It feels like you just packed away the holiday decorations yesterday, but believe it or not, this year is already more than halfway over. Now that fall is just around the corner, take a few minutes to give yourself a mid-year financial checkup. A small investment of time can spur important changes that can affect your financial wellness for the rest of the year or even for years to come.
Use the seven steps detailed below to guide you through your checkup.
Step 1: Revisit Your Budget
Remember sitting down in December and crunching all those numbers? There’s no need for such a detailed job again, but take some time to review your monthly budget. Are you sticking to the planned budget for every category? Are you overspending in some categories or under-spending in others? Do you need to adjust your allotted budget in some areas or maybe trim your discretionary spending across the board?
Review your spending over the last few months and make any necessary changes so your budget can continue working for you. Be sure to account for any significant life changes that may alter your financial needs, such as a marriage, the birth of a child, a divorce or a job change.
By reviewing and adjusting your budget, you will avoid falling into the mindless spending trap and you will be taking proactive steps toward staying on top of your finances for the rest of the year.
Did you know that Freedom First's online banking has a great tool to help you track your spending and budget? It's called Money Manager, and you can use it to get a full financial picture, view a cash flow calendar, add goals, and stay on track with instant alerts.
Step 2: Anticipate Large Expenses
Now that you’ve updated your monthly budget, take a moment to list any large expenses you anticipate having in the next six months. This can include household appliances that may need replacing, expensive car repairs that will likely become necessary or an anticipated medical expense that is not fully covered by insurance.
Once you have this information in hand, determine which spending category you will take the money from to cover these expenses. Do you have a rainy-day fund that can pay for one or several of these costs? Can you use the money in your emergency fund? Make the decision about sourcing this money now so you don’t make the wrong choices when you’re stressed and pressed for time in the future.
If you do not have enough money set aside for these expenses, build a savings plan into your monthly budget now so you have the funds available when you need them. If you need some guidance in building a savings plan, our financial coaches are ready to help any and all of our members at no cost.
Step 3: Review Your Tax Withholdings
Review your tax withholdings to see if they need any adjusting. If taxes and numbers are not your thing, ask your accountant for assistance with this step. Your goal here is to pay the perfect amount so you’re not hit with a huge tax bill at the end of the year but also not lending the government your money interest-free.
Step 4: Check Your Credit Score
Your credit score is like your money grade, indicating the degree of your financial wellness and responsibility. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for your free credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
If your score has gone up in the last six months, you’re doing great! Keep up the good work.
On the flip side, if your score has dropped, review your report in detail. Are there any errors you’ll need to contest with the Federal Trade Commission? Is there a credit card bill or another line of credit you’ve been neglecting that is dragging your score down? Are you having trouble remembering to pay your monthly bills in a timely manner? Take the necessary steps to fix your score today, whether that means contesting a charge, setting up an automatic payment on some of your bills or lowering your credit utilization rate by paying with plastic less often.
If you want to see a "soft pull" of your credit report - with no impact to your score - and talk through how you can improve it, our financial coaches are ready to help you.
Step 5: Review Your Investments
Now is the time to review and adjust all of your investments. This includes your contributions to your retirement funds, any stock investments, bonds, trust funds or savings certificates at Freedom First or Freedom First Wealth Management. Make sure you are maximizing your contributions when possible and that your other investments are performing according to plan, making adjustments as necessary.
Contact Freedom First Wealth Management if you'd like a financial advisor to review your investment portfolio with you.
Step 6: Tackle Your Debt
List every single outstanding debt you carry, including credit card debt and loans. Designate one debt to tackle first, either choosing the one that carries the highest interest rate or the one with the lowest balance. Next, work on a plan to get rid of your chosen debt, being careful not to neglect the others. See if you can trim your budget or boost your income in any way to increase your payments on this debt. Once you’ve paid it off, move to the next one on your list so you’re on your way to a debt-free life.
If you would like some assistance in managing your debt load, take a look at the resources on our Financial Education page. If you'd like, one of our financial coaches could also work with you to develop a debt management plan at no cost to you.
Step 7: Review Your Financial Resolutions and Long-term Goals
Which financial resolutions did you jot down at the end of last year? What are your dreams for the future? Did you want to start socking away another $200 a month? Is your goal to retire comfortably at 55?
Take some time to review these goals and to determine whether you are indeed taking the steps necessary for making them happen. If you’ve been neglecting them for the first half of the year, create a plan for working toward them for the rest of the year. Remember: With determination and proper planning, nearly any financial goal is possible!
Now that you’ve given yourself a thorough financial checkup, you can kick back and enjoy the rest of your year, guilt-free.