In a NutshellTaking care of just a few key financial tasks each month can help ensure you're just as financially confident in July and December as you are right after you've set your new year's intentions.
It’s kind of ironic that a season of decadence is often followed by one of self-discipline and resolution — from glittery holiday parties and overspending to budgets, diets and New Year’s resolutions. The holiday hangover in January is often more painful than we like to admit.
Taking care of just a few key financial tasks each month can help you get out of the feast-and-famine cycle — and ensure you’re just as financially confident in July and December as you are right after you’ve set your new year’s intentions.
We spoke to Cary Carbonaro, author of “The Money Queen’s Guide” and managing director at United Capital; Alex Pape, principal and portfolio manager of Huckleberry Capital Management; and Marguerita Cheng, Certified Financial Planner™ and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, for their insights on the financial to-dos you can tackle throughout the year for maximum money success.
Here’s our month-by-month guide.
1. Write down your New Year’s resolutions and post them somewhere you’ll see them regularly, such as your fridge. Consider turning your most important resolution into an “oath” to codify the commitment to yourself. For example, “I promise to bring lunch to work three days a week.” Another great way to stick to your resolution? “Share it on social media to hold yourself accountable,” Carbonaro says.
2. Calculate your net worth in January so you can start the year with a fresh budget, Carbonaro suggests.
3. Consider opening a Christmas club-type savings account at the beginning of the year so you don’t get a debt hangover after the holidays, Carbonaro suggests. Originally pioneered during the Great Depression, Christmas clubs were financial accounts in which people added cash throughout the entire year. They then used that money for holiday gifts down the road.
While these accounts are less popular today, you can DIY a Christmas club by automating savings each month, ideally in an interest-bearing account. If you save $75 a month, you’ll have $900 at the end of the year (or even more, if you manage to earn some interest).
1. Start gathering tax documents, Carbonaro suggests, such as W-2 and 1099 forms, and receipts for your charitable contributions, so you’re prepared when it’s time to start doing your taxes.
2. Check your credit report. With Credit Karma, you can check your credit reports from TransUnion and Equifax each week for free. Additionally, you can check your report from each of the three main credit bureaus once a year for free with AnnualCreditReport.com.
3. Aim to have your credit cards paid off in full by the end of the month, Carbonaro says. Whether you’re still dealing with a holiday debt hangover or simply have other debts in your life, try giving yourself a deadline to work toward.
1. Get your taxes done early. If you use an accountant, give them a call ASAP, since this is busy season and you’ll want to make sure they can fit you in. And if you’re doing your taxes on your own, remember that waiting until April to start crunching numbers and tallying deductions can be incredibly stressful.
2. Start thinking about the gifts you’ll want to give throughout the year for weddings, birthdays and even the distant winter holidays. Now study up on the best times of year to buy different kinds of items so you can stock up whenever they go on deep discount, even if that means buying a stroller in May for a baby shower you anticipate for the fall.
3. Search your financial statements for any recurring charges that you can ditch. Maybe you have a subscription for a magazine you hardly read, a premium LinkedIn or Spotify account that you don’t use enough to justify the cost, or a delivery service that you don’t actually finish each month.
1. “Should you receive a sizable tax refund,” Cheng says, “consider adjusting your tax withholding to have more cash flow throughout the year.” Remember, while it feels great to receive a refund, the government is, in fact, refunding you because you overpaid throughout the year.
2. Plan summer travel before prices go up. Check out money-saving resources such as Airfarewatchdog or Kayak to land inexpensive airfare, so you can start planning your travel budget early.
1. Reassess your monthly budget, especially as the weather heats up and summer spending temptations are on the horizon. Look over your spending since the beginning of the year to see whether you’ve been staying within budget and if you’re hitting your savings goals. If not, figure out what needs to change.
2. If your company offers 401(k) matching and you’re not already taking advantage of it, Pape says, “it’s time to rekindle that possibility.” If you’re not making a contribution to your 401(k), that’s money you may be leaving on the table.
3. Think about drafting a living will and appointing a health care proxy. These documents let you state your wishes for your own medical care, and who has authority to make medical decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. You’ll want to talk to your loved ones and an attorney about your options and consider them carefully.
1. Sit down for a midyear check-in. Are you on track with your New Year’s resolutions? If not, what can you do to change that? This transcends simple budgeting: If your resolution was to pay down your debt, are you making progress? If you resolved to give more to charity, have you done so?
