It’s never too early to start planning ahead. Here are some really great tips on shaping 2014 into a more financially sound year.
Each month has been broken down into manageable tasks.
1. Redo Your Budget Look over your spending from the past year, and decide how you’d like to change your budget, based on such new goals as saving for a big purchase or paying down debt more quickly. When drawing up your budget, make sure that you factor in spending that occurs throughout the year, not just monthly, like car maintenance fees, veterinarian bills or insurance premiums.
2. Set Up New Savings Accounts
What are your goals for 2014? Do you want to start saving for a house or a new addition to the family? What about a fabulous trip to Europe? Figure out how much you need to save, and then create a separate savings account for these goals, so you can track your progress-and hold yourself accountable.
3. Automate Your Retirement Savings (or Change the Amount) If you’re not automating your retirement contributions, start now. Seriously. It’s the easiest way to make sure that you get on track for retirement, and you won’t be tempted to spend the money if it’s automatically transferred to your account.
And if you were maxing out your Roth or Traditional IRA or your 401(k) last year, change your automated contribution amount, since the limit has increased for 2014 by $500 for all three types of accounts. For your IRA, change your contribution amount to $458.33; for your 401(k), increase it to $1,458.33.
4. Increase Your 401(k) Contributions
If you’re not maxing out your 401(k), increase your contributions by 1%. While it doesn’t seem like a lot now, compound interest will work its magic, so that the small percentage increase pays off down the road! If you got a raise, increase your contributions even more.
5. Use Your Year-End Bonus Wisely
We believe in rewarding yourself for hard work. So if you receive a year-end bonus, use 10% of it for something fun—and then use the remaining 90% wisely, putting it toward a financial priority like building emergency savings. If you didn’t max out an IRA this year, you have until April 15th to do so, so consider this, too.
6. Decide on a Vacation Budget Now Travel is one of the most common savings goals—and also one of the most expensive. Think about how much travel you’d like to do in 2014 (and when), and then come up with an appropriate budget. Remember that you shouldn’t sacrifice your financial priorities-like saving for retirement or paying down debt-for travel.
7. Pay Your Taxes if You’re a Freelancer, Small Business Owner or Self-Employed
You have until January 15th to pay your 4th quarter estimated tax payments for 2013.
1. Get Organized for Tax Season
By the end of January, you should have received tax forms, like your W-2 from your employer or 1099s. Organize them, as well as any other information you’ll need, including records of charitable donations and other receipts you’ll use when itemizing deductions.
2. Check Your Credit Score
As we like to say, your credit score is the only grade that matters once you graduate-It can determine your mortgage and other loans. Reviewing it every three months will keep you abreast of how you appear to creditors. And if there’s a sudden dip, it will alert you to the fact that something erroneous or fraudulent may have occurred with regard to your accounts, allowing you to take care of it immediately.
3. Budget for Valentine’s Day Gifts
If you’re going to spend a little extra than usual in the “gifts” category of your budget, make sure that you’re cutting back appropriately in other areas of spending. Nothing ruins the romantic mood quite like credit card debt.
1. Finish Your Taxes
Aim to wrap up your taxes in March-well ahead of the April 15th deadline. If you receive a refund, use 90% of the money toward your financial priorities, and set aside 10% for some fun spending!
2. Inventory Home Goods and Property
In the event that your belongings or property are damaged and/or destroyed, you’ll need appropriate documentation to prove their value. Take some time in March to photograph such personal possessions extensively, and compile a thorough list of what everything is worth. Then store this information in a water- and fire-proof safe, along with any other important documents.
3. Start Planning Your Child’s Summer Activities
When school’s out, it can be tricky to keep junior occupied—especially if your schedule is still packed. So start researching options like summer camp, enrichment programs and other activities now, and piece together what your child’s summer will look like.
1. File Taxes
No more procrastinating: Make sure that you file your taxes by the drop-dead date of April 15th. If you’re planning to ask for an extension, the due date is also April 15th!
And if you’re self-employed, a freelancer or a small business owner, Q1 estimated tax payments are due April 15th.
2. Revamp Your Insurance
Take a thorough look at your current insurance situation. If you’ve had a major life event happen recently—you’ve gotten married or you’ve had a child—your insurance situation will likely need to change. Shop for lower home and auto insurance by running a quote online, and then call your current agent to make sure that you’re getting all of the discounts that you’re qualified to receive.
3. Book Summer Travel
Looking to go away in July or August? Book your plans now. Tip: Vacation anticipation can actually boost your happiness for eight weeks—it’s science!
1. Check Your Credit Score Once again, review your credit score using Credit Karma to make sure that there’s been no erroneous activity that has dragged down your score. Additionally, if you’ve been steadily making headway on your debt, you may see your score improve-which is great news!
2. Pull Your Free Credit Report
Like your credit score, your credit report will show you the record of your financial activity that’s available to creditors. Check that there are no errors, and if there are discrepancies, dispute them with the bureau that released the report. Annualcreditreport.com allows you to pull your credit report from each of the three major bureaus once a year-for free!
3. Check Out Scholarship Opportunities Is your child entering his junior or senior year of high school? If so, it’s a great time to start looking into scholarships that will help you afford the cost of higher education. Check out savingforcollege.com, and sign up for UPromise, which will help you earn cash for college on everyday purchases.
