Would you like to save an extra $1,000 in 2018? Maybe you should eliminate that latte on the way to work.
How about earning an extra $3,000? That can easily happen by having your hobby work for you.
Interested in putting $5,000 into the bank? Would you believe it could potentially happen if you make mild adjustments to what you eat?
Here’s the bottom line to these concrete examples. These are all instances where someone makes a personal financial choice and good budgeting come into play.
It means keeping a close eye on income and expenses. It means keeping your debt in check. It means thinking — using a financial calendar, a monthly map of payments due, including anticipated income and events to remember.
You might use the new-fangled bells and whistles of financial software, but you could use a simple legal pad.
Either way, you are managing your money — not blindly spending and wondering why your bank account is lacking.
So here’s a good starting point. Take out your calendar. Let’s go month-by-month through the year. Some suggestions are better than others, but income tax deadlines could apply to everyone.
Results, as they say, will vary. Some consumers have state income taxes and others don’t. Homeowners fees and condo association dues may or may not apply, so adjust accordingly.
Use the following list as a starting point, then tailor things to meet your personal deadlines. The important factor is to carefully plot out the year — and not leave things to chance.
- Financial Goals: It’s time — actually, well past time — to finalize your financial goals and what you will need to earn in order to meet those goals. You should determine how much you want to save for retirement (while having a firm grasp on the amount withheld from your paycheck). If you need an addition to your emergency fund — usually equal to six months of income at minimum — decide how much to set aside each pay period to keep it at that level. Planning on purchasing a big-ticket item, such as new sound system or living room furniture? Don’t leave that to chance. Create a savings plan, so you won’t fall into debt.
- Give Yourself a Raise: If you received a raise that will allow you to contribute more, think about bumping up your 401(k) and other income-withholding plans.
- Important Date: If you pay estimated federal income taxes, the quarterly payment deadline — and the final one for the 2017 tax year — is January 17.
- Review: As soon as possible after New Year’s Day, go over financial statements from the previous year and look for patterns. Don’t forget to budget for a semi-annual homeowners’ assessment in June if that’s necessary. Check out all the various payments due at various junctures — including insurance premiums and membership fees — and set a goal of paying a bit earlier than the due date.
- Plan Ahead: It’s a great time to schedule an appointment with a tax preparer or get tax-preparation software if you plan on doing the job yourself. Start organizing documents needed to prepare state and federal income taxes.
- Meetings: If you’re nearing retirement, it would help to meet with an investment expert and go over your finances. Sinking deeper into debt? Then meet with a credit counselor who could get you on track.
- College Plans: If your child is going to college next year, or already in school, it’s time to review state and federal deadlines for applying for student aid. It’s also wise to review procedures for student loans if those funds are needed.
- Summer Living: If you have dreams of a great summer vacation, you need to figure out a way to fund it. You won’t regret starting a standalone vacation savings fund. It might be exhilarating to imagine being on the deck of a cruise ship or watching a perfect sunset, but you better start setting aside money and finding deals or else those dreams may never happen. Start looking at airfares and travel packages. For planning tips, it also pays to peruse some travel articles.
- Planning Purposes: It’s tax month. Ideally, you’re thinking about how to spend your tax refund. Consider investing that money or using it to pay down debt. What’s that you say? Haven’t filed yet? Well, better meet with your tax preparer immediately. If you’re a do-it-yourself person, boot up your software and get to work. The to-do list includes gathering all the W2s, 1099s and other income documents; assembling receipts from donations and other charitable gifts; and organizing other relevant documents, such as daycare receipts, gas mileage and property tax statements.
- Deadlines: Your income tax return must be filed by April 16. Be sure to include required payments. April 16 is also the deadline for the first installment of quarterly federal-tax payments, for filing an extension and for making contributions to your IRA and 529 savings plans.
- Advance Warning: It’s good business to review your payments for the next several months. When the kids get out of school and vacations are scheduled, it’s easy to lose track of things. Be sure to enter due dates in your calendar. To make certain nothing is forgotten, you might consider setting up an online automatic payment schedule.
- Taking Stock: Almost midway through year, it’s a good time for taking stock of your long-term financial issues. Should you be putting more in your children’s college fund? Do you have enough life insurance? Do you have adequate insurance on your automobiles and real estate?
