7 Steps: Uncover hidden assets
That dusty folder with the old savings bonds, forgotten gift cards and yellowed insurance policies may hold some real treasure.
By Carla Fried, Money Magazine

(MONEY Magazine) -- Whether it is stored in your head, lost in the back of a filing cabinet or buried deep in a computer beyond the reach of the advanced search feature, you no doubt have The Folder: the list of financial tasks great and small that you've been meaning to get to forever but have put off.

Until now. If cleaning your closet is the path to domestic zen (who are we to argue with just about every home and decorating magazine?), just imagine the bliss that is in store for you once you rid yourself of the financial dust bunnies that have accumulated in your life.

Roll your old 401(k) over into better-performing mutual funds. Purge your portfolio of once-hot funds and stocks that are now a line of defense against global warming. Get cash for the $300 in Home Depot gift cards left over from last year's renovation.

And there's a kicker: Crossing items like these off your financial to-do list doesn't just induce a higher emotional state. It also fattens your wallet.

The first step in tackling your Folder is to stop making excuses. No matter how elegantly you gussy up your inaction with well-constructed rationalizations ("I can't do a thing until I've fully researched this matter"), procrastination is often an exercise in pain avoidance.

"What's typically going on is that you have some fear, anxiety or regret that keeps you from doing what you know deep down is correct," says Dr. Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and managing partner at Market Psychology Consulting, which coaches individuals and professional investors to rein in the emotions that cloud smart financial decision-making. "You find it easier to defer making a financial decision in the short term if it plays into your anxieties and fears, even though you know in the long term it will be worse not to act."

Can't see where the fear comes into play for you? Fine, but that leaves you with laziness as the only explanation. It's your call.

Regardless of why you procrastinate, you need to break free. Peterson offers a straightforward solution: Don't try to tackle everything at once. Take on one task at a time, break that job down into small achievable steps, and create a schedule for finishing it.

Sounds like a plan. Start with these seven oft-put-off tasks. Some will save you money; others will set you up to earn better returns.

Sure, cleaning up can be messy: You need to watch for unexpected fees and unintended tax bills. But that's no reason to delay, right? Right.

7 Steps to Uncover Hidden Assets:

1. Cash in old savings bonds

2. Boost your savings rate

3. Stop paying for unneeded life insurance

4. Consolidate your retirement accounts

5. Prune your credit cards

6. Unload unused gift cards

7. Finally sell that lousy investment  Top of page

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