Fall officially begins on September 23. It may not feel very Fall-like in Southern California at the moment, but soon the air will turn cooler, the leaves will begin to fall and the days will grow shorter. We will fill our free moments with favorite Fall activities, like sipping pumpkin lattes as we carve spooky or silly faces into pumpkins with our kids. It’s one of my favorite times of the year and I can’t wait to do all of those things. But before you get too caught up in Fall fun, I encourage you to take a few minutes and make some smart financial moves before year-end.
5 Smart Financial Moves to Make this Fall
Most people tend to relax a bit in the summer and gear-up again in the Fall. This is the perfect time to make sure you end the year financially strong.
1. Track Goal Progress
It’s important to regularly review both long-term and short-term goals (and everything in-between) to monitor your progress because goal achievement doesn’t happen because you set goals or wish for them to come true. You should at least review all goals quarterly, while some goals, such as debt elimination or vacation savings, may require more frequent check-ups to stay on target.
Now let’s get Financially Real: Not all goals are created equal. Some matter more than others. Review the ones that matter most, first. I find that people often work on the goals that matter the least because they are easier to achieve, which may be a good tactic if you are new to goal-setting and need to experience a win to help you tackle the harder and more valued goals. However, I also find most people continue to cherry pick the easier and lower-valued goals over higher priority goals, but remember — those high-value goals bring the greatest satisfaction and take you another step closer to realizing your ideal life.
To Do: Review every goal individually, starting with the highest-value goal. Outline any action steps you need to take before your next check-in and set benchmarks for your next review.
2. Review Your Investment Strategy
Unless you live under a rock, you may recall the recent (and continued) market volatility we are currently experiencing. Market volatility is a natural, normal occurrence, but we still tend to react emotionally when we experience it, which can aggravate and worsen the situation. We see portfolio balances drop and our default reaction is often panic, which is further fueled by the media. It is scary and nerve-wracking, but there is also opportunity to mine too. Stay emotionally competent so you can make goal-based and informed decisions, rather than emotional ones you may regret later.
To Do: You’ve reviewed your goals, so now make sure your investment strategy remains in alignment with your goals. Goals can and do change, which means your investment strategy may need to be adjusted as well. Talk to your financial advisor and see if the current market volatility is creating opportunities you should consider and offers any tax advantages to minimize your 2015 tax bill.
3. Review Your Insurance Coverage
There is a lot of angst around insurance as people don’t like thinking about their own mortality. I’ve been a Certified Financial Planner for 23 years and I can tell you from firsthand experience the difference insurance makes in the lives of those who have the protection when needed and those who don’t. People will insure things of high-value without argument, except for themselves, which has never made much sense to me. You — and your ability to earn a living — is what pays for all those valuable things you happily insure and more importantly — the life you’ve created for yourself and your family. Value yourself (and your loved ones) first.
To Do: Review your insurance coverage, making sure it is up-to-date (i.e. beneficiary forms) and you have adequate coverage. As your earnings grow and you have children, you may need increase your coverage to adjust to the changes in your life. Also, don’t forget about disability and long-term care insurance needs either. If you opt to forgo DI and LTC coverage, what is your plan if a need arises? And statistically, there is a high probability it will.
4. Earn a Little Extra Money
I know we’re just entering Fall but the busy and expensive holiday season will be here before you know it. Hopefully, you’ve been saving money throughout the year for the holidays, but if you haven’t, you still have a few months to start saving and also earn a little extra money too.
A few options to help you earn some extra money before the holidays:
- Host a garage or yard sale. We may typically think of hosting garage sales during the summer months, but the weather is actually nicer in the Fall. It’s far more fun to browse when it’s not hot and muggy.
- Sell high-value items on eBay or Craigslist. People can make hundreds of dollars at their garage sales. However, most buyers tend to be bargain hunters, so you may find buyers willing to pay a bit more on eBay or Craigslist for those higher-end items.
- Start a side hustle. Are you a good writer? My friend, Cat, has a great program for those who want to make money writing online. Other side hustle ideas include: tutoring, babysitting, virtual assistant, pet sitting, dog walking, Uber driver, DJ and the list goes on.
- Seasonal part-time jobs. Many people work part-time during the holiday season at department stores, big box stores and toy stores to fund their holidays. This can be a good fit for someone who doesn’t need a part-time job year-round and wants to take advantage of the store discount to further reduce their holiday expenses.
To Do: Review or create your holiday budget now to avoid creating debt later. Consider earning some extra money to help offset expenses or to go towards other goals.
5. Review Your Financial Life
Most of us are aware of the need to take care of the above moves and do so to differing degrees. The first three, in particular, create a big chunk of our financial lives. But they don’t create all of it. There are lots of little things, like credit scores, beneficiary forms, Wills, etc., that connect to them and create our whole financial life. Let’s also make sure they are in tip-top shape too.
- Credit Scores and Reports: It’s important that you know what your credit score is and take steps to make it as high as you reasonably can. This is what lenders and employers examine and use to aid in their decision to borrow you money or hire you. Your credit score is not set in stone and fluctuates quite easily. You should also request your free credit report via www.AnnualCreditReport.com to review for any inaccuracies.
- Wills/Estate Plans and Guardianship: Hopefully you already have a will or an estate plan in place. If not, now is definitely the time to do so. Assuming you have one, you should review it annually and make any needed updates. I’ve seen people go for years without reviewing them and neglect to make changes or additions after significant live events occurred, which created lots of problems after their death. Additionally, if you have minor children make sure you have named a guardian for them in case something should ever happen to you.
- Review Beneficiaries on Everything: We’ve heard the horror stories where an ex-spouse was still listed as a beneficiary and received assets intended for your current spouse or children. It’s important to note that beneficiary designations override your Will, which many do not realize. Review every year to make sure they are up-to-date and after any major life event, like divorce, remarriage, death or the birth of a child.
- Review Important Documents: This includes; birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, vehicle titles, mortgage documents, etc. These important documents tend to get shuffled from one place to another but need to be kept safe. Make sure your spouse knows where the documents are stored and review a master contact list (people like your attorney, CPA, financial advisor, immediate boss, HR, etc) and make any updates.
End 2015 in a Financially Strong Position
It’s somewhat sobering to realize how soon 2015 will come to close. But the next few months will zip on by and soon we will be counting down to the start of 2016. By completing these five smart financial moves this Fall, you will put yourself in a position to end the year strong and also start 2016 in a great place financially.
What financial moves do you plan to make this Fall?