Summer is a popular time for socializing and enjoying the warmer months of the year. From vacations and weddings to baseball games and dining out on patios, what’s not to love? However, this time of year also tends to come with a higher price tag. A recent survey by Capital One found that 87% of Americans say they spend more money on socializing during the summer months than at any other time of the year. When overall spending is increased, many people also see their debt rise.
Bankrate mentions three types of common short-term summer debt: the interest charged on credit cards, savings borrowed to keep up with spending and loans that are designed to be as long as possible, or any combination of the three. The effect of this overall higher spending can flow into autumn and possibly minimize any progress you’ve made throughout the year. Now is a good time to give your finances a checkup to ensure your budget is back on track ahead of the holidays. Here is a 10-step financial checklist to spruce up your financial plan:
- Consolidate summer debt: First, if you are having trouble paying off credit card debt, refrain from using the card until you regain control. Then, develop a strategic repayment plan. You can transfer a high-interest credit card balance to one that offers a lower or 0% introductory annual percentage rate. Paying off the balance before the introductory period is over is key to avoiding interest charges that compound on themselves and increase debt even further.
- Check your credit report: People often neglect to monitor their financial accounts over the summer. Review your credit report following the peak travel season to make sure all your accounts are accurate. You can request a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. By monitoring your credit report, you can spot identity theft, or when someone uses your personal information without your permission. If anything appears to be incorrect, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and seek that it be removed or corrected.
- Plug budget leaks: Spending leaks are impulsive and non-necessity purchases. This is the area where you have the most control by committing to eliminate unnecessary purchases. After creating a detailed list of your net income and expenditures, you can identify areas where you can cut back. For example, many people are surprised at how much they spend weekly on coffee and lunch. You can also substitute paid entertainment for free entertainment; plan a hike or a trip to the dog park over happy hour or a night at the movies. Look at your wants versus needs and adjust your spending habits to line up with your goals.
- Create a mock tax return: By using free online tools or working with your financial advisor, you can use a mock tax return to estimate how much you will owe at tax time. This process can give you a good idea of where you stand with taxes paid to date and if you currently have adequate funds set aside. During this time you can also make adjustments accordingly to withholdings if necessary. It can also draw attention to underfunded employer-sponsored retirement accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s as well as opportunities for other tax-saving strategies such as net unrealized appreciation (NUA).
- Set your holiday budget: If you’re planning on purchasing gifts or accruing travel and other holiday expenses, you may run into increased debt in December if proper plans have not been put into place. Over the next few weeks, be intentional with your purchases. The easiest way to budget for this time of year is to plan ahead and make a list of all the events you plan to buy for, such as parties, family dinners and gift exchanges. If you have bigger items on your list, take note of their typical price so that when a deal comes up (say on Black Friday or Cyber Monday), you will know if the current offer is really saving you money. You can also save a little extra from your next few paychecks to help offset the typically higher credit bills that show up after the holidays.
- Prepare for open enrollment: Open enrollment is the period each year when you can select your health insurance plan for the upcoming year without a qualifying event. This period is just around the corner for plans taking effect in January. Make sure to take note of any important dates from your employer or the Health Insurance Marketplace to give yourself enough time to gather information and review your options to find one that meets both your health and financial needs. Keep in mind that any adjustments you make could impact your take-home pay, and this is the only time of year you can make an adjustment to your coverage options. This is especially important if you experienced any change to a life circumstance — such as getting married or divorced or having a baby — as this will likely affect your health care needs. In addition, if you have an existing Flexible Spending Account (FSA), make sure to check if your plan enforces an end-of-year deadline so you can use that money before it expires.
- Check on your retirement savings: The current stock market volatility caused by inflation means many people’s retirement savings took a hit. Retirement savers and retirees can adjust to market turmoil by looking at spending and asset allocation plans to build a cash reserve. It’s a good idea to meet with your plan advisor to strategize about allocating your funds in the new year. You can also view our retirement planning playlist to learn more about how to get the most out of your retirement funds.
- Review your beneficiaries: Reviewing your beneficiaries is a critical part of the overall planning process. It helps ensure that your assets will go to the person(s) originally intended. If you haven’t looked at the designations on your life insurance and retirement accounts recently, now is a good time to review them to make sure your current intentions are reflected in case family dynamics have changed.
- Compare service providers: People tend to sign up and stay with one provider without reevaluating if the plan best fits their budget and needs over time. Take a look at your service providers periodically as well as the competition. This includes insurance companies, banks, credit card providers and other financial products that you use often. Rates and plans are always changing, and by looking out for deals, you can make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck.
- Work with a Fortune Financial advisor: At Fortune Financial, we offer a full spectrum of financial planning and wealth management services that are tailored to your personal, business or retirement plan goals. Whether you’re looking to grow your small business, maximize your company’s retirement plan, want to make sure you are able to maintain your lifestyle in retirement or simply weather a storm if you need to, put our expertise to work for you. Our focus is people and their dreams, and how we can align financial decisions to make them a reality. We have a strong history of identifying investment opportunities that build wealth for our clients and can help determine the best options for you. Also, make sure to follow our YouTube channel or other social media accounts for more financial planning tips.
This material is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. The information contained herein is based on current tax laws, which may change in the future. Fortune Financial Advisors cannot be held responsible for any direct or incidental loss resulting from applying any of the information provided in this publication or from any other source mentioned. The information provided in these materials does not constitute any legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice. The information provided above is obtained from publicly available sources and is reliable. However, no representation or warranty is made as to its accuracy or completeness.