Six ways to spring clean your finances

Australian women earn less and do more unpaid domestic work than men.

Australian women earn less and do more unpaid domestic work than men. Photo: Getty

Spring is finally here, but ongoing lockdowns in three states mean it’s easier to focus on cleaning the house than going out to enjoy the sunshine.

If that’s the case in your home, then it’s as good as time as any to take the feather duster to your finances, too.

Here are six.

1. Steam clean your budget

Establishing a budget and sticking to it is often the most critical step in ensuring we meet our financial goals, according to Crystal Wealth Partners executive director John McIlroy.

He said now was a good time to review our budgets, as the pandemic had changed our spending patterns by limiting our opportunities to travel, eat at restaurants, and go out with friends.

“Now is a good time to assess your spending – what [is] essential and what could be cut back – and set up a budget that you can stick to as we emerge from lockdowns and our borders open up,” Mr McIlroy said.

2. Dust off your non-essential commitments

Many of us have turned to TV shows and films to get through the pandemic – and that has often meant signing up to streaming services to access particular programs that have caught our eye.

Consortium Private Wealth adviser Rob Goudie said this is why “a spring clean of your streaming services would be useful now”.

“You might have signed up for a particular show but kept the direct debit going without going back to that service much or at all,” Mr Goudie said.

“So in the broader sense, it’s a good time to go back to your bank account, check the direct debits you have signed up to, and see if you really still need them.”

You might be surprised to learn how much you are spending every month on services you rarely use.

3. Blow the cobwebs off your super

Superannuation is something we often set and forget, but we need to pay close attention to ensure it delivers us the best retirement possible.

Some low-hanging fruit include closing multiple accounts and directing all your superannuation money into the one fund that suits your needs, which is something you can do online.

“If you have multiple accounts then you are just paying away your retirement savings in additional fees,” Mr McIlroy said.

Members can consolidate their super into one fund by setting up a myGov account and linking this to the ATO’s online service. From there, they should select ‘super’, then ‘manage’, and then ‘transfer super’.

The ATO service also has a new superannuation comparison tool, which ranks funds by their net returns to members.

You can find out more about consolidating super here – and discover other ways to get more out of super elsewhere on these pages.

4. Polish your insurance

Next up is insurance.

You want to make sure your policies provide a sufficient amount of cover without becoming unaffordable.

“There’s been a huge revamp in life insurance premiums and benefits over time and premiums for income protection have gone up substantially,” Mr Goudie said.

“If you ignore them, the costs continue to rise.”

TND reviewed the major changes on the way in the income protection market here.

Essentially, this type of cover will offer fewer benefits and charge higher premiums from October 1, so if you are interested in taking out a policy in line with the more generous type of cover available now then you need to get in quick.

Another important consideration is whether to take out life and disability insurance inside or outside superannuation.

Each option has pros and cons, as we discussed on these pages last month.

5. Iron out investment wrinkles

As the world reckons with the devastating effects of man-made climate change, people are increasingly concerned about ensuring their investment choices match their values.

A good place to start is by visiting your superannuation fund’s website and reading its annual reports to find out where your money is invested.

Your fund should also have an ESG (environmental, social and governance) policy, which will let you know whether they refrain from investing in any particular industries, such as tobacco or fossil fuels.

And some funds will have a dedicated ‘ethical’ investment option.

So, if your investments don’t match your values, talk to your super fund to find out if they have a more suitable option, or consider moving your superannuation elsewhere.

6. Wash off your term deposit options

With interest rates at record lows, your savings will be earning precious little at the moment.

So review any term deposits you hold as they mature, and consider directing your money elsewhere.

Term deposits will only earn you up to an average of 0.54 per cent for two years, and even less for shorter periods, according to Canstar.

But the highest ongoing savings rate at the moment is 1.35 per cent – and some fixed-term annuities and listed hybrid securities will offer returns closer to 3 per cent.

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