With the arrival of fall, our attention often turns to the changing of the seasons – cooler temperatures and football, holiday preparations and all things pumpkin. Just as we often ensure that our lives are ready for the months ahead, we should also take the time to ensure that our finances are ready to weather the change in seasons, too.
There are a few steps for you to consider as you get your financial health in tip-top share before the end of the year.
- Look for budget leaks. This one seems fairly simple on the surface as you have the most control over your discretionary spending. Take a look at your income as well as your spending habits. Lunches and dinners out and those coffee shop runs add up. Consider doubling-down on this kind of discretionary spending, and, at the end of the season, you could see some dollars add up for you.
- Establish your holiday budget. As those savings from your discretionary spending grow, take the time to establish your budget for the holiday. It’s the time of year when spending can get out of control quickly, so begin the process of budgeting what you want to spend on the kids, the in-laws, teachers, and friends. Don’t forget to include spending around meals and potlucks. If you’re hosting a gathering, consider asking others to provide the wine and spirits. You could also co-host an event so that expenses could be shared.
- Go ahead and consolidate your summer debt. One of the easiest ways to reduce your credit card debt is to transfer balances from high-interest cards to those with low or zero annual percentage rates. If you used credit cards, especially that offer rewards for spending, as part of your summer fun, fall is the time to re-assess those interest rates and look for ways to pay down the balances. In the end, you could save hundreds of dollars in interest.
- Create a mock tax return. Tax season will begin after the start of the New Year. Why not go ahead and create a mock tax return in the fall to get a good idea of where you stand with the taxes you’ve paid. You might find that you need to adjust your salary withholdings. While you’re there, take a close look at your retirement account. If you’re seeing that your employer-funded account is coming up a little shorter than you’d like, go ahead and boost your contribution by one to two percent. This accomplishes two things:
- It lowers your taxable income, and
- You might reach your retirement goals a little faster.
- Check your credit report. It’s easy to get out of the habit of checking your credit report during the summer. Life happens! Make it a habit each fall to get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. Once in hand, review it thoroughly for incorrect information. If you suspect fraud or identity theft, consider freezing you credit account to stop a thief from opening an account or getting credit in your name. Further, if you discover an error and need to make a dispute, notify the credit reporting company as well as the applicable creditor in writing through email, certified mail, or online. Here are the details:
- Compare service providers. There are lots of ways to save, just by comparing service providers. From insurance plans to credit cards to internet providers, consumers often end up paying more than they should for these services. Take the time to research what you’re paying for the services you pay for each month, and, if you believe you could get a better deal, reach out to your current provider, or get in touch with a competitor. Odds are that you’ll come out with a plan that suits you and your budget better.
- Prepare for open enrollment. Fall is the absolute best time of year to re-assess what you pay for health insurance. Whether you’re enrolling in Medicare, health insurance as someone who is self-employed, or in an employer-sponsored plan, give yourself time to gather information and review your options so that you can find the plan that best suits you and your financial needs.