Sweat-Free Spring Cleaning for the Digital Age

By Angela Renee

With Spring comes March Madness, tax deadlines, and for those of us at HH, our annual Grand Prix party. Now what’s left for the season? Besides enjoying the sunshine and weeding the garden bed, consider taking the time to tackle what Spring conjures for many: Cleaning.

Fear not! Rubber gloves and elbow grease are not required. Here are three “cleaning” tips that can all be accomplished from the comfort of your sofa.

1. Purge Your Email Inbox

Peering at an ever-full inbox is bound to add to your stress. Time to say good-bye to unread and unnecessary messages. Where to begin? Pass over your mail in three sweeps.

First, identify junk mail and prevent it from reaching you in the first place. Instead of repeatedly deleting unwanted email from the same sender (or worse, letting it sit there), take the time now to unsubscribe from mailing lists. Open any email from said organization and click on the “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom. Voila! Now search your inbox for that sender and select and delete all emails. One important caveat: If you get emails from an address that seems suspicious or unfamiliar, mark it as spam and move on. This will protect you from any malicious attempts to infect your system with malware–by getting you to click on an unsafe link. Beware.

Second, look for emails that have become obsolete—and delete. You know the ones I’m talking about. Announcements for events that have already passed, from senders you don’t recognize, or from conversations in which 17 of the 30 recipients (I get lots of these for classroom updates for my elementary school-aged son) have “replied to all.”

Finally, everything that remains in your inbox likely falls into three basic categories: Save, reply now, reply later. You can either apply a “tag” to indicate which, or create sub-folders in your inbox and file them there. For the ones needing immediate response, tackle those that will take the least amount of time and effort FIRST and watch the number of items left in your inbox quickly shrink.

2. Go Paperless and Automate Bill Pay

Now that we’ve cut down on digital mail, let’s talk about the stack of bills sitting on your desk. You can stop receiving most statements entirely.

Here’s how. Most banks offer a service to pay your bills online. You can elect to receive your statements (for your water, electricity, mortgage, etc.) through bill pay and make payments on an automatic, recurring basis. To start, you’ll need to add each payee to your bill pay. Be sure to have addresses and account numbers handy. Select the appropriate recurring payment details and you are set. It’s like having a personal assistant writing checks on your behalf—for free!

You can also use this service to make automatic contributions to your savings, brokerage and retirement accounts. And your bank will likely send you an email (my credit union does) every time a bill is in payout. Here’s where purging your email is really going to pay off. A freshly spruced inbox means that these messages won’t get lost in the fray.

Not only is this kinder to the environment, it provides more security. No chance of stolen mail, exposing you to identify theft. Concerned about cybersecurity? Use these tips to help you update (and remember) your login credentials.  As the article mentions, it is also a good idea to set up dual-factor authentication, when available, for all your web-based accounts.

3. Check Your Beneficiaries

For your 401k and IRA—or any account with a substantial balance—you should have designated a beneficiary who will inherit these assets. Beneficiary updates are often overlooked in the wake of major life events like marriage, divorce and the birth of a child. Review who’s listed for each of your accounts, and make changes as needed. If you can’t remember who is on file, check with your financial institution or advisor.

If you’re an HH client, this one’s taken care of. It is our policy to review IRA beneficiaries with you once per year.

If you’ve made it through the list, well done! And here’s a bonus: Using these strategies year-round means that next year’s clean-up will be a total (Spring) breeze.