You've heard of 'spring cleaning,' haven't you? It's a time when everyone cleans up their houses, gets rid of things they no longer need and generally gets their home in order. Why not put that concept to work on your credit and financial situations, as well? The great thing is that you don't have to wait until the spring to do it.

Right now is a great time to take a closer look at your financial picture. While you really should do it more than once a year, use this opportunity to sit down with statements from all of your bank accounts, credit cards, loans and other debts – as well as your pay stubs and any other income sources you receive on a regular basis. Take a quick look at your overall income and debt. How are you doing on paying down your owed balances? Are you chipping away at that debt regularly, or does it seem to be staying basically the same?

While many people think that debt is a fact of life, a secure financial life is one in which you've not only gotten rid of your debt, but you've also put some money set aside, just in case. Make a game plan to get rid of some of at least some of that debt. And, while you're at it, take a close look at just what's creating your debt. Try to identify some places where you can cut back on your spending.

The point here is obvious: don't take on more debt if you don't have to. That also means you'll need to make sure all your bills are paid on time, every month. Imagine being hit with just one late fee every couple of months. With such fees running at least $25 for most companies nowadays, that could turn into $150 for six tardy payments, and a whopping $300 extra if you paid late every month of the year. Wouldn't you prefer that money to stay in your own pocket than to be deposited into some credit card company's coffers?

Before you ever pull out that plastic, be sure to really think about the purchase you're going to make. Is it something that you must have? Here's a quick hint: the latest DVD or CD is definitely not a must. In order to clear up your debt, you must develop the habit of getting rid of the old without adding to it with new debt. You'll therefore need to prioritize your purchases.

Once your debt is reduced or retired completely, your work is not over. Instead of going on a spending spree and running up credit balances again, make sure to keep your spending in check. Also, take the money that you had been using to pay down your debt, and put it away into savings. While you may not need it now, when an emergency does arise or if you find a fantastic deal sometime down the road, it'll be nice to know that you have the money to afford it without getting yourself back into a debt hole.

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