We’re a little more than halfway through 2013, which makes this a good time to review your personal finances for the year.
If you’re like many people, you started this year with a financial goal in mind. Perhaps you wanted to get out of debt, build up an emergency fund, save money to buy a house or start tithing and giving more generously. Now that we’re well into the year, do you know how well you’ve done at accomplishing those goals?
If you’ve lost a little bit of focus on those goals that you had at the beginning of the year, don’t feel ashamed about it — life happens, and the busyness of our days and nights can distract us from our long-term aspirations. Fortunately, there’s still a lot of time left this year to accomplish some of the things you set out to do. You just need a mid-year financial tune-up.
Just like your car needs some regular maintenance several times a year to keep it running smoothly, your financial life needs some attention to ensure that everything is working efficiently. So whether you’ve gotten off track or just want to make sure that you finish the year strong, taking these five steps now will help you tune-up your finances.
1) Examine your budget.
The most basic principle of financial success is that everyone needs a budget. And while some people do a good job of re-checking and adjusting their budgets every month, some of us have a tendency to “set it and forget it.” If you haven’t looked at your budget since the beginning of the year, this is a great time to re-examine it and do a quick reality check. Are any of your spending categories too high or too low? Have any of your expenses changed throughout the course of the year? Have you spent more or less in a certain area than you thought you would? Chances are that you’ll answer yes to at least one of those questions. If you do, then adjusting your budget now will give you a more accurate financial plan for the rest of the year.
2) Re-check your insurance.
Insurance tends to be another “set it and forget it” financial item — we buy policies when we first get a new house, car or job, and then don’t think much more about them unless we have to make a claim. But our insurance needs and costs can change over the course of time, so it’s wise to re-examine your insurance purchases once or twice during the course of a year. All sorts of life changes can impact your insurance premiums, so you need to stay on top of your policies and make sure that you’re getting the best prices. Double-check that you’re getting every discount for which your eligible on your home and auto policies. And if your health insurance premiums have gone up sharply, it’s never a bad idea to shop around and see if you can find a better deal with a new provider.
3) Take stock of your stuff.
One of the fundamental rules of life is that stuff breaks. Car parts fail, clothes wear out, and appliances break down. There is no avoiding this, so you might as well plan for it. While you’re doing a mid-year financial tune-up, take stock of the stuff in your life and see where repairs or replacements may become necessary soon. It can be tempting to bury your head in the sand and pretend that your things aren’t on the verge of breaking down, but this is a foolish attitude. By examining the realities of your situation, you can plan ahead and be better prepared to pay for those fixes when they do become necessary.
4) Check your tax status.
Nobody likes thinking about taxes, especially in the middle of the summer. But taxes are a fact of life, and planning well for them now can make it much easier to pay them later. There are many life events that can make a difference in your taxes — a job or compensation change, a home purchase, a birth, a death, etc. — and you may not have been thinking about taxes when you went through those events. So use your mid-year tune-up as a chance to re-evaluate your tax status and determine if your withholding is appropriate for what your tax bill will end up being this year. Thinking ahead now can save you from some nasty surprises later.
5) Get ready for the holidays.
Ideally, you should be setting aside a little bit of money in your budget every month to finance your Christmas plans at the end of the year. If you haven’t been doing that, this mid-year tune-up is the perfect time to start. Christmas probably involves buying some gifts, but it may also involve some travel to visit friends or family. You need to be prepared to pay for both the gifts and the travel, as well as all of the other little incidentals that come up around the holidays. A little bit of planning and saving now can help you to have a debt-free Christmas celebration in a few months. And that, in turn, will help you to start 2014 out on a positive note financially.
With these five checks complete, you should be in good shape to finish 2013 strong. As you do your mid-year financial tune-up, we’d love to hear from you — what have you found that surprised you?
Photo by flattop341. Used under Creative Commons License.