A step-by-step guide to an autumn financial cleanse

Review your budget and make any necessary changes to end the year in a stronger position

Shot of a young couple going over their finances together at home. Getty Images
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If summer is a season of spontaneity and indulgence, then autumn offers a counterpoint: It’s a chance to get back on schedule and back on budget.

Summer, with travel and no school, tends to be a really spendy time. Autumn is a nice reset,” says Ashley Gerstley, a certified financial planner and author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse.

Ms Gerstley says giving yourself a “money cleanse” offers a chance to carefully go over your spending and financial habits so you can make any necessary changes to end the year strong.

With inflation and economic uncertainty in the background, that’s no easy task, but putting in the extra effort now can pay off.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to an autumn financial cleanse that could help get your budget on track for the rest of the year:

1. Start with a look back

Financial planner Nate Hoskin says the first step to an autumn financial cleanse is to look backward, starting with your New Year’s goals.

He suggests checking on progress towards resolutions set in January so you can make any needed adjustments.

Then, Mr Hoskin says, initiate what he calls a “financial audit”, which means tracking all your spending over the past couple of months by reviewing credit card and bank statements.

From there, you can see what unexpected expenses popped up or why it has been so hard to save.

“With inflation, it’s extremely challenging, and you might find your budget didn’t work even if you did everything right, because some things are out of your control,” he adds.

He suggests giving yourself the chance to make small changes going forward without dwelling on previous missteps.

“Knowing where our money is going is a huge shift and can help us change our habits,” Ms Gerstley says.

2. Try a budget

If you don’t yet follow a budget to help you track your spending, then autumn is a great time to give one a try, says Ashley Lapato, a financial expert on TikTok who posts as @TheOrganizedWallet and is a spokeswoman for budgeting app YNAB.

“I always think the first step is a zero-based budget,” she says, which means every dollar is accounted for, including money set aside for savings and any debt payments.

“It forces you to confront spending decisions and to get really clear about financial priorities,” she says, because you comb through every little bit of spending.

3. Establish a new morning habit

Ms Lapato likes to start each day with a quick check of her own budget.

For fewer than five minutes every morning, she logs in to her budgeting app or checks her bank account and financial goals.

“Doing this has changed my perspective. It puts me in the right brain space in the morning if I’m looking at bills, goals and things I want to accomplish,” she says.

Then, when she has to make spending decisions later in the day, her balances and goals are top of mind.

4. Prioritise paying off debt

Stuart Boxenbaum, president of Statewide Financial Group, a financial advisory company, says that with interest rates rising, this autumn is also a great time to aggressively pay off high-interest or variable-rate debt, such as credit cards.

“Before you sock away other money into savings, pay off high-interest debt – if you’re paying 18 per cent or higher on a credit card, then it’s a no-brainer. Pay off the debt first,” he says, because yields on savings accounts are far lower than those interest rates.

Summer, with travel and no school, tends to be a really spendy time. Autumn is a nice reset
Ashley Gerstley, certified financial planner

5. Make space for fun, too

Budgeting and debt aren’t exactly words that people associate with fun. That’s why it’s so important to also build treats into your budget, Ms Lapato says, because doing so can actually help keep you on track.

“Sometimes, we need that serotonin boost,” she says. For her, that usually means splurging on a new blush or book.

“Instead of feeling guilty, I have it built into my budget as its own category,” she says, adding that she sets aside a bit of money every month for this purpose.

“Give yourself permission to enjoy life,” she adds – a philosophy that applies to this autumn and beyond.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 4:00 AM