It’s almost a new year and if you’re like most people, getting your finances order is toward the top of your New Year’s resolutions list.
But before you can succeed in improving your financial situation, you need to know exactly where you stand today.
Here are 10 steps to do an annual financial review and better manage your money into the new year.
Set Your Goals
Did you know you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down?
The first step of your financial review should be to set some goals for your money.
Whether you’re saving for retirement, your kid’s college education, or trying to pay off your credit cards, setting goals will help you stay focused and motivated.
Take the time to think about what you really want for your family and finances this year and set some goals around that desire.
Review Your Debt & Savings
Now that you’ve got your goals in place, it’s time to assess where you currently stand.
Part of your annual financial review should be getting clear on exactly what money you have and where you’re spending it.
Go check your accounts to see how much savings you’ve got and how much debt you have.
Record your numbers to make it easier when you fill out your budget.
Make a Budget
Budgets get a bad reputation for being restrictive and impossible to keep, but having a plan for your money is essential if you want to take control of your finances.
A budget will help you prioritize your spending and savings goals and keep you aware of where you’re spending your money.
Read more tips and strategies on how to make a budget.
Reassess Your Bills
As you create your budget you may notice some bills that seem higher than they should or that don’t align with your values anymore.
Reassess your expenses and take the steps to negotiate better rates or cancel unneeded services outright.
Prepare for the Unexpected (and Expected)
Unexpected expenses can quickly derail even the most experienced and disciplined budgeter.
Making an annual review of your spending will help you plan in advance for any expenses that may have caught you by surprise in the past (things like car registration or property taxes).
Review your expenses for the past year taking special note of the annual or semi-annual recurring bills that might take you by surprise.
Then incorporate them into your budget by doing the following:
- Divide the amount you’ll owe by the number of months you have left until the bill is due.
- Save this smaller amount each month.
- Pay your bill in full when it comes due.
Not all unexpected expenses are as predictable as semi-recurring ones, but you can still set up sinking funds to help you plan for the truly unexpected.
For example, you should be able to estimate your car insurance costs and budget for those monthly, but car repairs are more of an unknown.
While you may not know exactly how much future car repairs may cost, you can still save money every month for them so you’ll have at least some buffer when repairs are inevitably needed.
Check Your Credit
Even if you’re not a fan of credit cards, it’s important to check your credit report every year.
Everything from job offers to rental agreements can be impacted by your creditworthiness.
As with most aspects of your finances, knowing where you stand is the foundation to taking control of your money.
Look for any errors that may be affecting your credit score or any new accounts you didn’t open that may be a sign of identity theft.
If you spot something off, this article will walk you through the steps to correct errors on your credit report.
Check your credit scores anytime, anywhere, and never pay for it. Credit Karma gives you the information you need to take control of your credit.
Review Your Retirement Savings and Investment Accounts
If you’ve got a 401k, Roth IRA, or any other retirement savings and investment plans, it’s a good idea to review them each year.
Since many retirement plans are offered through employers, it’s often a set-it-and-forget-it type of account.
While you may not be interested in managing your own retirement accounts, you should still learn enough to understand your investment strategy and be aware of how your investment portfolio is being managed.
Make sure you’re comfortable with your asset allocation and any management fees you’re paying.
Depending on your financial situation and savings timeframe, a seemingly reasonable 1% fee could actually cost you over $500,000!
For investments you manage yourself, double-check your portfolio is diversified to suit your risk tolerance and make any adjustments necessary.
You may also want to look for tax advantages like harvesting losses to reduce your capital gains tax before the end of the year.
Please note I am NOT an expert on tax law. Consult a financial advisor or an accountant for more specific advice and guidance for your particular situation.
Check/Update Your Insurance Coverage
When’s the last time you reviewed your insurance policies?
Shopping around for better rates and calling your local agent to ask for any discounts are easy ways to lower your expenses while still making sure you’ve got the coverage you need.
It’s also a good idea to review your coverage to make sure you’re not paying for things you don’t need.
For example, you may be paying for car rental coverage or roadside assistance through your insurance when your credit card offers the same benefits for free.
Optimize Your Taxes
You’ll want to consult with an accountant for official tax planning, but in general, here are some areas to look to for tax optimization:
- Itemized deductions
- Donations to charity
- Contributions to your retirement and college savings plans
- Selling off stocks that have lost money to offset any capital gains
- Contributing to health-related savings and spending accounts
Again, talking to an accountant who can review your specific situation will help you determine the tax implications of your financial decisions.
Plan for the Worst-Case Scenario
No one likes to think about disability or death, but it’s important for your family’s financial future that you’ve got things in place if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality.
Some steps to take:
- Review your health insurance and disability insurance policy benefits.
- Save up 6 months on your income in an emergency fund.
- Get a life insurance policy and make sure your coverage is adequate.
- Have a will in place to ensure your beneficiaries are taken care of.
- Get your documents in order for any end-of-life decisions.
Planning for the worst is never a fun prospect, but using something like Smart Money Mamas In Case of Emergency Binder will make the process much quicker.
Going into a new year is the perfect time to do a financial checkup and make sure your financial plan actually aligns with your goals and values.
Having a clear picture of your finances will help ensure you start the new year strong and give you a head start in reaching your financial goals.