thing with online banking is that people who do it tend to check their balance more often. You can even have text alerts sent to you if you hit a certain point in your balance. If you have multiple people in the house drawing against the same funds, that can be really helpful.
DAY 5: CREATE A DEDICATED SPACE
Take 15 minutes and set up a space in your home to organize all important documents Now that you have your priorities straight and receipts ready for the upcoming tax season, remember to stay organized all year. Clear off your desk, prepare files for the coming year, get a receipt scanner so you don't have to fight with that shoebox full of paper, put your incoming bills in one place, paid bills in another, etc. File folders, labeled and stacked, for paperwork: mortgage-related paperwork, car insurance statement, home insurance statement, bank statements, warranties, etc. accordion folder -- tax-related paperwork. Receipt scanner - so you can scan and instantly document all your tax-related receipts throughout the year. Security box - for all-too important documents: deed to your home, birth certificate In and out mail bin - for all the paper statements or bills, keep track of what's been paid and what hasn't.