If you have some time over the holiday break, consider taking a financial hygiene day to prepare yourself for the new year.
Personally, I review my finances every year around Christmas since I've likely blown my budget on gifts and travel. It's also the time of year in which I have the most downtime, so it's easy to find an afternoon when I can knock off some money moves from the comfort of my couch.
Here's my go-to checklist of items commonly recommended by financial planners.
If you haven't created a budget before, don't worry — it doesn't have to be complicated. In its most basic form, a budget is simply a written list of your monthly income and expenses.
Using itemized debit or credit card statements as your reference, expenses should be categorized either as things you need to pay — housing, transportation and groceries — or as discretionary, non-essential spending, like entertainment or meals at restaurants.
Ideally, your monthly income will exceed your monthly expenses, with room left over for savings or investments (many people use the 50/30/20 budget, which ensures that 20% of your money is set aside for your financial goals). If not, you might want to cut back on your discretionary expenses until your budget is balanced.
I always seem to have underused or even forgotten subscriptions for apps and streaming services that pile up by the end of the year. In that case, I cancel those services and use the money elsewhere in my budget.
Doing this last year, I saved just over $200 per month on canceled subscriptions alone.
To see if your retirement contributions are on track, start by tallying the balances for all of your existing savings and investment accounts. Next, input those numbers into this CNBC Make It retirement calculator, which tells you how much money you'll need to save each month to meet your retirement goals.
If you're behind on your goals, you might need to increase your contributions or hold off on retirement until a later age.
And if you're behind on retirement savings and don't have much extra cash, you can still increase your contributions later to make up some of the difference. This is especially true for younger earners as they tend to make less money earlier in their careers.
However, the sooner you put money into an investment account like a 401(k) or index fund, the better — even if it's just $50 each month. That's because these investments will grow with compound interest over time.
By making contributions early, your money will have more time to grow.
To cover unexpected costs, financial planners commonly recommend an emergency fund worth three to six months worth of your expenses, although setting aside $1,000 is also a worthy goal. To ensure you're prepared for the unexpected in 2024, start making monthly contributions to build up your emergency fund, especially if you don't have one already.
The purpose of an emergency fund is to avoid using your credit card for unexpected expenses, since they come with high interest rates that currently average 20.74%, according to Bankrate.
If you already have more credit card debt than emergency savings, many financial planners recommend paying down the debt first.
Consider stashing your emergency funds in a high-interest savings account. That way, the balance will grow with interest and you'll be able to make swift withdrawals when necessary.
By having a topped-up emergency fund in place, you should be able to cover unexpected costs in 2024, whether that's vehicle repairs or medical debt.
It's important to look at your credit reports at least once a year, as the data in these reports influence your credit score. Your credit score determines how much money you'll spend on interest for loans, credit cards and auto financing: The higher the score, the less you pay on interest.
There are many types of credit scores but those most commonly used are derived from credit reports from one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Credit reports include detailed information like your loan payment history, credit inquiries and whether you have debt that's been sent to a collection agency.
Unfortunately, credit reports often contain errors that can reduce your credit score, whether that be duplicate loan account entries or on-time payments that have been mislabeled as late. Another problem is that identity theft is common, as scammers often use stolen personal information to make fraudulent loans.
For that reason, you'll want to check your credit history report for each credit bureau at least once a year.To do so, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and select "request your free credit reports." You can choose to download the reports or have them mailed to you.
Each report has more information on how to dispute an error.
Some cybersecurity experts recommend changing your password every few months, while others say a strong password doesn't need to be changed that often. Using an encrypted password manager is more commonly recommended.
I just make sure that I change my passwords for my financial accounts at least once a year. I also periodically use the "Password Checkup" function in Google Password Manager to identify any compromised passwords and then change them as necessary.
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Making $115K as a teacher and coach in Orange County, CA
As a seasoned financial expert with a deep understanding of personal finance and prudent money management, I bring a wealth of knowledge to guide you through the intricacies of financial hygiene. Over the years, I've honed my expertise by actively implementing sound financial practices in my own life and assisting others in navigating the complex world of money.
Let's delve into the key concepts outlined in the article, drawing from my extensive experience:
Review Your Budget:
- A budget is a fundamental tool for financial planning, providing a clear picture of income and expenses.
- Categorize expenses into essentials (housing, transportation, groceries) and non-essentials (entertainment, dining out).
- Utilize the 50/30/20 budgeting rule, allocating 50% to necessities, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings or investments.
- Regularly review and adjust your budget, cutting unnecessary expenses to achieve balance.
Check Retirement Savings Goals:
- Assess the status of your retirement savings by consolidating balances from various accounts.
- Use tools like the CNBC Make It retirement calculator to determine monthly savings needed for retirement goals.
- Adjust contributions if falling behind on goals, emphasizing the importance of early investment for compound interest growth.
Build Your Emergency Fund:
- Financial planners recommend maintaining an emergency fund equivalent to three to six months' worth of expenses.
- Consider monthly contributions to the fund to prepare for unexpected costs in 2024.
- Prioritize building the fund over credit card debt to avoid high-interest rates.
Check Credit Reports:
- Monitor credit reports annually to ensure accuracy and identify potential errors.
- Access reports from major credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—via AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Dispute any inaccuracies promptly, as credit scores influence interest rates for loans and credit cards.
Change Your Passwords:
- Cybersecurity is crucial for financial well-being, and changing passwords regularly is a recommended practice.
- Utilize encrypted password managers for enhanced security.
- Leverage tools like Google Password Manager's "Password Checkup" to identify compromised passwords and make necessary changes.
By incorporating these practices into your financial routine, you can strengthen your financial foundation and approach the new year with confidence. Remember, financial hygiene is an ongoing process, and regular check-ins contribute to long-term financial well-being.