Were you one of the 45 percent of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution back in January? If cleaning up your finances was your goal for the year, summer is a great time to take stock of your progress. Check out these 12 tips for shaping up your checkbook so you can end the year in a stronger financial position than you were at the beginning.
- Reality Check Your Budget
First, pat yourself on the back for having a budget — most Americans don’t. A budget is only useful if it’s accurate, though, so look over it to see if your income and expense categories have stayed the same. If you discover you’re earning less, you need to cut back spending in some areas to make up for it. If you got a raise, use the extra cash to increase your savings goal.
- Benchmark Your Savings Goal
How’s it going? By the summertime, you should be halfway to reaching your savings goal for the year. If you’re not there yet, you need to figure out why. Did you splurge on something, or did an emergency come up? How much will you have to save each month to catch up? Knowing where you stand makes it more likely you’ll accomplish your goal.
- Cut Your Spending
This is crucial if you’re not reaching your savings goal, but it’s a good idea to periodically review your expenses even when you’re doing well. Some things we need, but other things are totally optional. You can cut back on premium cable channels, skip the fast food and start working out at home instead of at the gym if you need an extra boost to reach that savings goal.
- Shop the Sales
Summer is a great time to get a jump on your holiday shopping: You’ll escape the crowds and the sneaky tactics retailers use to get you to spend more in December. Challenge yourself to only buy a gift if it’s on sale, and keep a list of items you purchased on your phone so you don’t forget about them. When you shop all year round, there’s plenty of time to wait for the very best deals.
- Reward Yourself
Play a game with yourself: Every time you buy something on sale instead of full price, deposit ten bucks into your savings account. This reward system makes bargain hunting fun, and you get to bank the money from all those discounts instead of accidentally frittering it away on a latte.
- Get Better Rates
You may need your cable, credit card and cell phone, but you don’t need to blindly pay whatever your current company is charging. You can often get a discount on these services just by asking for one, so give them a call. If they’re not willing to lower your rate, go online and look for a company who can.
- Check Your Credit
You can get up to three free credit reports from different providers each year, so order one in the summer and one in January to keep track of this important information. Use the data to see how much you’ve borrowed, if you’re paying bills on time and to check for any potential identity theft or fraud that can ruin your credit score.
- Prep for Tax Time
Start a folder for all the paperwork you’ll need to do your taxes at the end of the year. Be sure to add receipts for business expenses and charity donations, records of state taxes you paid and proof of other common deductions so you’ll be ready to get your full refund.
- Check Your Automatic Deductions
Remember all those expenses that come out of your paycheck before you even cash it? This is a great way to save for retirement, but it’s also easy to forget about these deductions. Is your health insurance plan still a good choice for you family’s needs? Is your retirement savings plan on track? Review all the deductions from your paycheck and make any necessary adjustments.
- Review Insurance Policies
As you think about your health insurance, dig out the paperwork for your other policies, too. Do you have enough life insurance coverage to keep your family safe? Can you get a better deal on auto or homeowners insurance if you raise the deductible? Review your needs and shop around for the best rates.
- Have a Yard Sale
There’s no better time than summer to sell all that stuff you don’t use any more. Check with your neighborhood association to see if they have a group yard sale planned—this will bring in the most customers to buy your old golf clubs or baby clothes. You can make cash and de-clutter your house at the same time, which is definitely a win-win.
- Set Up Reminders
If you got off track with your financial goals between January and the summer, it’s probably because you weren’t thinking about them regularly. Create a monthly reminder on your smartphone to check your savings account balance. This will keep your financial game plan in the forefront of your mind and help you stay focused on your goals.
Once you implement these 12 financial fixes, you’ll be in good shape heading into the second half of the year. Come New Year’s Eve, you should be able to look back and call your resolution a success.