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De-Cluttering Your Finances in 2021

2020 was an unbelievably stressful year. Public health concerns were paramount, compounded by social isolation and financial uncertainty. Working parents struggled to balance remote work with childcare needs and remote learning. Vacations and weddings were postponed. Amidst these daily struggles, long-term financial planning was an afterthought. But the new year is a great time to perform a quick “financial housecleaning.” Here are a few easy steps to simplify your finances in 2021:  

Scrutinize Recurring Expenses

Pandemic-related restrictions prompted a big shift in consumer spending last year.   Americans scaled back on travel and in-person entertainment but redirected some of that spending to online shopping, streaming subscriptions, new hobbies, and discretionary home improvement projects.  

Consider how your own spending priorities have changed in the past year and whether some recurring monthly expenses no longer deliver the same utility as they did in the pre-Covid era. Some examples:

  • Car Insurance – Nationwide, vehicle miles traveled remain 10-15% below pre-pandemic levels. Thanks to a growing preponderance of remote work, many Americans have seen an even sharper decline in miles driven. Auto insurers commonly offered premium rebates during the peak of shutdown orders last spring in acknowledgment of this reduced risk.   Still, it may be worth shopping your current policy or adjusting your coverage to reflect current driving habits. Also, consider whether a “pay-per-mile” insurer can offer you a more competitive rate. 
  • Gym Memberships – Gyms are closed in many jurisdictions, and even where they remain open, many patrons are justifiably anxious about the risks involved.   If your gym is unwilling to pause or suspend membership fees, consider canceling or switching to an at-home workout program like Apple Fitness. Or just take up walking.  
  • Housing – Are you paying a premium to live close to work? Do you find yourself wanting more living space? A growing acceptance of remote work is expanding viable housing options, often to cheaper locales.  Even if you’re happy with your current home, consider whether refinancing could lower your mortgage payments.    

Consolidate Accounts

Over time, most people develop relationships with several different financial institutions. A typical household might have checking and/or savings accounts, brokerage accounts, 401k accounts (for current and former employers), IRA accounts, college savings accounts, and multiple credit cards. But keeping tabs on all of these is a hassle.  Wherever possible, aim to consolidate accounts and custodial relationships improving oversight and reducing administrative burden (especially around tax season). Did you change jobs in 2020? Don’t forget to roll over your old employer’s 401k.   

Automate & Digitize

After consolidating assets, next look for ways to automate repetitive tasks. Sign up for automatic payments and electronic statements, where available. This ensures that you never miss a payment (and the negative impact on your credit score) while reducing the flow of paper mail (better for the environment and more secure from identity theft). 

We’ve previously endorsed password management apps and multi-factor authentication (MFA) as essential tools for safeguarding your digital privacy. Other helpful tools for automating electronic recordkeeping include FileThis, Evernote, and Dropbox. If you’re concerned about fraudulent charges to your credit card account, many banks now allow you to opt into a text message or an email alert for unusual activity or purchases above a certain dollar threshold. Additionally, many credit cards now offer free basic credit monitoring services.

A growing body of evidence links physical clutter to increased levels of stress hormones. Consolidating, automating, and digitizing your financial records removes a common source of household clutter and improves your emotional well-being.  

One of Bristlecone Value Partners’ principles is to communicate frequently, openly, and honestly. We believe that our clients benefit from understanding our investment philosophy and process. Our views and opinions regarding investment prospects are "forward-looking statements," which may or may not be accurate over the long term. While we believe we have a reasonable basis for our appraisals, and we have confidence in our opinions, actual results may differ materially from those we anticipate. Information provided in this blog should not be considered as a recommendation to purchase or sell any particular security. You can identify forward-looking statements by words like "believe," "expect," "anticipate," or similar expressions when discussing particular portfolio holdings. We cannot assure future results and achievements. You should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of the blog entry. We disclaim any obligation to update or alter any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise. Our comments are intended to reflect trading activity in a mature, unrestricted portfolio and might not be representative of actual activity in all portfolios. Portfolio holdings are subject to change without notice. Current and future performance may be lower or higher than the performance quoted in this blog.

References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and returns do not reflect the deduction of advisory fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase.

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