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Marc A. Hebert's Money Sense: Taking simple steps can help to simplify your finances

By MARC A. HEBERT
July 01. 2017 6:49PM
Owning only one credit card might help to control spending. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo)



We all have busy lives and finding simpler ways to do things can make life easier. Here are just a few ways to simplify your finances:

Use 1 credit card

Pick a single rewards card with a generous payback on everything you buy, and you'll have just one credit card bill to pay each month. You'll have a single statement to monitor for errors and fraud, and one rewards program to track. One credit card might help control your spending as well.

Keep bank accounts under 1 roof

Bank accounts are easier to manage if you keep them in one institution. Transfers from one account to another are usually quick, and you might qualify for other perks, such as waived monthly maintenance or ATM fees and higher interest rates on checking and savings.

Leave your wallet at home

A cluttered wallet is a task to look through to find what you need. Plus, if you lose it, you'll have to scramble to replace its contents and protect your identity. By carrying your debit and credit card information in a mobile wallet, you can pay for purchases with your smartphone and remotely erase sensitive data if the device lands in the wrong hands.

Pare down your paper

To reclaim your desk from clutter, start by limiting the amount of paper that makes it into your home in the first place. Sign up for paperless delivery of banking, investment, loan and credit card statements, as well as internet, wireless phone, utility and other bills. Slim down your paper files by discarding older items. But don't toss your tax returns; you'd best hang on to those. Use a cross-cutting shredder to destroy anything with personal information, such as account numbers or your Social Security number.

Consider digitizing documents

Save PDFs of scanned images on your computer, then back up all of your files with an external hard drive or in the cloud. Consider using a scanner, to take pictures of receipts for medical expenses or tax deductible donations or large purchases that are under warranty.

Line up health documents

To simplify life for you and your loved ones in the event of a health emergency, make sure you have a durable power of attorney and a power of attorney for health care (sometimes called a health care proxy) that name the person who should make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

Simplify budgeting

One really simple check on your spending is to track the amount of fixed expenses you pay each month.

These expenses include things like rent or mortgage payments, utilities, debt payments, and savings for your emergency fund, retirement accounts and future goals. Then subtract the total from the amount of income you have coming in.

The result after taxes should be the money you can spend on variable items. A periodic check on your cash on hand should tell you whether you are on track.

Try these apps and tools

Pay bills online. You can pay all your bills using most banks' bill payment feature. Or you can use Mint.com to set up auto pay for multiple bills (free if you're paying with a bank account) as well as receive billing reminders and track spending.

Track deductible expenses

To make next year's tax return less of a headache, start keeping tabs on deductible expenses and donations throughout the year. If you're using a budgeting site such as Mint.com, flag expenses that might be tax deductible as you review them, so you can simply search for them at tax time.

Email questions to Marc A. Hebert, M.S., CFP, a senior member and president of the wealth management and financial planning firm The Harbor Group of Bedford, at mhebert@harborgroup.com. His response might appear in a future column.


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