contributed by Rachel Stever
The holiday decorations have been packed away, the last cookies are gone, and the after-Christmas sales are winding down. It’s time to dig into the New Year.
Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, the beginning of the year is a good time to take stock of the previous year and look forward. I like to focus on finances in January. I gather year-end statements for all my accounts and make sure I have all my receipts together so I’m not scrambling at tax time.
Planning For Expenses
I typically start this process in December by making a tentative budget for the year and adjusting my paycheck withholding and health reimbursement account contributions. I also find it helpful in January to review my spending from the last year, see if there is anything I could cut back on or underestimated in my budget. Since becoming an aunt, I find that I typically underestimate how much I spend on toys and children’s books.
I take a look at my calendar and plan out my short-term goals for the year. My grandmother wants to visit Boise this spring to see her brother and I will be going along with her. I’m probably going to have to put new tires on my car and replace my garden fence, not as much fun as vacation planning but still necessary. Longer term, I want to put something away for a trip to Paris and start 529 plans for my nephew and niece.
Reviewing Important Stuff
I look over the beneficiaries of all my accounts and insurance policies to make sure they are up to date. I pull copies of my credit reports; for US residents you can get one free copy from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies annually through www.annualcreditreport.com. They may not have a catchy jingle, but you don’t have to sign up for a potentially expensive credit monitoring service just to see your report. Reviewing your credit report not only ensures that you know what banks are seeing when you apply for credit, it may remind you of old accounts you can close or consolidate. And you may discover an error on your report that needs to be fixed.
Finally, I review my investments. Personally I keep cash I will need in the next year in a savings account and try to contribute to my retirement plan account before anything else, so I look at the investments in my 401k and IRA to make sure I’m still on track to meet my retirement goals. I check the long-term performance of my funds and investigate if anything had an uncharacteristically poor year. I review the annual reports for all the funds and look into any management changes or expense increases. In my case, these investments are set up for the very long-term, so I don’t make changes to their composition very often. If you have a shorter time horizon, this may be the time to reduce risk in your portfolio.
Part of my job at KeatsConnelly is to review all our currently approved funds on an annual basis and look into new funds in each asset class we use, to make sure we are always aware of what’s going on with these funds and fund companies. If you work with a financial advisor, the first few months of the year is an ideal time to setup a meeting and go over your goals and review your portfolio to make sure it is still meeting your needs.