- Deadlines: June 15 is the deadline for the second installment of estimated quarterly income-tax payments. And speaking of deadlines, June 30 is the cutoff for federal student financial aid applications, potentially a big help if your child is going to college this fall.
- Mid-Year Checkup: Halfway home through 2018, it’s a good time for a mid-year checkup on your finances. Check how your stocks have performed since January. If you’ve added debts (besides your mortgage), examine your spending habits to better allow you to pay off those debts.
- Cash Flow: Make sure you have a balance between inflow and outflow. Are you meeting retirement savings goals? It’s helpful to use personal finance calculators online.
- Back To School: Too soon? Not really. Mid-summer is a perfect time to consider back-to-school expenses. Here’s a tip — if your state offers a sales-tax holiday for school-related purchases, jump on that opportunity.
- Day-Camp Expenses: If your child attends some day camps, keep records of those expenses. That could help with a tax deduction next year.
- Summer Review: If you’re planning a summer getaway, it’s time for a review. Consider how much you have socked away. Is it enough? Look into your credit cards that have cash-back bonuses for vacation spending. They might be perfect. If you’re flying somewhere, check to see if you have enough frequent-flyer miles. If so, use them.
- Clearing Things Out: Got stuff piling up in your garage or storage locker? How much do you really need? It could be sold on eBay or Craigslist. Even better, it could be donated to charity (keep the receipts). If your child is headed to college without the beat-up car they drove to high school, that could be another donation (and potentially, a valuable deduction on next year’s tax return).
- Credit Reports: Check your credit reports and make sure they reflect your economic behavior. Sometimes, you can get a tipoff if there’s fraud. That’s especially important to detect if you plan on borrowing or establishing a new credit line.
- Deadlines: The third-quarter estimated federal-tax deadline is September 15. That’s also the date to modify a federal student financial-aid application. Plan accordingly.
- Car Shopping: September is always a good month for car shopping as the last model year draws to an end and dealers want to clear some inventory. Shopping online is another way to get the best deal on purchasing a new car.
- Extension Deadline: If you filed for an extension of the federal income tax deadline back in April, your extra time is quickly expiring. October 17 is the modified deadline for completing your individual return.
- Open Enrollment: Many employees have an open-enrollment period for 2019 health coverage this month. It’s always useful to compare plans and consider whether a change in cost or personal circumstance makes sense. It’s also time to debate whether taking the dental option is worth it financially.
- Medicare: If you’re eligible for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or Advantage Plan for 2019, the open enrollment period begins October 15 (and ends December 7).
- Holiday Shopping: If you create an account for holiday shopping along with a budget to set limits on what you will spend, your financials will be even more merry by Christmas. Start that process well before the shopping season begins.
- Flex Review: It’s time to review your flexible spending accounts for health care, child care and senior care. If they are used in accordance with the federal tax code, these accounts are generally tax free. Check out rules that apply to when the money must be spent and how much you can carry over in 2019.
- Health Care: Obviously, the American health care system could be in a state of flux, but the federal and state exchanges should begin 2019 enrollment for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. For information, visit the HealthCare.gov website.
- Withholding: Consider your tax withholding needs for 2019. That includes a review of employer withholding of retirement savings and filing a new W-4 form with that employer, if needed.
- Year-End Review: Do a comprehensive review of your 2018 expenses. Compare financial statement to your own records. Make notes on what varied from your budget. Use that information to plan an even better budget for 2019.
- Changes: Review all your investments — stocks, bonds, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds — and consider potential changes. It’s your last chance to ponder moves that could have consequences for your 2018 tax returns.
- Charity: It’s also the last month for you to make charitable contributions that can lead to a deduction on your 2018 tax return.
- IRA Withdrawals: Are you older than 70 1/2? If so, remember to take the required annual minimum withdrawal on your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and employer retirement accounts before you pop the bubbly and start singing “Auld Lang Syne.’’
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
- O’Neill, B. (2014, January). An Annual Financial Calendar: Key Action Steps. Retrieved from: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/message/message.asp?p=Finance&m=256
- Sheedy, R. (2016, January). 15 Deadlines Retirees Can’t Afford to Miss in 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T037-C000-S004-a-retiree-guide-to-key-dates-in-2016.html