Financial Tips for Fall

With the chill in the air, you no longer want to spend every moment outdoors. That makes fall the perfect time to come inside and take stock of your finances. Get in the habit of doing these things each year around the same time and you’ll see a big improvement in your financial stability.

Tax Planning

With a good eight or nine months of paychecks under your belt, it’s easy to see what your tax return might look like when you file early next year. In particular, you want to make sure that your withholdings are at the right level. Use a tax estimating calculator to estimate how much you’ll have to pay in taxes next year and compare that to your pay stub. If it looks like you might be short, you may want to talk to human resources about increasing the amount of money they’re withholding. This can help you avoid a surprise tax bill in the spring. On the other hand, if it seems you’ve been paying more than enough, you can ask them to decrease the amount of money they’ve been withholding and use the extra money in your paycheck to pay down debt or treat yourself to a little something special.

Holiday Shopping

Everyone wants to spread good cheer during the holidays, but buying presents for all of your family and friends can leave your checking account looking a little thin. This isn’t as much of a problem if you plan ahead and start shopping in the fall. Instead of doing all your shopping in December, you can spread things out a bit when you shop in the fall. If you buy two or three presents each week during the fall, you’re not as likely to feel a big financial hit. Shopping early also allows you to seek out the best prices. If you’re crafty, shopping early also gives you the time you need to make inexpensive holiday gifts that are full of love.

Holiday Travel Prep

Speaking of the holidays, if you’re planning on traveling, fall is the perfect time to start thinking about those arrangements. You’ll get better selection for flight times and airfare rates when you book early. You’ll also want to book any hotels before they fill up and you’re left paying premium rates. Get your family to commit to a place to meet for the holidays so that everyone can make their travel plans. Remember, though, that many tickets don’t allow you to make changes without hefty fees. If you’re going to buy now, be sure about the dates.

Winter Preparation

Cold winters mean extra heating costs, but by spending a bit of time and money in the fall, you may be able to drastically cut those costs. Take steps to winterize your home. If there’s not enough insulation in your attic, add more. Cover your windows with plastic film to prevent the cold air from seeping in around the sides. Purchase materials to weatherstrip your doors – it’s a pretty easy fix. If you live in an area that gets heavy snow, ice damming can be a concern. This is usually prevented by properly insulating the home, but a roofing company can give you more specific advice for your home. You may also want to get your car ready by checking the tread on your tires, and throwing a few safety items in your trunk.

Flex Spending Money

If you get a flex spending account through your employer, it’s time to use up that money. Most flex spending accounts work on a “use it or lose it” basis, so if you don’t use up the money, it goes away by December 31st. Make appointments to get a new pair of glasses, finish up any dental work or sign up for alternative therapies like acupuncture. These are all great ways to spend the money in your flex account. Before you decide to do something, though, it’s smart to check whether it’s an allowable expense. For example, some over-the-counter medicines are allowable, while others are not.

Insurance Reviews and Changes

In most cases, fall is the only time that you’re allowed to make changes to your health insurance policy without having a major life change like a marriage or the birth of a child. This makes fall a good time to take a look at the ways you’ve used your health insurance the past year and determine if it’s the best fit of all of the available choices. For instance, if you had a new diagnosis that means you’re taking more medication, you might want to look for a plan that offers better prescription coverage. If you found that you didn’t use the insurance much beyond the annual physical, you might want to switch to a more affordable plan. Since you’re already doing this for health insurance, you might consider shopping around for other types of insurance as well. A yearly review of all your insurance plans ensures that you’re getting the best deals.

Retirement Savings

Fall could also be a good time to beef up your retirement savings. Individual Retirement Accounts have a contribution limit of $5,500 per year. If you haven’t met the limit yet, add more to that fund for both you and a spouse. You might also notice that you’ve been doing well financially the past year and could stand to have a bit more money taken out of your paycheck and put directly into your company’s 401k. Increasing the amount by a percentage or two can make a big difference in your retirement account while having little effect on your day-to-day experiences.

Bonus Spending

If you’re expecting an end-of-year bonus from your company, planning the best way to spend it is a smart move. While it might be tempting to think of using the money to spend next year’s vacation, it’s probably best to use it to pay down any credit cards or loans you might have or boost your emergency savings account. If you’ve already done those things, then spend away.

It’s always a good idea to periodically review your finances and make sure that you’re making the best choices. The changing of the seasons gives you a reminder to do so, and fall offers the best opportunities to take stock of things like health care expenses and holiday spending. Take the time to warm yourself up with a cup of coffee or tea and review your spending choices during the fall.