Remember those financial goals you set way back in January? With the holidays and the end of the year approaching, fall is a great time to revisit your goals and set straight any that may have gone awry. Here are five financial moves to make this season.
1. Build an emergency fund
September has five Fridays this year, which means many people will receive an extra paycheck. If that includes you, consider using this mini-bonus to build your emergency fund. Even a small amount cushions you against unexpected medical expenses, or home or car repairs. A high-yield online savings account is a good place to park your emergency fund.
If your emergency savings are already in good shape, then use that paycheck to pay down credit card or mortgage debt, or put it toward next year’s spring break trip.
December also has five Fridays this year, so plan for another savings opportunity.
Are you maximizing your 401(k) contributions? Now is a good time to consider increasing your contributions for the rest of this year.
Your minimum goal should be to contribute enough to get any employer match your company offers. If your company’s match is 50 cents for every dollar you contribute up to 6% of your salary, for example, increase your contributions to at least 6% to take advantage of that benefit.
If you can, boost your contributions to 10% to 15% of your paychecks through the end of the year, recommends Scott Bishop, a certified financial planner with STA Wealth Management in Houston. The IRS allows you to contribute up to $18,000 a year, and the amount is deducted from your taxable income. Those older than 50 can contribute an extra $6,000 to build up their nest eggs as retirement gets closer.
3. Budget for Black Friday
Ready or not, the countdown to Black Friday is on, and now’s the time to boost savings for a few well-planned splurges. Last year, shoppers spent $289, on average, on Black Friday and the following weekend, according to the National Retail Federation.
Setting up a weekly automatic transfer of $25 from your checking to your savings account beginning Sept. 1 will give you $300 to spend on Black Friday.
“The heavy discounts [offered on Black Friday] can help force people to save up for a big purchase,” says Wendy De La Rosa, co-founder and principal at Common Cents Lab, a Duke University research group that focuses on improving financial health through behavioral science. “Holding out for sales may be a good budgeting decision if we indulge only once in awhile.”
According to De La Rosa’s research, spending on occasions like Black Friday can act as a release that makes it easier to stick to a budget, just like cheat days can help dieters stay on track with weight-loss goals, she says.
4. Prepare for open enrollment
If you have a health plan through your employer or a health insurance exchange, open enrollment is your annual opportunity to assess your health insurance and other company benefits. Open enrollment for employer-based plans is typically in October or November. For federal and state marketplace plans, it’s Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017.
“Review all of the benefits — flexible spending and dependent care accounts, and life and disability insurance — to see if you’re taking advantage of what is offered,” says Todd Youngdahl, a certified financial planner at Washington Wealth Advisors in Falls Church, Virginia.
Tally out-of-pocket medical and day care expenses you’ve spent this year to estimate how much to allocate for next year’s flexible spending and dependent care accounts. Check on your company’s deadline for spending the funds in your current FSA, so you don’t accidentally miss it and lose the money.
5. Use technology to pay off debt
If your 2017 goals included reducing debt, and you’re not quite where you want to be at this point, check out tech tools designed to organize your accounts and get rid of debt faster.
Unbury.Me is a free web tool that shows when you’ll be debt-free based on current balances and payments. Move the slider bar to adjust monthly payments to see how to shorten the payoff time and save on interest charges.
A free app, ChangEd, speeds student loan payoff by automatically rounding up debit card purchases and setting aside the change. When the amount reaches $100, ChangEd sends an extra payment to the loan servicer, reducing your balance and cutting total interest.
Plan for holiday gift-giving by using an app like Santa’s Bag for iOS or Christmas Gift List for Android, which track your budget and expenditures to curb impulse buying.
Aim to “get through the holidays without a financial hangover — also known as bills and debt,” says Marguerita Cheng, chief executive officer of Blue Ocean Global Wealth of Gaithersburg, Maryland.
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