A Clean Sweep For Your Finances

For many people, the arrival of Spring might mean cleaning out closets, the garage or the basement. But life coach and expert organizer Gail Blanke says the new season is a great time to tidy up your finances. Host Michel Martin speaks with Blanke about spring cleaning your financial life, which she says might also help get other parts of your life in order.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we are going to turn to matters of personal finance. You might be celebrating the start of spring by rushing outside and catching some sunshine now or throwing open the windows to take care of that spring cleaning.

But our next guest says the deep clean you might really want to do this spring isn't your blinds or your attic. It's your finances. Here to tell us more about this is Gail Blanke. You might remember her from when she joined us to talk about her book, "Throw Out 50 Things," earlier this year. She's also an executive life coach.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

GAIL BLANKE: I'm so glad to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, we talked to you about throwing out 50 things a little while ago, but you also told us that you want to check some things off your financial list this spring, as well. Why is that so important?

BLANKE: You know, I think, in general, what builds up over the year - I call it life plaque that clogs the arteries of our lives and weighs us down, holds us back, curbs our enthusiasm, all that stuff. And, interestingly enough, one of the major culprits in terms of sapping our enthusiasm is the financial mess that we allow to build up.

MARTIN: Well, how would you get started, if you decided - yeah, that's me?

BLANKE: Well, to tell you the truth, I would start by cleaning out a drawer in the kitchen before you get into your financial stuff because I think people feel so worked up about their financial mess and so overwhelmed that they just feel they can't get into it. So you want to kind of go easy on yourself and start with that good old drawer in the kitchen and, once you get that cleared out, you build up your energy.

Then you can go into the drawer or the box that has all that financial stuff in there that you haven't looked at. You know, the financial statements, the old bills, the pay stubs. I mean, there's stuff that should be shredded that - there are certain things that you do have to keep for a certain period of time, but the idea of starting small and not making a big deal is really important, particularly in this very emotional subject of our finances.

MARTIN: You say that it's time to throw out your relationship with money. What do you mean by that?

BLANKE: I think many of us - and I think that it's particularly women - have a very negative relationship with money, if we have any relationship at all. We just - we don't treat that relationship with respect like we would, you know, another relationship.

In the end, it's like we don't really want to know about it. That's why we keep putting it aside. I mean, look at our other relationships that are important. Would we treat our children like that? You know, no. We make sure they have the right things, that they're cared for, that - you know, everything's working OK with them. And we don't do that with this particular relationship.

One of the things I asked a woman the other day - would you just not get a mammogram because you didn't want to know what it said? Well, that's how we treat our financial life. I don't want to. I'm not opening up that bank statement because I don't want to know what it says. So we have to treat it with respect.

MARTIN: It's interesting that you say that because, you know, it's often said that men are prone to that kind of not wanting to know when it comes to their health, whereas women are prone to not wanting to know when it comes to their money. It's just one of those curious kind of contrasts.

So how would you start? So you say clear out the papers and the bills and all that thing and kind of get a system in order. But then what?

BLANKE: I would actually even make it simpler than that. I would say, ask yourself the question, what are the two or three things that I could do or start to do that reduce my financial stress? You know, maybe you make a plan to pay down your credit card debt. That'd be good. Maybe - and this is a really good one. Maybe you draw up a budget that realistically reflects your current financial situation.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about cleaning up our personal finances for the spring. Joining us is Gail Blanke. You might remember her. She's the author of the book, "Throw Out 50 Things." She talked about how to kind of start small and clean up your act and she's also got some advice about financial spring cleaning.

OK. Here's a tricky question and I'm sure that you've heard this. You know, often, couples are - if people are in partnership with someone, often, you know, they say opposites attract. Maybe one person is a saver, one person is a spender and they have different styles, let's say, when it comes to money. And how would you recommend that somebody reconcile these differences? I mean, how would you navigate that? How would you even open that conversation up?

BLANKE: You know, I think most really good conversations that involve change start, not with, OK. Let's make some changes around here. But rather, what would good look like for us? You know, you have to create a vision. I always loved to quote Walt Disney. He always said, when they were building a new theme park in any part of the world, he would say, build the castle first because, you know, that's where the magic is. And if you've got the castle to look to, you can do all the tough stuff to bring the rest of the theme park to life. You know, you lay the cables in the swamps with the heat and the mosquitoes.

So ask each other this question. Hey, if it were good, what would it look like? This financial situation. Just for a minute, how good would that be and how would we feel? And then you can ask the next question. OK. So what's standing in the way of that?

So it doesn't - it's not anybody's fault. It's - we can figure this out together. What could we do differently or how could we think about it differently? Then, you've got a nice conversation going where there's a solution that you're trying to arrive at together and, you know, I would introduce humor and, you know - and, again, anything to keep yourselves from getting worked up about it.

MARTIN: Keep yourselves from getting worked up? That's good. OK.

BLANKE: Just don't get worked up.

MARTIN: Just don't get worked up. So, Gail, before we let you go, you know, I'm sure that there are people who will be hearing our conversation who will say, yeah, yeah. I know that. I've heard this before. I know I should do it, but for whatever reason, something's stopping them. You know, they feel afraid. They feel like, I just - it's too big. It's too much. I just can't handle it. Is there some piece of advice that you could give for someone who just is afraid to get started?

BLANKE: It's OK to be afraid. Most of us are really afraid of the whole conversation because we're afraid that, you know, we're just not going to be good at this, that we haven't been good at it in the past. We'll never be good at it and it makes us feel bad about ourselves.

And the point is, you don't have to be perfect. You just have to get into the game. You just have to begin to tackle it.

You know, a friend of mine defines the word, fear, as False Evidence Appearing Real and so we get worked up about the worst case scenarios and all this stuff that isn't even happening that absolutely paralyzes us. So let that go. That's something to shred. Your old fears. You know, your old fear of just not being good enough.

MARTIN: And don't get worked up.

BLANKE: Yes. That's the main thing. Don't do it.

MARTIN: Gail Blanke is author of the book, "Throw Out 50 Things," and the founder and CEO of Life Designs. That's her executive and life coaching firm and she was kind enough to join us from our studios in New York.

Gail Blanke, it's always good to talk to you.

BLANKE: It's wonderful to talk to you, Michel.

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