Financial Leaps for Leap Year

Leap day comes but once every four years. In honor of this rare occasion, I propose 29 financial leaps to take. Here they are, in no particular order:

Prepare your taxes now. Spend an hour preparing your taxes online. If you don’t owe, file them now and receive your rebate now. If you owe, now you’ll have several weeks to save the money to pay the bill instead of panicking on April 15.

Deposit $29 into an emergency fund. If you don’t have one, start one today with this small sum. If you have one, add a little extra.

Stop paper statements. If you still receive paper statements, call the issuer or go online to turn them off. (Washington Mutual won’t do this). It’s a quick, easy way to protect your identity.

Order one of your credit reports. I request one report every four months, usually on the 1st of the month.

Make an extra debt payment ending in 29. If you have any debt, make an extra debt payment of $29, or any other figure ending in 29 ($129, for example). If you can’t swing even an extra $29, go for $2.90. Anything to give your repayment a little boost.

Organize your financial papers. Buy a simple metal box and organize your financial papers, finally. Use simple categories like “bank statements,” “tax returns,” and “receipts.”

Open a safe deposit box. Visit a local bank to open a safe deposit box. Put a copy of your marriage license, house deed or mortgage agreement, birth certificate, insurance documents, home inventory photos or video, and a computer backup inside.

Consolidate your savings. If you have savings in several different banks, and they don’t total more than $100,000, consolidate them down to one account in one bank.

Confirm old accounts. If you have any old accounts, contact the bank to let them know you’re still aware of the account. Hopefully this will avoid any unclaimed property seizures.

Search for unclaimed property. See if any states are holding your money and claim it today!

Test online financial software. If you don’t use Quicken or MS Money, check out Mint or Yodlee to see if you like them.

Start tracking your finances. If you don’t have a financial tracking system in place, start one now. It can as simple as a lined notebook with a page for every month where you list your bills and deposits or as complex as software.

Discuss your finances with your spouse. If you’re not in the habit of talking about money with your spouse, do it today. Review all of your important financial documents, including your checking and savings accounts, retirement balances, portfolios, insurance policies, mortgage, and college savings programs. Discuss your personal spending habits and beliefs.

Set joint financial goals. Setting joint financial goals with your spouse can help you both curb your spending. Choose one goal, whether it’s saving for your dream vacation or remodeling the kitchen, and make a plan to work toward it.

Make a debt or savings poster. If you need visual goal reinforcement, draw a thermometer on a big piece of paper. Put your pay-off or savings goal at the top. Now color it in each time you make a payment or deposit. Use green ink to show your progress!

Track your spending for one day. If you’ve never tracked your spending before, tracking it for one month is best, but try it for one day just to see how easy it is.

Read a financial magazine. Even if you already read a financial magazine regularly, try a different one to see how you like it. Visit the library to read one for free.

Balance your portfolio. If you haven’t balanced your portfolio in the last twelve months, review it today and make necessary adjustments. Don’t make panic adjustments, if the fundamentals are still good, stay the course.

Read a personal finance book. Ask the librarian for a good one. Even if you disagree with the advice, it’s always good to get a different perspective.

Turn off the TV for one week. Stop watching TV for one week and see if it affects your spending. Do you want less stuff because you’re not seeing commercials? Do you enjoy life more because you have more time to do other things?

Research one stock that interests you. Even if you don’t invest in the stock market, research one stock in-depth just to get in the practice. See if it’s really as good as you think it is. If it’s really good and you can afford it, invest.

Invest in an index fund. This one will cost much more than $29, but if you have enough money, invest in an index fund today. Vanguard is one of the best fund families with the lowest expenses.

Don’t spend any money for one day. Brown bag your lunch, skip the coffee, don’t buy that snack. Go one day without spending any money. Now see if you can make it two.

Pay cash for everything for one day. Withdraw $20 from the bank in the morning, or limit yourself to whatever is in your wallet. Buy everything with cash for that one day. (Bonus points if you do this on a grocery shopping day.)

Set up automatic transfers to savings. If you’ve paid off your debt and are in saving mode, set up automatic transfers for the day after payday (just to be safe). If the money is whisked into your savings account automatically, you’ll never find excuses not to save.

Consider switching banks. If your bank charges checking account fees and you don’t have direct deposit, or if they charge for online bill pay, consider switching to a bank that offers both for free.

Purge your stuff. Go through your home from top to bottom and purge all the stuff you don’t want anymore. Sell it, donate it, or throw it out. Whatever you do, get it out of your home and your mind.

Set a one-in, one-out policy. Vow that every time you buy something, you will get rid of something else. Bonus points if you can make it one-in, two-out.

Get rid of your storage unit. If you have so much stuff that it has to be in storage, then you probably don’t need it. Visit your storage unit and do a full inventory. Then steadily get rid of the stuff. Once it’s empty, cancel the unit.

And now a special bonus leap because I’m a fan of Monk:

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Do you have any financial leaps you’re making in honor of leap year? Let me know in the comments.

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