2. Use the summer lull to figure out how you can grow your human capital: “When we’re early in our careers, our human capital — our future earnings — is much larger than our financial capital,” Pape says. “Investment in human capital at this stage, such as earning a second degree or working late to secure a promotion, can make a major difference over the rest of our life.”
3. Track down your old 401(k)s. “Today, [as we] change jobs more frequently, we often create a messy hodgepodge of retirement accounts,” Pape says. One thing to consider doing is rolling 401(k) accounts from previous employers into an IRA to reduce the number of accounts to track and potentially reduce costs.
1. Check out your employee benefits. While co-workers are away on vacation, use the quiet time to question HR about all the benefits at your disposal. Do you have access to a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA)? What about child care benefits or gym subsidies?
2. If you only requested one credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com in February, take this opportunity to request your report from a different bureau, and make sure your credit history doesn’t show any fraud or accounts you don’t recognize. If you spot an error, you can dispute it.
3. Take a look at your savings account balances, and calculate whether you’re on track to retire. Though retirement may feel like a long way off, it’s a huge expense. And the earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to grow.
1. Name beneficiaries on all of your financial accounts. This ensures that, if something happens to you, the people you love may inherit your accounts smoothly and without issue. Many financial accounts let you name beneficiaries (sometimes called transfer-on-death or TOD) online.
A little morbid, sure — but it’s important and easy to do between all that sunbathing and sitting poolside.
2. Saving money and being responsible are great, but it’s also important to enjoy life once in a while. After all, if you never let yourself enjoy your money, you may end up binging and spending more than you intended. So, plan a sensible splurge as the summer winds down — maybe going to a nice dinner, having cocktails with your friends or buying a reasonably priced tech gadget you’ve been eyeing — so you can enjoy life without totally blowing your budget.
3. The end of summer can be a good time for end-of-season travel. If you didn’t plan your summer travel in advance back in April or if you’re looking for autumn getaways, this is a good opportunity to find great prices. “Check out last-minute travel deals,” Carbonaro says, “and don’t forget Groupon and LivingSocial deals.”
1. Make a list of your most important work goals, both short- and long-term, so you can refocus on your career now that vacation season is ending. “It’s time to get back to work!” Carbonaro says.
2. Decide if you should work with a financial adviser. If you struggle with the emotional side of managing finances or simply prefer to spend your leisure time on other pursuits, consider outsourcing some or all of your investment management.
If the idea of a human adviser seems cumbersome — or, perhaps, old-fashioned — consider set-and-forget investment software, such as that offered by Wealthfront, Betterment, FutureAdvisor or various others. Be aware that many of these services charge fees.
3. Write down all the fees you’ve paid so far this year, including ATM fees, interest charges and late fees. Make a plan to avoid each one in the future. Maybe that means switching to a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees, seriously cutting back on spending until you can pay off all your outstanding debts or creating monthly calendar alerts so you never miss a bill payment again.
1. Plan your holiday budget early so spending doesn’t sneak up on you. Start shopping for gifts now so you can catch the tail end of back-to-school season in addition to the usual holiday deals.
2. Check whether you’ve got the insurance coverage you need. Do you need to update your life insurance policy? Do you need to change the coverage amount on your homeowners or renters insurance? Should you think about long-term care insurance for any of your loved ones?
1. Be on the lookout for gotchas while you shop. “Consider carefully before opening any cards in order to receive discounts,” Cheng recommends. A small discount today could hurt your credit score if you open too many credit cards at once, or if you’re tempted to overspend with your new plastic.
2. Check your credit report again, this time from the last of the three credit bureaus. Check for any signs of fraud or financial activity you don’t recognize, and dispute any errors that could be affecting your credit.
3. In preparation for the holidays, Carbonaro suggests doing a Secret Santa with your family to cut down on gift buying. This way you only have to buy for one person in the family. Or if you have the time and inclination, consider making homemade personalized gifts.
1. Finalize your charitable contributions for the year. As long as you donate before Dec. 31, your contributions will count toward the current tax year, which means you can deduct the contributions accordingly, as allowed by the law.
2. “This is a good time to rebalance your portfolio, which should be done once a year,” Carbonaro says. This entails buying and selling investments to make sure you maintain your target asset allocation (the mix of stocks, bonds and other investments that you hold).
3. Though the IRA contribution deadline is in April, other kinds of retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, have an end-of-year deadline, Carbonaro says. “Make sure you make your final contributions before the year end.”