Usually I wait until December 31st or January 1st to assess my financial condition.
I ask myself the following questions:
- How much have I saved?
- Is my money in the right accounts?
- Is my retirement account percentage enough?
- Do I have a balance in my Flexible Spending Account?
- Have I contributed enough to my IRAs (deductible or non-deductible)?
- Have I donated as much as I wanted to?
With the blur of the holidays fuzzing out my faculties, I decided that halfway through the year is probably a better time to check my financial diagnostics. By December I don’t remember anything and I don’t have time to fix anything to fall within the calendar year.
This weekend’s activities involved conquering a mountain of laundry and getting to my fiscal monitoring. Here’s a list of things I took care of and recommend:
Retrieving monthly statements from financial account websites. I like to keep track of my year-to-date dividends and my stock purchases. I keep a separate Excel file for tracking each stock’s basis and I like to know what my taxable dividends are. Taxable dividends are reported on the tax return and fall outside of what withholding covers. Same with capital gains or losses. By looking at this now, I still have time to adjust my withholding if necessary.
Adjusting retirement contribution percentages. I tracked out my remaining contributions by pay period to ensure that I’m reaching my $18,000 maximum employee contribution by December 31st. This is the first year that I’m doing a catch-up contribution and the full $18,000 regular contribution must be reached by Dec 31st. I was confused by what is included in the $18,000 max, only my contributions or does it include the match? Answer: the $18,000 max does not include the matched amounts, therefore, I adjusted both my regular contribution and my catch-up contribution. I still have 13 pay periods before the end of the year. Had I waited until New Year’s Eve to consider the account balances, time would not be on my side.
Planning spending for big purchases. With the increases in my retirement contributions, I will have less take-home pay. Any big purchases I plan on making will require some forethought.
Documenting possessions. This is something that I haven’t done since I rented an apartment (in 1993). Back then, I took photos and kept them in my workplace desk. Now that videos can be recorded on a smartphone and automatically saved in the Amazon Prime Cloud, I have no excuse for not taking care of this. (This blog is dual-purpose, I get to share my ideas and it requires me to take my own advice.) I won’t be winning any film production awards but I’ve documented on video my home and modest valuables.
Hunting for bargains. One of my favorite things to do is buy clothes off-season. Now is the time to look for summer clothes that I can get at discounted prices to save for next year.
Obsessing over upcoming bills. It’s never too early to worry about bills. My big bills are due at the end of the year. The November anniversary of my homeownership means that my home insurance is due and I have my own disability insurance whose premium is due by December 25th. Speaking of December 25th… Christmas. Not having a Christmas budget is against my religion. When it comes to holiday shopping, “I’ll just wing it!” is not in my vernacular. Therefore, I check my savings now, curb any needless spending, and front-load my cash to cover the bills.
Dig out your insurance policies and evaluate if you can adjust any premiums by increasing deductibles.
Sign up for a defensive driving class to get a 10% discount on your auto insurance policy.
If you’re not already doing this, set up a folder that will be a repository for all of your tax return documents.
Do an estimated tax calculation. Increase your withholding, if necessary.
Do some financial reading. Here are some suggestions from a recent newspaper article:
- Why Wall Street Matters by William Cohan
- The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
- The Devil’s Financial Dictionary by Jason Zweig
- The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust by Diana Henriques
When year-end rolls around, you won’t have as big a burden of managing your finances. And you’ll have a more recent timeline to work with.