Marie Kondo and her brand of decluttering and organizing are everywhere right now so we thought we’d hop on the bandwagon. And it’s not really much of a stretch. Our finances can become as cluttered and chaotic as our homes.
But the consequences of disorganized finances can be much worse than those of a disorganized house (unless we’re talking Hoarders level of disorganized). When your finances are a mess, it can cost you money. Late fees, returned payment fees, deposits for utilities.
And those are the “small” consequences to a lackadaisical approach to money. Quick! What’s your net worth? How much are your necessary expenses each month? How much do you spend going out to eat each month? How much do you need to retire?
If you can’t answer those questions (Okay, you don’t have to know the answers off the top of your head but you should be able to get them with a quick trip to your Personal Capital account.) how can you meet your financial goals?
Organizing your home and your finances have another thing in common. Neither is a one time job. If you let it go for too long, the job becomes completely overwhelming. But if you just do a few little things every so often, a big job just becomes a series of small tasks many of which can be taken care of in just a few minutes.
Get ready to Marie Kondo your finances so they spark joy!
Let’s Spark Up the Joy!
Now, unless you’re Scrooge McDuck, your finances aren’t going to spark joy. But what can create joy and peace is organizing your finances and that’s what this is about.
Rule 1: Commit Yourself to Tidying Up Your Situation and Commit to Financial Independence
Visualize what you want your financial life to look like. A monthly budget, regular investing, no credit card debt? Now take one weekend and work on a plan to get there. It only takes an hour or two to set up a budget in Mint. It might need tweaking sometimes but just getting it set up isn’t time-consuming.
Why aren’t you already investing? You don’t know how? Ok, this weekend you can learn enough to get started. You have no money to invest? Ok, find it in your budget, trust me, it’s there. Or start making some extra money online in your spare time. There are plenty of ways to do it.
Spread the word. Tell everyone what you are doing. Many people are private about their finances but you don’t have to give people numbers. You can tell them your goals, to start investing regularly, to earn extra money on the weekends, to become debt free.
The point is that when you tell people, they can help keep you accountable. If you have a partner, make sure the two of you make these plans and the necessary changes together. No financial goal can be met unless both people in a relationship are working together.
One of your goals should be financial independence. It doesn’t mean early retirement, it just means you don’t have to work. Or at least, your income is largely divorced from your time. This is a whole movement called FIRE. We’ve done a ton of stuff around this subject.
Financial independence is critical and not just because you hate your job. A recession is coming and the future of work is going to change in a big way and sooner than you think. You can’t count on a traditional job because it may not be there.
Rule 2: Actually Marie Kondo Your Home
Do a major clear out and go through everything. When you know what you have and what you like, you save money. You have a pair of gloves somewhere but damn if you can find them. But it’s cold out so you have to buy a new pair. Three months later you find the first pair.
When you have so much crap that you don’t know what you have or you can’t find it, it costs you money. Sell stuff that doesn’t spark joy. You have two cameras because one day you might do a two camera shoot. You haven’t in the ten years you’ve had two cameras but, someday!
Well, someday is never going to come. You know it and I know it. But when you sell the stuff that doesn’t spark joy two things happen. It gives you more money to buy stuff that actually does spark joy. Or better yet, it frees up money to do things that spark joy. And it’s well documented that experiences make us happier than things.
Gilovich and other researchers have found that experiences—as fleeting as they may be—deliver more-lasting happiness than things. Here’s why: Experiences become a part of our identity. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been.
And the things you sell will give someone else the joy they didn’t give you. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Rule 3: Eliminate Financial Clutter and Get Everything Where You Can See It
Our lives are filled with financial clutter but a lot of it can be eliminated. Despite the fact that we are a couple of decades into the 21st Century, we still get reams of paper. Bills, bank statements, tax documents, investment statements, on and on. You can eliminate some of this by opting out of receiving paper statements in favor of online ones.
But there are some things that come via paper so you need a system to deal with them that is better than tossing them onto the ever-growing pile in your kitchen counter.
Here’s what I do. Open these things and immediately toss everything but the document you need, the return envelope and whatever other annoying stuff that comes with it. (I had a friend who would take all that extra stuff and send it back with her payment slip and check!).
