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If you’ve been struggling to follow through with your financial goals for 2016, there’s still plenty of time to get back on track. The key is to break down your goals into manageable chunks. Focusing on what you can do right now in about 15 minutes a month can help you set yourself up for long-term success.
Don’t let the fact that we’re already in February deter you. Here’s a month-by-month rundown of simple steps you can start now that will improve your financial fitness throughout the year.
February: Increase your monthly savings
Did you get a raise or bonus in January? Do you have extra dollars left in your bank account at the end of the month? Then it’s time to adjust your monthly savings amount.
If your answer to these questions is no, see if you can save an extra $5 to $10 per month. That may not seem like much — the cost of one or two trips to the coffee shop per month — but over time you’ll have a safety net when you need some extra money.
March: Contribute to an IRA
You have until mid-April to make a contribution to your traditional or Roth IRA for the 2015 calendar year. Even if you’re not depositing the maximum amount, small contributions now can have a huge impact later.
» MORE: How to open a Roth IRA
April: File your taxes
Have you done your taxes yet? If not, now is the time: The 2015 tax filing deadline is Monday, April 18. Granted, this will take more than 15 minutes, but you’ll want to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the deductions you’re entitled to. If you’re unsure which deductions you qualify for, consult a tax professional.
May: Check your credit score
A good credit score doesn’t just help you take out loans at favorable terms, it can also affect how much you pay for car insurance and even whether you get hired for certain jobs. It’s worthwhile to regularly check your credit score to maintain or improve it.
A number of websites make your credit score available to you, but you generally have to pay. Some credit card issuers, however, provide FICO credit scores for free. If your credit score unexpectedly fluctuates, check your credit report for errors or potential identity theft. You can access your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
June: Save for retirement
Midway through the year, focus on saving for retirement. Contributing to your 401(k) early on will greatly benefit you later in life due to compound interest. If you are already contributing, can you afford to increase the amount? Review your monthly budget to determine if you can curtail spending to save more.
>> MORE: Use NerdWallet’s compound interest calculator to see how compounding affects your savings
July: Adjust your 401(k) allocation
Speaking of your 401(k): Log in to your account to check your asset allocation. Are your dollars being invested or sitting in cash? Often, if you don’t specify how to allocate your 401(k) funds, the default is some sort of money market fund.
If you’re not sure what to do with your 401(k), a certified financial planner can help you maximize your account’s benefits and understand how it fits into your overall financial plan.
August: Set aside holiday shopping funds
The holidays approach quickly and can be overwhelming — between the parties and presents, you can be left exhausted and broke by the time it’s all over. To avoid taking on debt, it’s a good idea to set up a dedicated savings account for holiday shopping.
Start thinking early on about whom you’ll be buying gifts for and put yourself on a budget.
September: Save for college
It’s back-to-school season — the perfect time to think about saving for college. Consider opening a 529 savings plan for your child. If you have one already, take a look at how it’s done so far this year. Do you need to reallocate investments or increase your contribution?
You may want to explore other college savings options, too. An advisor can help you learn more about your options.
October: Assess your health benefits
During open enrollment you can check out your company’s benefits package. Many companies offer flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. These allow you to save pretax dollars for out-of-pocket medical costs and other qualifying expenses. Some companies offer a commuter benefit, too. Many also offer life insurance, short- and long-term disability insurance, and long-term care insurance — benefits that can offer a financial cushion in case a crisis takes you out of work.
Talk to your plan administrator about your benefit options.
November: Ask for a pay raise
The end of the year often means employee reviews — and a chance to receive an increase in pay. Do your research, figure out what you’re worth, and be prepared to have that conversation with your manager. You also may want to consider whether continuing your education could help you advance your career.
December: Evaluate your progress
Reflect on what approaches to achieving your goals worked for you throughout year and what didn’t. Think about when you checked in on your progress each month. How did you measure success? As you plan for the year ahead, carry forward the personal finance strategies that worked best for you.
January: Set goals
The new year is a good time to think about what you hope to accomplish in the months ahead. Instead of setting lofty goals, which can be intimidating, set smaller ones that you can spend a little bit of time checking in on once or twice a month.
That may mean committing to the same actions outlined above, or it could mean making slightly more aggressive goals as you continue to improve your financial health.
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