1. Check In on Your Budget
How are you doing with that budget you set up in January? Does it still make sense? Can you cut back in any categories or do you need to reallocate resources? Making a date to review your budget halfway through the year will help to ensure that you stay on track to meet your financial goals.
2. Pay Taxes If You’re a Freelancer, Small Business Owner or Self-Employed
Q2 estimated tax payments are due June 17th.
3. Concentrate on Your Health It’s almost swimsuit season! Aside from looking good, your health and fitness level can actually have serious implications for your wallet. Studies have shown a correlation between frequent exercise and higher pay. If you’re planning to join a gym, look into reimbursement or discount programs offered by your employer or insurance provider.
1. Increase Your Retirement Contributions
If you’re saving in a 401(k), increase your contributions by 1%. If you have an IRA that you’re not maxing out, start saving $100 more each month.
2. Review Your Energy Usage
It’s the middle of the summer, which likely means that your energy costs are through the roof. Take a closer look at your usage, and try to cut back on your bill using these methods.
3. Take Advantage of 4th of July Sales
In the market for a big-ticket item, like a TV or grill? Check out promotions for Independence Day-many major retailers offer significant discounts on these items now.
1. Check Your Credit Score. As in February and May, review your credit score at Credit Karma to make sure that your score stays steady-or keeps going up! If there’s a dramatic drop, take a close look at your accounts to see if there’s been any strange activity.
2. Research Your Company’s Open Enrollment Season
Open enrollment is the short period of time when employers let their employees make changes to their insurance policies, as well as set up or adjust contributions to accounts like HSAs or FSAs. Review your current benefits, find out your options and decide whether you need to make any changes. Additionally, sign up for long-term disability if this is an option for you-many people overlook this valuable benefit. If you have children or other dependents, also look into term life insurance.
3. Set Up a 529 Plan or Another College Savings Account
Back-to-school season is approaching. If you haven’t done so yet, set up a college savings account, like a 529 plan, in order to start saving for your child or grandchild’s college education.
1. Pay Taxes If You’re a Freelancer, Small Business Owner or Self-Employed
Q2 estimated tax payments are due September 16th.
2. Start Thinking About Year-End Tax Planning
Call us to make sure that you’ve been withholding enough on your taxes, and find out if there are any additional steps that you can take now to reduce your 2015 tax bill.
3. Create a Holiday Gift Budget
Review your holiday spending from last year, and decide on a holiday gift budget in advance. Create a separate account, and start funding it between now and December, so you’re not strapped for cash by the time party invites start flooding your inbox.
4. Book Your Thanksgiving Travel
For the best deals, aim to book your flights the Tuesday after Labor Day. Here’s more about the best time to book flights for all locations.
5. Pull Your Credit Report
As you did in May, download your credit report from Annualcreditreport.com to review your profile. And write to your credit bureau if you spot any errors!
6. Look at Your Roth IRA
If you converted to a Roth IRA in 2011, and it subsequently lost a lot of money, you can “recharacterize” until October 15th. This means that you can change it back to a traditional IRA or move the funds to your 401(k), and get back the taxes that you paid on the higher amount, before changing it again to a Roth IRA. This will allow you to pay lower taxes if your account dropped significantly in value once you converted.
1. Review Your Estate Planning Documents
The right estate planning could save you and your loved ones a lot of time and heartache in the event of a tragedy. Make sure that you have a living will (also known as a health care directive) set up, and review the beneficiary forms on your retirement accounts. If you have kids, you’ll also need to set up a will, and name a guardian for your children. Find out more about the estate planning documents that you need.
2. Book December Holiday Travel
The best time to buy airline tickets is on a Tuesday. Read our guide on the best way to save money on flights.
3. Pay Taxes if You’ve Filed an Extension
October 16th is the last day to submit your 2013 taxes if you’ve filed for an extension.
1. Check Your Credit Score It’s the last of your quarterly credit check-ins!
2. Start Your Holiday Shopping
Keep an eye out for sales, consider DIY gifts and decide whether you’ll want to take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday discounts.
3. Decide on Your 2015 Charity Budget
Review your charitable donations in the past year, and determine how you want to handle your donation next year.
4. Apply (or Have Your Child Apply) for Student Financial Aid
If you’re looking to apply for financial aid, get started on those forms now! The deadline is January 1.
1. Review Your Retirement and Brokerage Accounts
Before the end of the year, look at all of your investing accounts and rebalance if necessary. Now’s a good time to check in with us to find out if you should take any capital gains or losses before the end of the year.
2. Contribute to Charity
If you haven’t been giving to charity throughout the year, now’s the time. If you’re itemizing your deductions, your donations will reduce your year-end tax bill.
3. Use Your Holiday Bonus Wisely
Some companies give employees a holiday bonus (not to be confused with a year-end, performance-based bonus). If you’ve already budgeted and saved for holiday gifts, use this bonus toward your financial priorities, like maxing out your retirement accounts before the end of the year.
4. Look Back on Your Year in Money
What were your financial goals and accomplishments this year? How much progress did you make? Take the time to pat yourself on the back for making headway on goals, and plot your strategy for 2015.