Next, pay the damn bill. Or schedule an online payment close to the due date. This means you only touch and deal with this piece of paper once. Now you can toss it. If you paid it online, you’ll have a record of it. If you pay by check, the canceled check is proof.
If there are documents you need to hang on to, find out if you can digitize them or if you actually need the physical document. Digitize everything you can.
Now you can put all of your financial information in one place so you have that 1,000-foot overview. Personal Capital does this. Mint is great for budgeting but falls short when it comes to investments. Personal Capital will show you a complete overview of your finances, including your net worth which is the ultimate metric of how healthy you are (or are not) financially. And Persona Capital is free!
Rule 4: Discard Useless Spending by Category and Keep Only What Sparks Joy
Your food budget is a good place to start because most of us could cut spending there. Go through your Mint or Personal Capital accounts and asses the damage. If you looove going out to eat and that’s what the majority of your food spending is on, fine. You don’t have to cut back. That spending sparks joy. Ramit talked to us about this.
But if you’re just buying a bog standard $10 deli sandwich five days a week because you’re too lazy to bring lunch, that’s not sparking joy and must change.
If your joyful food budget is hurting your financial goals, you don’t have to cut it but you have to cut something. Where are you spending on things that don’t spark joy? A lot of us are doing this through subscription services. Let Trim cancel them for you.
Or try the “fresh start” method. Call up the card(s) those kinds of expenses are on and tell them you’ve lost the card. They’ll cancel it and send you a new one. Boom! Those monthly charges no longer go through
Do you spend a lot on “Miscellaneous?” Find out what those things are. Are they random silly things you bought on impulse and then wondered why? Cut that kind of spending out. It adds no value to your life.
Do you have expenses you dither over? Should I cut it or shouldn’t I? This is most likely clutter. Ask a friend to justify this expense for you. If they can’t, it goes. Or go ahead and cut it. Netflix for example. You watch it now and again but not regularly. But you’re paying for it every month. Go ahead and let Trim cancel it. If you miss it, fine, resubscribe. But odds are that you won’t miss it.
Rule 5: Discard Useless Investments by Category and Keep Only What Sparks Joy
Do you have a money market account because Uncle Harry, the financial advisor told you it was a good investment? It’s an okay investment but there are better ones. Get rid of it.
Are you invested in companies or industries that are involved in things you’re personally against like fossil fuels or weapons? Create a new portfolio of ethical investments that will clear out the moral garbage, ease your conscience, and positively impact the world and your wallet.
Well, what about situations like Matt’s condo? He hates the damn thing. In his words, “It doesn’t spark joy, it sparks a dumpster fire!” He’s love to be rid of it but selling it now means he will lose money. And what’s the #1 Rule of Personal Finance? Never lose money.
Dig into the numbers. Is there a path you can take where this unjoyful thing won’t lose you money? Even if that path takes a few years to walk down? See Rule #1 of Personal Finance. If the thing really is a burden and it will never make you money, you’re probably keeping it because of sunk cost fallacy. You can get rid of it.
Rule 6: Organize, Optimize and Automate What is Left
Do you have various checking, savings, and 401k accounts scattered around? This is too much to keep track of. Consolidate. You need one checking account, one savings account, and one 401k account. You can roll over old 401ks into an IRA or into the 401k at your current job.
Do any of your current accounts charge outrageous fees? Get rid of them. Fees can eat up a big chunk or your money. There should be no fees on your bank accounts and the fees on your 401k should be reasonable. You can run your 401k through Personal Capital’s fee analyzer and see if you’re paying too much.
Be Like Marie
I love Marie Kondo because something that sparks joy in me is getting rid of stuff. I find it exhilarating and freeing. When I do a big clear out, I feel lighter, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
Except for books. I cannot and will not get rid of a single one. My house is full of them, they’re absolutely everywhere. But books spark joy for me and I think anyone who gets rid of a book is some sort of demon or at least a philistine.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to be as ruthless with my finances as I was with my belongings. I did pretty much everything on this list. Man, what a feeling. If you think it’s freeing to get rid of physical things, wait until you get rid of financial “things.”
You will sleep better, you will lose weight, you will get more dates. Because while physical things can be a burden, they’re nothing compared to how burdensome financial “things” can be. So be like Marie and your finances will spark joy.
Get our best money lessons:
Goose Island Bourbon County: An Imperial Stout
Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout: A dark stout aged in oak barrels.