The year is almost over and the holidays are approaching. Getting your finances in order is most likely the last thing on your mind, but there are important financial steps to take before the year comes to a close.
By the conclusion of this article, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to finish the year financially strong and begin to prepare your finances for next year.
You can improve your budgeting and finances now; don’t wait until January to make improving your finances a resolution.
Do an Expense Audit
To fully understand your financial situation, you need to do an expense audit. Make a list of all your monthly expenses, including how much you put towards home investments, regular bills, and activities. After going through all of these expenses, determine where you can cut down on costs.
Take cable for instance. Many people continue paying for cable even though they rarely watch live TV, especially with the increasing popularity of online streaming apps, such as Netflix and Hulu. If there are instances like this one where you can cut down on a bill or get rid of it completely, consider doing so.
By doing an expense audit, you can also see where you can be more frugal. For example, if you’re purchasing a daily coffee, that small expense adds up to a big one. Find areas in your budget you can improve and stick to it. This is also great planning that will better prepare your finances for the upcoming new year.
Take Inventory of Your Debt.
Although debt is important to include in your expense audit as well, it typically requires more time and attention to detail. Take the time to take inventory of all of your debt and if you don’t have one already, make a payoff plan that works with your budget.
Especially around the holidays, people often put their debt on the back burner so they can make room for other purchases. This will only put additional stress on your finances and you’ll begin the new year with more accumulated debt. Try to strategize and incorporate your debt plan now instead of waiting. This will not only tie up loose ends towards the end of the year, but it will also give you guidance for money planning down the road.
Contribute to an Emergency Fund
If you don’t already have one, consider starting an emergency fund. If you do have one, contribute more money to it before the end of the year. Many financial planners recommend that you have three to six months of your income in an emergency fund in the case of a financial emergency or a layoff.
Of course, everyone’s emergency fund and how much they can contribute depends on their income. Find a contribution that will be beneficial and will not but you in a financial bind. You want to save money but you don’t want to jeopardize your pressing finances and other bills by setting too much money aside for your emergency fund. Consult your debt and expense audit and determine what amount is best for you to continually contribute. This also lays the groundwork to have a better emergency fund plan to follow next year.
Create a Budget for Next Year
After you have done an expense audit and have taken inventory of all debt, you are better aware of where your finances are doing well and where they need improving. With this knowledge, create a detailed budget to follow for next year. This way, you won’t have to be scrambling trying to make a new year’s resolution to better your finances; you’ll already be prepared with a plan in place.
Maximize Your 401(k) Contribution
Maxing out your 401(k) is not only smart for retirement planning, but it is also a way to reduce your tax liability for the year. For 2018, you can defer paying income tax on as much as $18,500, according to U.S. News.
With social security benefits estimated to be depleted by 2034, the majority of your retirement funds will likely have to come out of your own pocket. Especially if your employer offers to match a certain percentage, maxing out your contribution allows you to plan for your future and save money in the process.
Take Advantage of a Hit Deductible
If you have reached your deductible on your health care plan, consider visiting the doctor for any check ups you may need. Many people avoid the doctor if at all possible because it can be costly, but if you already reached your deductible, it’s as if healthcare is on sale until the end of the year.
Even if it is just a regular checkup, take advantage of going to the doctor while your deductible is paid and you don’t have to pay so much out of pocket. You might as well get what you need for your health care now before January hits and your deductible starts over.
Review your Beneficiaries
Take the time to review your beneficiaries for your retirement fund and your life insurance policy. If you had a marriage, divorce, or other family change in the last year, you may need to adjust your beneficiaries. If you’d like more guidance on how to handle beneficiaries for your family, you can always speak to a financial advisor and get further information.
Look Over Your Will
As tough as this subject is to think about, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow or how long you’ll be around for. Even if you’re younger, you want to ensure your estate plan is complete and ready to go. You don’t want to risk something happening to you while your estate plan isn’t in order for your loved ones.
As overwhelming as it may be, there are straightforward estate planning steps you can go through that will make the process a lot simpler. You can even hire legal counsel if you’d like additional help and guidance.
Consider Getting a Credit Card
If you don’t have one or multiple already, considering getting a credit card. Especially if you have a low credit score, a credit card can help improve your credit while also giving you additional savings. There are many credit cards that give you points or money back when you use it for certain purchases, such as gas, dining, and grocery shopping. You may not get too many points before this year is up but it will definitely accumulate for next year, so take advantage of the offerings.
Check Your Credit
Part of preparing for the new year and understanding your finances is checking your credit score as well as making sure there are no discrepancies. Ideally, you should check your credit at least once a year. You can even check your credit for free with sites like Credit.com.
In the United States, a 700 and above is considered to be good credit and is best for loan offers and interest rates. If your score is not satisfactory, find ways to improve your credit score now to get a jump on it before the new year. This will include things like clearing up collection accounts and fixing late payments.