Dec. 15, 2020
Toward the end of every year, I find myself sitting down with piles of spreadsheets, bank statements, and hand-written budgets, trying to judge how well I managed my finances in the months prior. I always find a handful of mistakes and financial decisions I wish I could do over.
But rather than sulking and dwelling on the past, I try to not only plan for the new year ahead but also make the most of the final weeks of the year by making changes to how I'm managing my money. But it's not the easiest task in the world.
If you're anything like me, you could probably use some expert advice. So this year, I decided to ask five financial professionals what they wish they could tell everyone about end-of-year money management. Here's what they had to say.
1. Say yes to an end-of-year review
During the final month of the year, it might be tempting to go into vacation mode early. Before you shut down until the new year, though, block off time to eyeball your finances and take inventory of your assets.
Daniel Kellogg, a financial planner and senior financial advisor at Personal Capital, says that doing a year-end review should include an assessment of your savings, cash available, and portfolio allocation.
"It is important to review if you have met your savings goals for the year. For example, did you contribute enough to employer plans to capture any available employer matching? Is the savings goal you set appropriate to meet your long-term goals? If not, you may still have time before year end to make additional contributions," says Kellogg.
Additionally, Kellogg recommends taking the opportunity to review your investment allocation.
"Is the allocation in line with your desired target? Is that target allocation still appropriate for you? If not, a rebalance may be needed," he says.
2. Be mindful of your holiday spending
Shopping for gifts might be a big part of your focus this month, but before you put purchases on your credit cards or drain you wallet of cash, Adam Deady, a financial planner with MassMutual, advises taking a step back to make sure you're not causing damage to your finances before a new year.
"Plan and choose wisely. If you do rack up any bills from holiday shopping, please remember to pay your bills on time in the new year. If you experience difficulty paying on time, contact the lender before payment is due to see if other arrangements can be made," says Deady. "In addition to building responsible financial habits, paying bills on time can help build a strong credit score."
3. Audit your subscriptions and cancel any you're not using
With so much time spent at home in 2020, many people opted into subscription services they might not use anymore or forget they even signed up for. Charles H. Thomas III, financial planner and founder of Intrepid Eagle Finance, says subscription services are so easy to sign up for they've become a big chunk of the budget for Americans.
"In a survey, Americans were found to spend an average of $237.33 a month on various subscriptions. Do a quick audit of recurring monthly services. Find at least one that you can live without and cancel. Two or more is even better. You can always start it back later if you miss it that much. If you don't, then there's savings every month," he says.
4. Beef up your emergency fund
The pandemic affected many people's financial lives this year, and having an emergency fund became more important than ever. Travis Tracy, a financial planner and founder of Fortitude Financial Planning, says everyone should have an emergency fund that covers three to six months of their bills.
"With the impact of the pandemic, I think now more than ever it is imperative to have an emergency fund," says Tracy. "First, know where your money is going by tracking expenses. Then, take the monthly amount, subtract out savings contributions, and multiply by three or six. Also, find where you can cut. Finally, redirect the money saved to a savings account. If you're making additional payments toward debt, I would suggest that you redirect the extra payment to fund your emergency fund. Once it's funded, redirect that extra payment back to the debt obligation."
5. Move excess cash to a savings or investment account
After looking over your finances, if you notice you have a lot of cash sitting in your checking account, Sharon Olson, financial planner and president of Olson Wealth Group, says it's best to move that excess cash to an account where it can grow.
"When we see funds in our checking account, we expect those funds are waiting to be spent. By moving them directly to a savings account or investment account, you are creating a mental barrier against spending those funds," says Olson. "Additionally, I urge everyone to establish a monthly savings plan. Better yet, make that savings plan automatic by having it systematically come out of your paycheck every month. That way it is sure to be invested each month and you don't have to think about it or make a decision about whether to invest."