A guide to the most important parts of your finances to check on before year’s end, plus how to plan for the next
It might seem as though the end of the year is a good time to relax and unwind. And, while that’s totally true, it’s also prime time for a good ‘ol review.
As the old adage goes, “Personal finances are never something to be mastered once, but conquered consistently.” We couldn’t agree more. Finances, like anything, must be maintained. But life can easily get in the way of that maintenance! That’s why a year-end check-up can help you stay on track.
(Psst, even if you’ve been on top of things all year, something always pops up.)
Keep reading, and we’ll help you plan for success in the coming year.
Big Picture: Start With Goals in Mind
A common trait of many personal finance success stories is that all plans, and therefore actions too, start with the end in mind. Meaning, successful stories begin with goals. The end of the year is a great time to take a moment to think through, create, and refine some long- and short-term goals, both broad and specific. After all, knowing where you’re headed will only help you get there faster!
Of course, life is ever-changing, so goals must always be adaptable. Year’s end is prime time to review your goals against the backdrop of changing circumstances, and maybe create some new ones as well.
Phase 1: Budget, Savings, Debt
Once we’ve established some goals, it’s time to delve into the plan of action and get specific. Let’s start with the most essential items.
Budget: A foundational piece to healthy finances, budgets help keep us on track throughout the year and ensure everything is on track. However, budets can get out of whack very easily throughout the year! Take a moment to review your budget and double-check that everything is where it should be, making sure your expenses, saving, and investing are all aligned with your goals.
Saving: We recommend planning for savings goals in your budget, setting long- and short-term goals, both big and small. If you don’t already have a specific savings goal, start out simple with something like an emergency fund of 3-6 months' expenses. If you already have savings goals, pop in and make sure you’re on track to meet those goals.
Debts: Budgeting, saving, and debt are the three most important components of a financial plan. Whether it’s student loans, credit cards, or a mortgage, having a plan for and attacking your debt is crucial to your long-term financial future. Take some time to analyze your situation relative to where you want to be in the big picture, and set up a plan to progress even further next year.
Phase 2: Investing, Retirement Savings, Building Credit
Thinking of your personal finances as a new home, once we’ve established a foundation, we can begin to construct the frame — that’s what we’ll review here.
Investing: Sure, you can invest while still working on Phase 1, but it’s important we get our ducks in a row. Once you’ve reviewed the basics, you can move on to the investing section of your annual checkup. If you haven’t been investing, this review might be a wake-up call to start. If you’re already investing, analyze your habits and portfolio to see if you can make any changes to help achieve your long-term goals.
Retirement: Investing for retirement is investing with a purpose, and we recommend you do so as early as possible. If you invested just $6,000 per year at an average return of 8% annually for 40 years, you’d end up with a total of $1,684,686. However, if you waited just one year and cut your timeline to 39 years? The total would be $1,554,339—a difference of more than $130,000!? Waiting is expensive, so check in on your retirement plan consistently to make sure you’re on track.
Credit building: Credit is like Sour Patch candy. Sometimes it can be delightful, and other times it’s sour as heck! When used carefully, credit can be extremely useful and make life much easier. But it can quickly become a detriment if mismanaged. It’s almost like a currency in our modern economy, and having bad credit can be a real drag on your progress.
Phase 3: Insurance, College Savings, Estate Planning
Now, we can move onto the peripherals and legacy portion of our annual exam—the part where we make sure all the Is are dotted, Ts are crossed, and the heirs are taken care of.
Insurance: Insurance is essential. Whether it’s auto, home, health, or life insurance, we all need at least some (if not most!) of it. During your annual review, take the time to check competitor premiums, deductibles, coverage, and more. Life can get expensive, and keeping your policies up to date can help you cut costs. We recommend you take your property and casualty insurance out to bid at least every three years.
College: If you have children, you know the cost of college looming in the distance can be scary. Why not tackle it in advance?! It’s definitely not something everyone can afford to budget for right away, but with enough consistency, saving for college is achievable. Take some time to look into your budget and see what you can allocate to your children’s education, and investigate the accounts designed specifically for college saving too, like the 529 plan.
Estate Planning: Estate planning (or “legacy planning”) is often assumed to be something we don’t have to consider until the late stages of life, but the truth of the matter is—the sooner the better. If you have assets to protect and preserve for your descendants, it’s never too soon to start investigating your options when it comes to your estate. After all, you have more assets than you think! Follow these tips to create a plan for who gets your house, jewelry, dog, and more after you pass.
What we’ve just covered is kind of a lot, and there’s no doubt that simplifying all this down to “personal finances” doesn’t fully capture all that goes into a healthy financial life. It can be overwhelming for sure, but that’ll only grow (exponentially, too!) the more you neglect these kinds of things.
By taking your finances one step at a time, you can conquer this monetary mountain with ease, and lead a life of financial wellness as a result.
There’s still room for improvement though, and your Pocketnest app is a great place to start. Don’t forget to log in, log at least 3 minutes per week, and keep knocking off items on your to-do list.