Cool weather, colorful leaves and carved pumpkins signal a wind-down to the year. But often our schedules wind up during this season, leading to impulse buys and rash spending. Before the holiday hustle takes over, use fall to plan ahead and revamp your personal finances and create a reasonable budget. You’ll thank yourself come January when you have lighter bills and a breezier year ahead.
Get a jump on the holidays.
Often chock-full of gift-buying, party-hosting and travel, December can quickly wreck a budget. About 80 percent of holiday gift buyers put off shopping until after Thanksgiving, according to a recent Deloitte survey. Use early fall to shop for presents and to book holiday travel. You’ll avoid those last-minute scrambles that can leave you spending more than you intended and hurting your personal finances. If you’re in charge of hosting family or friend gatherings, plan menus in advance or work with guests to organize a foolproof potluck.
Take advantage of deductibles or FSA funds.
If you’ve met your health insurance deductible for the year, think about any doctor’s appointments, tests or procedures that you or any family members may need. Ask your insurance provider if those items are covered, and if so, schedule healthcare appointments before January. Also fill any prescriptions. If you opt into and fund a flexible spending account (FSA) through your employer, don’t lose out on that pre-tax income. Plan and execute how you want to spend any remaining funds before the end of the year — or the extension if applicable. Your employer may offer a 2.5-month extension to use your balance or allow you to rollover $500 into the next year. Possibilities include new eyeglasses, dermatological needs, physical therapy needs, first-aid supplies, contraceptives and more. Don’t forget to submit the necessary claims to be reimbursed.
Take an inventory of your recurring purchases.
The year can get away from us, and before we know it, we’ve added 10 new subscriptions to our list of monthly expenses. Check your credit or debit cards for recurring charges and decide which items or services you really want and need. If you ditched cable TV but now use six streaming platforms, are you really saving? Did you sign up for a clothing subscription box or a food-prep delivery service? Decide whether those things are still worth the fee and fit your budget. Our smartphones, tablets and other devices can sometimes be the culprit for expanding expenses. Look for those recurring in-app buys that you may no longer require.
Check in on your retirement contributions.
Retirement may seem about as far out as another planet, but the earlier you squirrel funds into your retirement account, the better you’ll be. That’s because of a wonderful thing called compounding interest. As the year comes to a close, take a look at your 401(k) contribution and see if it makes sense to up it. Maybe you’ve earned a raise recently. If you have an IRA or Roth IRA, decide if this year warrants a larger contribution and either make it or set aside the cash to do so before tax time in the new year.
Use vacation time.
If you have leftover vacation time that doesn’t rollover, make a plan to use it, even if you don’t head out of town. A staycation can be just as refreshing, or maybe it’s finally time to tackle that house project. Independent contractors and small business owners should treat themselves to time off, too. Doing so can help you return to work refreshed and ready for an even more productive year to come.