How to get your finances in order before the year ends

By Melanie Lockert, personal finance writer and author of Dear Debt

As the holiday season approaches, it’s easy to be swept up in all the festive merriment, parties, gifts and more. All the joy and fun times can leave you with a financial hangover by the beginning of the year. The New Year is a great time to reset all your personal and financial goals, however in order to be successful consider getting your finances in order now so you can be on the right foot when the new year begins.

Here are five steps on how to get your finances in order before the year ends:

Step 1: Perform a financial review

You can’t just look ahead to be successful, you have to look back as well. Before setting big financial goals for the new year, perform a financial review and assess how your year went.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Did your income go up or down this year?
  • What percentage of income did you spend on your expenses?
  • How much debt did you pay off?
  • How much were you able to save in a savings account, 401(k), etc.?

Doing a financial audit and seeing where you stand can help you realize where your strong points are and areas you may need to work on. Maybe your income is good, but you aren’t saving as much as you want. How can you limit your expenses? On the other hand, maybe you were able to save a lot, but not pay off as much debt as you’d like.

It can be tough to achieve financial balance. Performing a financial review can help you see how much progress you made this past year and illuminate areas you need to focus on for the new year.

Financial expert Stefanie O'Connell recently performed a financial review to prepare for the year ahead.

“I spent the weekend mapping out how much more money I anticipate making this year, then projecting my end of year expenses to determine how much I’ll have left over,” says O'Connell. “I then designated that remaining amount to checking, savings and retirement to see what balances I’ll have for each going into 2017. From there I can assess my fiscal year looking back, and make decisions about what I might need to adjust to reach my goals next year.”

Step 2: Don’t be afraid to change things up

It seems like everyone waits until the new year to start their new diet, their new budget and a seemingly whole new lifestyle. Here’s a secret though: you don’t have to wait until January 1. You can start making little changes now to your finances.

Kate Dore, founder of personal finance blog CashvilleSkyline.com suggests experimenting with cash-only budget categories. She has been using cash only for her monthly food and drink spending and has successfully shaved off $100 to $200 per month on her expenses.

If you feel like something isn’t working any longer with your budget, your spending or your debt repayment you don’t have to wait. Start changing things up now and keep experimenting until you find something that works for your personal situation.

Step 3: Spend 30 minutes a day improving your finances

Making big changes in your financial life and preparing for the year ahead can seem daunting. Sandy Smith, personal finance blogger at YesIAmCheap.com is focused on spending 30 minutes a day for 30 days in December to get her finances in order for the new year.

“Check your bank accounts, update your life insurance beneficiaries, get your tax documents together, update your 401(k) allocations, check out your credit report, etc. By the start of the New Year, you'll be in shape to tackle everything coming your way financially,” she says.

To get started on this process:

  • Check your bank account for any fees
  • Make sure all the purchases listed are ones you made -- identity theft can be rampant during the holidays
  • Get your W2s/1099s from any employers
  • Gather any receipts required for tax time
  • Check your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Adjust your 401(k) contributions with your employer
  • Make sure your beneficiaries for any insurance are correct

Step 4: Make your year-end donations

If you’re in the holiday spirit and want to give more, consider making tax-deductible donations to qualified charities. This can help you in two ways -- you help a cause you believe in, while also being able to deduct the contribution from your taxes.

According to the IRS’ website, “A taxpayer must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any donation of money, regardless of amount. The record must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.”

Step 5: Set financial goals for the new year

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions many people focus on health and wellness, but seem to push their finances aside. However, your finances impact the rest of your life so it’s key to set financial goals as well.

“Set financial goals for the new year, the same way you would for your fitness or your business,” says Emilie Burke, personal finance blogger at BurkeDoes.com. “Look at where the calculator says you should be at the end of the year, then decide how far you're going to push yourself over that — 5 percent? 7 percent? 10 percent?”

Setting realistic financial goals can help you improve your finances and give you something to work toward. Even if you don’t meet all your financial goals, you’ll be further ahead than if you hadn’t planned anything at all.

Now is the time

Don’t wait until January 1 to figure everything out. Using these five tips you can start to overhaul your finances and make small changes with a big impact before the new year even begins and get a head start on rocking your New Year’s goals.

Written on December 5, 2016

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