We’re just over halfway through the year, which means now is a good time to check those financial goals you set in January. And if you didn’t complete a financial wellness check as the year commenced, then friends, you are overdue! A financial checkup is as important as that annual physical with your doctor. During this financial wellness screening, opportunities of improvement and potential risk areas can be identified. Not sure where to begin? Start with this simple series of questions.
Do you handle your own finances?
Many folks leave the finances up to their significant other or a trusted friend or family member; however, even if you’re not the one responsible for paying the bills, it’s wise to keep track of your assets and what you owe. This knowledge is important, because it gives you financial power in the event that you would be left in charge of your fiscal security. If you’re part of a couple and are not the family’s financial captain, ask to hold monthly discussions to look at the family finances.
Have you reviewed your goals?
You’ll best be able to read the pulse of your financial wellness by evaluating your financial goals. Have you made progress toward them this year, or fallen a bit short? If you’re not as far along as you hoped, it may be due to extenuating circumstances (more about those coming up). If your situation has changed, revise your goals and incorporate them into your new plan.
Next, consider new financial goals you'd like to set. For example, you may want to pay off any revolving debt, beef up your emergency fund, or increase or fully max out your 401(k) contributions — all smart moves. Make your goals clear and actionable, then break them into doable steps. You can do this!
Do you have a working budget?
2021 may have been the year you swore to build a budget and stick to it. If so, how’s that going? If you haven’t gotten around to it — or if budgeting wasn’t one of your new year’s resolutions — it’s not too late, and it’s a really good idea. Whether you live paycheck to paycheck or earn more than you spend, budgeting can be an effective tool in helping to secure your financial health. On the other hand, not using a budget can lead to overspending and debt.
A budget is simply a spending plan for a specific time period. Though it might feel constrictive at first, having a plan helps ensure you’re bringing in enough money to cover your all expenses. It’s hard to know what’s available to spend when you don’t know exactly how much you have and how much is earmarked for future expenses. Budgeting also helps you better prepare for those unanticipated expenses, and it’s as simple as tracking your spending.
If this process sounds intimidating, a free budgeting app or website can make the process easier and almost turn it into a game. Apps such as UBT’s Money Compass, EveryDollar, and Mint can help you create a successful ongoing budget. If you prefer paper, you can also download our Budgeting Income and Expense forms to help formulate your plan. You can find those in this handy budgeting blog.
Have you had changes in income?
Have changes in your personal situation taken place in the last year and impacted your income? Unemployment/furlough or a job change can all affect your bottom line, as can marriage, divorce, adding a baby to your family, moving, buying a house, or retirement. 2020 was an impactful year for many, and 2021 continues to carry some fallout, so it pays to give this category some scrutiny. You may need to adapt your budget, savings, investments, spending, and even your tax filing accordingly.
Have you had unforeseen expenses?
When you set out to plan for the year, you probably didn’t know that your car was going to need lots of TLC, your air conditioning was going to give up the ghost, or your teen was going to need pricey orthodontia (is there any other kind?). Hopefully, there was enough in your emergency fund to cover any unwelcome surprises. But it’s probably time to realign your savings to replenish those reserves — or formulate a plan to pay off your emergency credit card. If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, no worries, you’ll just want to begin building one when you revamp your budget. We have some helpful articles about how to set up your short-term and long-term savings and how and why to set up an emergency savings fund.
Have you looked at your tax withholdings?
This is a good time to plan for next year's taxes. If the number of people in your household has changed, you may need to adjust your tax filing accordingly. And finding other ways to reduce overall taxes is always a smart plan. If you don’t already itemize, add up all your allowable deductions and see if you would be able to do so. If so (or if you already itemize), review the list of allowable deductions and make sure you take advantage of any you're eligible for. Having your plan formulated now allows you to be prepared come tax time. But don’t take our word on this topic; the tax advisor of your choice is your best resource.
Have you given your investments a once-over?
The time is ripe to check in with your financial advisor regarding your investments. If you do your investing online (or otherwise handle your own), a mid-year financial wellness check entails a more in-the-weeds review than simply scanning your statement.
Have you reviewed your retirement plans?
Lastly, take a long look at your retirement plans. Are you contributing the maximum to your 401(k) plan, or do you have a plan to get to the max (such as increasing your contribution with each raise or merit increase)? Be sure you’re contributing enough to take advantage of any employer match if they offer one — it’s free money! Also have your financial advisor review the investments you’ve selected in your 401(k) or retirement plan to ensure they align with your goals; there may be other investments within your plan that are better suited for you.
If your employer doesn't have a 401(k), does it offer any other kind of plan? If not, consider setting up an individual retirement account (IRA) on your own.
Have you calculated what you need to save? Your benefits department or retirement plan administrator should have resources for you, and we have some great retirement calculators for you, too.
Hopefully, your checkup was painless and didn’t uncover any major issues. And even if you didn’t get a clean bill of financial health, no problem — at least now you’re aware and are one step closer to full financial fitness.
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